Author Jim HInckley signing books after leading a neon nights walking tour in Kingman, Arizona. Photo Anita Shaw
With two simple tweets author and librarian Chelsea Banning summed up the life of anyone crazy enough to try and make a living as a writer. “I have my first author signing at a local bookstore today!” Then later that evening she lamented to fans. “Only 2 people came to my author signing yesterday, so I was pretty bummed about it. Especially as 37 people responded “going” to the event. Kind of upset, honestly, and a little embarrassed.”
My reaction to a story about her experience and how those tweets went viral was a bit inappropriate. I smiled. With the exception of the words of encouragement and shared experiences from the likes of author Stephen King, Banning’s story was one that seemed quite familiar.
In The Beginning
After a stint as associate editor at the now defunct Cars & Parts, and nearly a decade of writing feature articles for a variety of small town newspapers as well as prestigious and obscure magazines, I got what seemed to be my first big break.
An editor at Iconografix, a publisher based in Wisconsin, reached out to me and pitched the idea of writing Checker Cab Photo History. It was a small book about an American classic with a fascinating but obscure history.
During an interview with Jay Leno he quipped that he was probably one of the five people that bought a copy. I countered by saying that he was actually one of seven people that actually purchased my book about the Checker company.
I had realistic expectations about that first endeavor. And so I wasn’t susrpised by the anemic sales. I should note that royalties are still paid on this book, sometimes as much as $25 per year.
The Second Chapter
The second book, The Big Book of Car Culture: The Armchair Guide to Automotive Americana, was a wild ride from day one. A conference call with the publisher followed by submission of an outline for a book entitled Bathtubs, Birdcages & Chevrolet was how it began.
That call had had left the impression that the project had already been given the green light. And then I received a rejection notice. But not just any rejection notice.. It was a barely legible copy of a copy of a copy of a generic rejection letter that was a like a kick right square in the ego.
Then about two weeks later this same publisher contacted a friend of mine in California that had written a book for him several years prior. As it turned out an author had been contracted to write the The Big Book and then dropped the ball after it was included in the company’s fall catalogue. So, the publisher was desperate.
Well, as a short version of a long story, mi amigo said he could not complete the project with such a short deadline unless he had assistance. He specifically requested I be his partner in the endeavor. And that led to the publisher calling me and talking to me like I was his best friend.
With acceptance of the contract the words of a now forgotten author that said pursuit of a career as a writer will give you insight into the mindset of the prostitute came to mind.
School Is Now Open
We beat the nearly impossible deadline and submitted a quality product. Postive reviews from publications such as Road & Track, Hemmings, and Classic American, a British publication, left me with gleeful visions of quitting the day job that supported the writing habit. That dream almost became a reality when I received notifcation that book had been awarded the bronze medal at the International Automotive Media Awards.
Fortunately I was a bit smarter than when I had quit the day job to chase dreams of striking it rich with a dry washer and an old pick up truck, or when I decided that rodeo was a good idea. Sales of the book were anemic. As it turned out years passed before we ever received that first anemic royalty check.
That was just one of many lessons learned with this project. This was also my first opportunity to experience with the type of book signing noted by Chelsea Banning. And this was also my introduction to the interview.
At one book signing the manager said that he preferred that I not deface books until they were sold. At another store that sold books and classic games, I spent the day playing checkers with old men. I showed up at one store and was stunned to see an actual line of people waiting. And then I learned that the manager had quit the week prior, and that no books had been ordered!
Interviews were another eye opening experience. Once I drove more than 150 miles through a raging snow storm for a television interview. On arrival I was told that the interview had been rescheduled. The producer apologized that no one had let me know, and then gave me a coupon for a 10% discount on breakfast at IHop. I didn’t notice the coupon had expired.
But the absolute high point was landing an interview with Jay Leno in his legendary garage. The shine faded fast on that one. I was informed that the publisher would not be reprinting the book – just four days before my interview.
The Adventure Continues
Well, those nightmares were twenty years ago. But the adventure continues. So do the lessons, the kicks to the ego, the elation, the depression, and swearing that I will never write another book, never attend another book signing and definitely never give another interview.
