The Long Ambitious Path
It rarely happens. Some author right off the bat writes a fabulous book which jumps on the bestseller list and the person is instantly thrust into the spotlight and has no more financial worries. Yet these few stories are the ones passed around and people continue to hope happens to them. I know several of these stories, but I’m not going to write it into this entry. From my view, it’s like telling a story about someone who wins the lottery. Millions of people played the game and one person walked off with the huge prize. It doesn’t stop those other folks from participating in the game the next opportunity.
One of my long-time friends, Jerry B. Jenkins, who wrote the Left Behind series which has sold 63 million copies, has often told people that this series was the chance of a lifetime. It seems people forget that Jerry had published 100 books before Left Behind. Yet so few people want to apprentice and learn the craft of writing and the business aspects. Instead they want to jump into the fray and land at the top. It just simply doesn’t happen. And none knew Left Behind was going to take off. Certainly the authors and the publisher believed in the work but who would have predicted the results? I’ve heard Jerry tell the story about how it was a huge deal ten years ago for Tyndale House to publish hardcover fiction. The jacket for the book costs almost as much as the actual printed book. For the first print run of Left Behind, they only printed half of the jackets so they wouldn’t lose as much if the book didn’t sell. These are the stories that people seem to forget—yet are critical to everyone in the journey.
Here’s what initiated my entry about this aspect of the business: In the July 10th issue of Publisher’s Weekly on the hardcover nonfiction page, they pulled a quotation from an online interview with Bill Buford, the author of Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave (which I have not read): “You know I really did see a lot of similarities between chefs and writers. Both professions require people to embark on a long ambitious trajectory, which rests on learning, without being recompensed, all kinds of skills that you’re not going to know for years whether you’re going to be able to make a living from them.” According to PW, Knopf reports after five printings Heat has 85,000 copies in print.
If you are one of the many writers on the long ambitious path, what do you do? First, you keep growing and working at your craft. If you want to write books, then learn how to write an excellent book proposal. My Book Proposals That Sell has value whether you are trying to write fiction or nonfiction—if you wonder about this book, just check out the endorsements or read some of the customer reviews on Amazon. If you are trying to get an agent or a publisher, learn how to write a great query letter. Every day I see countless, forgettable queries. You want to write one which stands out. Get to a writer’s conference and begin to connect with other writers and editors. In a few weeks, I’m headed to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference (use this link to learn more about my speaking schedule). One of the absolute best things you can do is to work on your craft of writing with shorter forms. Books are long—I know not very profound but true. Magazine articles and newsletters and other forms of writing are much shorter, the publication lead time is less and they are much more achievable. There are too many writers who are stuck on submitting their long manuscript and never work on magazine articles. It’s a shame.
More than anything else, keep working at the journey. For most of us, it is long and more like a marathon than a short sprint.