I found another homie. He was more cooperative than the first one. Better company. Made me smile, and laugh. He was a YA novel about a teen with OCD and the friend who tutors him in the art of playing it cool. I called him A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE. He was good to me. Never hurt me. Sold quickly.
(My homie is male because I’m male and the protagonist is male, and at the time I wasn’t yet engaged or married and knew pretty much nothing about women, but feel free to assign whichever gender you please to your homie.)
He made life easier for a bit. Helped me buy a ring. Made teaching more fun. Made a few students think I was O.D. cool (an overdose of cool). Gave me something to talk about:
Me: “I’m getting a book published.”
Casual Friend: “Wow, that’s awesome! Congratulations! What kind of book?”
M: “Young adult.”
CF: “You mean, like, for teenagers?”
CF: “Oooh, you could teach it to your kids. Oooh, maybe it’ll be another Harry Potter. Ooooh, or Twilight! I just bought, like, twenty copies of Twilight for my nephews and nieces. I love Twilight—well, I don’t really love Twilight, but I had to see what everyone was talking about. I bought the whole set and read them all in, like, a day! I didn’t even get up—didn’t even pee—until I finished, like, two books. Then I peed, but I didn’t eat until I finished the whole series. Yeah, I rock. I did the same thing for Harry Potter. Ooooh, is your book about magic?”
CF: “Oh . . . will your book will be a bestseller? You should have it showcased in, like, every Barnes & Noble store in America. Will it be? Is Oprah gonna put it on her book club? OMG! I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it and—oh, you should get on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. Your name’s Matt so it shouldn’t be a problem. Plus you have the same haircut, LOL. I heard Twilight sold in like a catrillion countries. When’s your first book signing in Greenland?”
To people outside of publishing, it’s all or nothing: bestseller or bust.
We all know there are plenty of outrageously talented writers with books that sell reasonably well, but rock stars are few and far-between and, as Haterade guzzlers know, they all smell like bowling shoes and have buckteeth and nose hairs the length of a fire hose—except for Bookanistas because they're kind and friendly and some live in Utah, where everyone seems peachy and peaceful. Actually, anyone outside of New York City seems about as non-threatening as Mr. Met.
The point is that it can be intimidating to tell people about your book because, to some, at least those who be drinkin’ the Haterade, unless you’re on Oprah you’re a failure, which doesn’t make you want to tell anyone about your book but you have to because if you don’t tell anyone then nobody will buy it and you’ll go back to square one: you and your worst fears.
(My worst fear: A mountain of rejection letters piled so high on my desk that if I breath or cough or sigh with enough gusto the entire mountain will collapse on me like an avalanche and crush me and cover me in my own rejections and failures and nobody will hear me scream and I’ll die a slow and painful death, which newspapers will find fascinating and therefore report, on the front page in big bold lettering, “MAN DIES OF FAILURE; NOT HEART FAILURE, JUST FAILURE”—but since nobody reads newspapers anymore, nobody will hear about it until Comedy Central gets its hands on the story and Steven Colbert proclaims, with a wag of the finger, “Nation, I thought Bill O’Reilly was a loser, a real Loserasaurus [audience cheers]. . . I did, I really did, but then, Nation, [Colbert chuckles], but then I heard of Matt Blackstone,” as the audience, howling like hyenas, chants his name instead of mine: “Ste-ven. Ste-ven, Ste-ven . . .”)
I. A Doggy Dog World
None of us start out writing YA books for the money (well, some of us, but nobody likes them very much). We write them because we can—or think we can, which is a good enough start. We write them because we have a message, an idea, an experience that’ll eat us alive if we don’t sit down and share it. We write them because we’re bored, because American Idol ain’t what it used to be (Clay Aikens don’t just grow on trees you know) and there ain’t much to keep up with the Kardashians. We write them because it’s a great excuse not to do clean the bathroom. We write them because it’s hard, sometimes nearly impossible but not entirely impossible so we keep going and can’t stop because on good days we make ourselves laugh and smile and curse the day we were born and yell, “I LOVE YOUR GUTS” because we love and hate it so f—ing much.
But then there’s the business end, and if you’re anything like me, you majored in English and called the business school “The Evil Empire” and sang the Star Wars theme every time you passed it on campus (Dun, Dun, Dun, DunDuDun, DunDuDun)—and now you’re suddenly an entrepreneur, a traveling salesman, the CEO of your book, your brand, your name. And though Blackstone only goes back two generations—my great uncle wanted to be an actor, liked the sound of Blackstone, and just went with it—it’s still my name and my wife’s name and I don’t want to muck it up quite yet.
The point is that we got into this for reasons other than money but, as my little cousin once said, “We live in a doggy, dog world.” Book sales matter, and because they do, the questions come in rapid fire: “Do you have a marketing plan business cards platform radio television advertisements? Do you have a short term long term term in the middle I guess you could call it a medium term marking plan rights contract e-book royalties kindle kindle kindle kindle kindle?”
Yes, you’ll want to kick and scream and long for the Star Wars song, the hippy days, the money-ain’t-a-thang mentality. Yes, you’ll want shout in your best British accent: “This is rubbish! We don’t ask marketing execs to write books! Foncy that, though! LOLing right now. Absolutely lolling!” And yes, you’ll want to throw a public tantrum so wildly ridiculous your toddlers will touch their chin and say, in unison, “Well that wasn’t very mature now, was it? Are you finished yet, [Mr./Ms./Mrs.] Pouty Pants?”
You should be.
It’s in your best interest to sell copies, if not for the money than for the reasons you started writing in the first place—no, not the absence of Clay Aiken; you had a message, remember? An idea, an experience that you wanted to share with the world. If it wasn’t worth writing you wouldn’t have busted your ass to finish.
Seven months ago my wife brought me home two self-marketing books from the library. Such a practical gift! They made great pillows. And lovely decoration. Oh, and a perfect stepstool to reach the Red Hot Blues tortilla chips in the top drawer.
I tried to get into them—the books, I mean. I think I even read a few pages. I definitely drooled on page two. I remember because I asked my wife, queen of stain removal, how to “erase the drool at the bottom of the page two.”
But I’ve changed. Really, I have. Since then, I’ve read the whole book. Okay, half—but it’s O.D. long! It’s over 500 pages and reads like a textbook, but I’ll get there. Really, I will.
We’ll all get there. We may have different time zones and day jobs and differing levels of appreciation for Star Wars (truth be told, I like the theme song more than the movies). We may have different schedules and styles and dorky whiney dances (and fake accents) when things don’t go our way. But we’ll all get there.
Even if our first homie isn’t as agreeable as our second.