At the historic railroad depot in my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona my statue casts long shadows at sunset. And yet for reasons unkown, my books are nowhere to be found on the crowded shelves at the visitor center.
Recently I was surprised to find that photos of a book signing in Oatman posted on Facebook had garnered thousands of reactions and comments. And then I found that hey had been posted on the page for Walter, a donkey that is the honorary mayor of Oatman with more then 300,000 followers.
The life of a writer is not for the faint of heart. But it is a grand adventure of epic proportions. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.
The all new 1955 Studebaker station wagon, authors collection
At any age dealing with a world that has changed dramtically since last Thursday can be confusing as well as a source of anxiety. Still, for us folk that are old enough to remember battles with a sister or two in a station wagon without air conditioning during a desert crossing, helping pa change a tire along the highway, family vacations that included lots of roadside picnics, or the sound of a gas station bell that anxiety and frustration is magnified.
In recent years at the end of the day life has often left me feeling as though I have walked in during the middle of a French film, dubbed in Russian with Japanes subtiitles. Added stress comes from knowing that there will be a test about the movie in the morning before I have had coffee.
But this frustration and axiety is tempered with the realization that I am one of the fortunate few. I enjoy what I do for a living, and life in general. And that is in spite of the fact that most days include a few minutes of various news programs, or imitation news programs, valiant attempts at trying to navigate the labyrinth that is building a social media network, and attempts to figure out how to fix or work with issues created by the latest update from Microsoft, Facebook or Apple.
My days are always full and never boring. Hours are spent creating content that, I hope, is informative as well as fun, road trip inspiring, and perhaps even profitable. There are mind numbing encounters with bureaucrats and an assortment of frustrating but productive projects such as installing a wiring harness in The Beast, taxes, or fixing a water leak in a wall. But all of this is simply a part of the grand adventure that we call life.
So, aside from ongoing bouts of confusion, a baffling politcal climate, and ample opportunity to be confused, what do I see in the cyrstal ball? What do I see in the future for Jim Hinckley’s America?When it comes to peering into the future, I have learned that such an endeavor is akin to a one eyed blind man playing darts and hitting the bullseye. In other words, over the course of the past half century or so I haven’t been overly successful with accurate predictions of what the future holds. In December of 2019 did any of you have any inkling that we were on the cusp of an apocalypse or an unprecedented political circus complete with clowns, hucksters and side shows?
This screenshot from the Kingman Main Street walking tour website highlights the website with audio link, before and after photo and 360 degree photo illustrates the multifaceted nature of the project.
With that said, here is what I see in the future for Jim Hinckley’s America. Even though I feel Like Don Quixote jousting at windmills, the battle with facebook will continue in an attmept to have our account unlocked. For reasons unknown, I have been unable to move the needle for the podcasts (Wake Up With Jim and Coffee With Jim). Reach and interaction on live programs is anemic at best. And so arrangment has been made with podcast guru Stan Hustad to develop another podcast in limited partnership.
I have another book due for release in a few weeks. That will be the second one this year. They are manifestations of how my time was spent during the apocalypse. And promotion of the books will keep me busy this summer and will be a component for the fall Route 66 tour scheduled for October. As is our custom that advennture will include speaking engagements. My work with tour companies is picking up. Still it is but a shadow of what it was before 2020.
In a few weeks I will begin work on phase two of the narrated self guided historic district walking tour project spearheaded by Kingman Main Street. This has been a most fascinating and rewarding endeavor. Phase one is already enhancing the visitors experience in Kingman. It is also proving to be popular with Kingman residents.
I have been giving a great deal of thought to the fast approaching Route 66 centennial. Surely I will have The Beast on the road before that date! On a serious note as tourism offices and community organizers develop events to capitalize on and celebrate that momentous event, there is a noticable uptick in inquiries about my availability for appearances. So, I see some travel in the very near future.
With the restrictions imposed by Facebook, I have been educating myself about development of our YouTube channel. This is something that has been neglected so the Facebook issue is a sort of make lemonade out of lemons opportunity.
Author Jim HInckley speaking at the 2019 Miles of Possibility Conference. Photo Penny Black
As we have learned in the last few years, everything is subject to change a moments notice. Still, we have to plan for the worst and hope for the best. And we have to make plans. So, bottom line. At Jim Hinckley’s America we will keep telling people where to go and finding new venues for sharing the adventure.
