The Writing Game: Hard Luck and Hard Lessons

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He was an old man when I met him.

Old.

Broke.

Disillusioned.

He was an author, he said.

“Selling any books?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Publishing is a tough business,” I said.

He nodded.

He agreed.

In the far corner of a dimly lit office sat a scarred and worn-out typewriter on the top of a scarred and worn out desk.

Neither had been used for a long time.

“What are you working on?” I asked, trying to make small talk.

“Nothing,” he said.

“You must be writing something,” I said.

“Not anymore,” he said.

“What did you used to write?” I asked.

He shrugged.

“I wrote a mystery novel once,” he said.

“What about?”

“Hard-boiled private eye,” he said. “Beautiful client. Long legs. Long blonde hair. She was married and didn’t want to be. Said her husband was trying to kill her. Wanted to make sure he didn’t succeed. She wanted a private eye who knew how to throw his weight around.”

“Did he?”

“Didn’t have to.”

“Why not?”

“The husband was already dead.” The old man shrugged again. “Shot. The murder weapon was in her purse. Said she didn’t do it.”

“Sounds like a winner,” I said.

“Didn’t sell,” he said.

I nodded. It was the least I could do. I offered my condolences. He didn’t want any.

“It’s difficult to find an agent,” I said.

“I had an agent,” he said.

“Tough to find a publisher,” I said.

“I had a publisher,” he said.

“New York?” I asked.

“One of the big ones,” he said.

“What happened?”

His was an ironic grin. “I thought when I signed the publishing contract that my worries were over,” the old man said. “I was wrong.”

“How much marketing did the publisher do for the book?”

“None.”

“Advertising?”

“About the same.”

“Book signings?”

“One.” This time he laughed. “I set that one up myself,” the old man said. “Local library hosted an autograph party. Everybody who came already knew me. None of them figured I could write. One lady did say she would borrow the book if the library bought a copy.”

“Library buy a copy?”

“Wanted me to donate one.”

“Did you?”

“I did.”

“Did she come back and borrow it?”

“Hasn’t yet.”

“Why don’t you self-publish the book?” I asked.

“Can’t?”

“Why not?”

“Publisher still owns the rights.”

“You could get them back,” I said.

“Why bother?” he said.

“You can self-publish another one.”

“I’d have to write it first.”

“That’s what writers do,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“They write.”

The old man stood and shuffled across the floor toward the front door. “Don’t want to be a writer,” he said. “I’d rather be a seller.”

“How do you sell books?” I asked.

He grinned. “Nobody knows,” he said.

“First you have to be discovered,” I said.

“Have you seen my little town?” he wanted to know.

I had. One wide street. One narrow one. A stop sign. The traffic light doesn’t work anymore. The stores on the north side of town are empty. The ones on the south side have a going out of business signs. All that’s open are three service stations, a bank, and a chili joint.

“Hard to be discovered here,” he said.

“Why?” I wanted to know.

“Ain’t nobody looking,” he said.

I looked around, and nobody was.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Through the years, as many books with agents and New York publishers have failed as self-published books. But one thing is for certain. Writers will never succeed with a successful book unless they keep on writing.

    • Writing you have some control over. I’m surprised your guy got as far as he did – I’m sure he isn’t unique.

      Selling must be great – but I am so grateful to indie bloggers for opening my eyes to the realities of the current marketplace BEFORE I got some validation (maybe) – and a possible horrible contract – from the people who are no longer in charge of publishing (but think they are).

      Writing is what gives me the endorphins so far. The rest – we’ll see.

  • Writers write first because its an addiction. We’d right on a wall just to see how cool the words look all strung together and then we’d wait around the corner to watch someone’s reaction to our “project” when they stopped to read it. We’re suckers that way. The best thing that ever happened to me was becoming a reporter because I had to write on demand and no longer had the luxury of writers blocker or waiting on my muse to show up – my hard nose editor just said piffle go do your job. It also helped me during the editing and publishing process to objective about adding in or cutting out parts of an article or story. As a publisher, I learned the scarcity and value of each marketing and advertising dollar. Writers write. To do so and make a living at it we also have to develop ourselves as business owners and learn to market, promote, and develop our brand.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You are absolutely correct, Melanie. We are business owners with the world’s most personal product o sell; our thoughts and words, which is why rejection hurts so badly.

  • DB Corey

    I like it.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Thanks, D. B.

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