Vaughn Hardacker here: Kate Flora’s blog of August 10th hit a note with me. I too had visions of becoming rich at this writing game; then I had my first novel published and my eyes were opened to the reality of the profession.
My first shock came when the five or six figure advance I expected was in reality in the low four figures. Unless you have a best seller or two under your belt, the day of the big advance has passed and publishers have become miserly. I suppose if I were a publisher with authors who don’t earn back my advance I’d get miserly too.
My second shock came after the novel was published and I scheduled a whirlwind book tour of Maine. First off, I must say that living in Stockholm and Aroostook County in general makes it tough. The nearest of the chain bookstores is Books A Million in Bangor. I decided to visit the major book stores personally. I met with managers at the BAM stores in Bangor, South Portland, and Auburn. The Assistant Manager in Auburn agreed to a date and the others said they’d get back to me. Result: Auburn called back and said they’d have to reschedule and coordinate with their corporate office and they’d get back to me when they had a date–I’m still awaiting that call. I got no response from Barnes & Noble in Augusta nor the BAM stores in Bangor and South Portland.
Shock number three: I arranged for an appearance at the Caribou Public Library. I thought that since Caribou was my home town I’d get a turn out. Four people showed (2 of whom were members of my writing group) and I sold one (1) book.
Lesson learned: People don’t go to libraries to buy books; they go to borrow them. In fairness, my best turnouts have been at the Jesup Library in Bar Harbor and the Freeport Community Library. Both venues treated me graciously.
I have already blogged about my terrific success at Caribou’s Thursday on Sweden and Maureen Milliken arranged for Lea Wait, her, and me to set up a table at the Maine Artisans Show in Belgrade Lakes. Where we attracted a goodly number of people and sold some books.
So, you ask at this point. If the industry is that tough why do you continue to write?
The answer lies in my history. I grew up in a family–well all I can say is when I watched Father Knows Best, Donna Reed, and Leave It To Beaver I’d look at my parents and ask myself, what’s different here? My parents lived by a simple creedo: Children should be seen and seldom seen. In fact, on those occasions where my younger brother and I were allowed to speak, they didn’t listen (I wonder if someone told them that they had to let us talk, but listening was optional?) In order for me to purge my anger at being stifled, I began writing short stories…on paper no one could tell me what to say–or to shut up.
To this day nothing drives me further up the wall than to be ignored. Heck, I don’t even ask people to agree with me, just listen to what I have to say before discarding it. I’m a writer and writers always have something to say, whether people agree or not.
So here’s the answer: Even if I had never published a single book or short story, I would have kept writing. Why? Because I have to–it’s an integral part of me.
Thank you, Vaughn. Enjoyed your post.
It is true, successful or not, writing does become a part of who you are. That’s why we do it.
I always tell my students: write because you’re a writer and you’re passionate about the process. Writers write, Vaughn, as you well know.
This strikes me as such an honest post. You did not have a lot of encouragement but do what you need to do. You follow your deepest impulse and that is to write. Feels good, doesn’t it?
You’re right- for the most part, library shows are a labor of love for writers rather than big selling events. Nevertheless, I do a lot of library shows, because I like supporting them, and I enjoy meeting new fans. Be sure to tell those who do show up to request your books from the library, so you can get some sales…
It helps to have more than one author at these, to get more people attending. See if you can get a couple of other writers and do a panel or a discussion, to make it a bit livelier. I know it’s tough being up in the County- I grew up there, and there’s not much in the way of book culture. But last month, I put up a table at the Maine Potato Blossom Festival, and did well, with a number of sales and new fans (http://daletphillips.blogspot.com/2015/07/reunion-and-potato-blossom-festival.html). Give that a try next year- not a lot of competition!
There’s a chain of bookstores called Sherman’s along the mid-coast, and with 5 stores, it might be worth your while to contact them and go down to get your books in there and see about a signing or two. And if you’re near Kennebunk at any point, go to Mainely Murders and they’ll stock your books there.
Don’t know if you have dark stuff you’ve written, but I had a great time meeting the Horror Writers of Maine when I signed books at PortCon in June. They do a number of shows, and maybe you can find someone to team up with.
If there aren’t any shows around, think about doing your own. A lot of cities around the country have done a Noir at the Bar, where 6-8 mystery writers arrange to do a public reading in a bar that serves food. You get a good crowd, and they’ll stick around. Make it a fun event, give out some books, and promote the dickens out of it (and see if the local media will cover it).