I just read a very interesting article on book deals:http://www.nyobserver.com/2007/my-book-deal-ruined-my-life?page=0%2C0
I found it interesting not because it was news to me, but because I know it was probably news to the general public.
I recently toured a homeless shelter (I do a lot of speaking for homeless organizations) and had a life skills session with the residents. During our talk, I found out that the residents had been preparing for my arrival for several days - they were nervous and unsure of what to wear. I was stunned to find this out. I had no idea that my arrival could cause such a ruckus! While I did feel flattered, I also felt very guilty. And so, when we all sat down around the table at the session, eating our pizza, I began by letting everyone know that being an author is not always what we think it is.
“I am not,” I told them, “a rich and famous author. I did not get paid a million dollars - or anywhere near it - to write my book. I drive a 1992 Volvo station wagon and grow my own vegetables.”
The residents were stunned. They thought for sure that I was a millionaire. That I lived in a big mansion and had a lot of spare cash. My house is fairly big, I told them, but it’s no mansion - it’s a fixer-upper that I rarely have time to fix.
Writing is a great job. Let me say that I have not had the horror of experiences that some of the writers in the NY Observer article have had. But I’ve also learned a lot. The first thing I learned, early on, is that writing is my occupation. I am fairly good at it. I enjoy it. And not a lot of people can say all of those things. But it’s not my life. I know many writers who make writing their world. They go to writers’ groups and conferences. They eat, sleep and breathe writing - and the world of literature.
I was very close to following this path. When Without a Net (my “big” book) was on the verge of getting a publisher, I went to bed nervous all of the time. I went to work nervous all of the time. I smoked a lot of cigarettes and stared off into space wondering what would happen next. I pictured myself on the "Today" show. I couldn’t wait to hear if it would get a “big” publisher and an even bigger advance. It did…and didn’t. I got the big publisher - Viking - and a small advance, broken up into even smaller pieces over a two-year period.
I wasn’t exactly crushed - but I was disappointed. Didn’t a small advance mean I would get no publicity? Did it mean my book was already doomed to obscurity? Well, yes and no. But I pursued and helped the publicity department get as much as I could going for it. And looking back, I achieved with that book, almost everything a new writer could hope to achieve…except the bestseller list. I got a review in the Sunday New York Times Book Review - as well as the LA Times, and many other fine publications. I was interviewed on more radio stations than I can count. And - my favorite of all - I got to do a commentary on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
And then I got a call from an Oprah producer. They loved the book, wanted to have me on, but couldn’t figure out in what capacity - so hang out for a couple of days and we’ll see if we can fit you in.
OK! I danced. I called all of my friends. I gloated. I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Then I got an email from my publicist. Oprah can’t fit you in - oh and by the way, there were a dozen other shows who were interested, but we had to put them off because Oprah was interested and now they aren’t interested anymore either.
A year later, Oprah called again. I was subdued, but still hopeful and anxious.
They replaced me with Morgan Spurlock.
A funny aside is that I did an awards banquet in Seattle where Morgan Spurlock was the first choice as the speaker. He costs $20,000 to speak for 20 minutes - for a homelessness and poverty organization. They called me. I usually speak for the cost of travel and a babysitter. I got to replace Morgan.
Somehow I don’t think he feels bitten by the experience.
It’s been an interesting couple of years since Without A Net came out. I’ve been flown around the country to speak for people who have moved me in ways beyond words - and I’ve been crushed by the madness that is the world of publishing.
I have another manuscript out now…making the rounds. Maybe it will get picked up - maybe not. It’s not the kind of book that will ever make it on Oprah - although I still hold out hope, sometimes, that they will call me again someday.
Writing isn’t my life (anymore), it’s my job. It’s one of many that I have. I am also a mom and a farmer - among other things. I love to write. I am very happy to call myself a writer (and a farmer and a mom). I am happy that I get to do the thing I want to do for a (very modest) living. But I can’t drink myself into a Hemingway-esque stupor lamenting or praising the literary life.
I have too much other stuff to do.
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Global Warming 101, Will Steger Foundation