Route 66 is no mere highway. There are Route 66 associations in Europe, Japan, Canada and Australia. Many of them organize events and tours, and publish travel guides. In Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Europe there are companies that specialize in Route 66 tours. At the 2018 European Route 66 Festival in Zlin, Czechia an estimated 20,000 people were in attendance from ten countries including Brazil. The innovative Route 66 Navigation app and Mother Road Route 66 Passport that has transformed the travelers experience on this storied highway was developed by the owner of Touch Media in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Tulsa, Oklahoma has initiated an ambitious program to restore a colorful neon glow to the Route 66 corridor. Innovative initiatives developed to capitalize on the popularity of Route 66 are sparking a renaissance in derelict neighborhoods.
With the Route 66 centennial fast approaching all along this storied highway from Chicago to Santa Monica old motels are being given a new lease on life with some becoming destinations. Towns large and small are using the international fascination with Route 66 as a catalyst for historic district revitalization as well as economic development.
Even though the highway is lined with tangible links to centuries of history, Route 66 is often viewed as America’s longest attraction, a linear attraction instead of as a string of time capsules. The focus is often myopic and centers on neon, tail fins, and a romanticized view of American life in the 1950s.
With this book my intent was to introduce the reader to a few special communities that highlight Route 66 as the world’s longest museum. I also wante to present this storied road as a living time capsule and add depth as well as context to the story of the most famous highway in America.
And that takes me to the title of today’s post. To date the reviews for the book have been mixed. Some of the comments posted are constructive criticism that I will keep in mind. A few leave me wondering if the critic thumbed thorugh the book or if they actually read it. Long ago I learned a valuable lesson that I share with the novice author. Read the reviews for insight and ideas, but DON’T take them personally. Remeber, it is just business.
Some of the reviews reflect a lack of udnerstanding about the process, the work involved with transforming an idea into a book. But that can be said about most any work from building a house to restoring a car.
Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts
When it comes to writing there is more than just hours of research and adding words to blank pages. The publisher wants to turn a profit, and that becomes their priority. The editor strives to meet the needs of the publisher, preserve the artisitic visionof the author, and yet keep the overall work within a rigid set of parameters.
As an example, with this book I profilied a few select communities to illustrate a point, Route 66 is the link between past, present and future. A few of the reviewers questioned why some towns and cities were included but not others. Well, the simple explanation is that if every town was included the reader would need a truck to get it from the book store to the house, and a reinforced shelf to store the book.
The price is another issue that has been noted in numerous reviews. Yes, to be honest I was shocked as well. And then I ordered several reams of paper and discovered that the cost had risen dramatically since last year. Yesterday I topped off the gas tank for a trip to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and suffered from a bit of sticker shock. But on my return to Kingman, I noticed the price had increased a dime in less than twelve hours.
I write this as an explanation, and to spark some conversation, not as a complaint. If I were thin skinned reviews would never be read. But after wrestling with editors, trying to meet the needs of publishers, working to market the book, finding ways to make enough money to fund the writinig habit, and dealing with things such as being locked out of my Facebook account, I have developed a rather tough hide.
And with that said here is some free advice for the aspiring author. We are each blessed with gifts and talents. And we have a responsibility to develop them so we may be a blessing unto others. The focus can not be on making money as that will generally lead to disappointment.
This is not to say that there isn’t tremendous satisfaction in writing. And it opens some amazing doors. But you will need to be creative if you want to eat on a regular basis. You will also need to be ambitious, think outside the box, and learn to roll with the punches.
And with that said here is a recent interview with 2Lane Life. A disclaimer is warranted. I am not the only one that has technical issues. The first five minutes of the program are plagued with an array of audio issues. With that said sit back and enjoy a visit with America’s storyteller.
This early view of Cool Springs on Route 66 in western Arizona most likely dates to shortly after its construction in 1925 or 1926. Authors collection.
So, what’s next? Funny that you should ask. This is exactly what I have been asking myself this past few days. If things go as planned (that would be different) I should be busier than a one legged man in a behind kicking contest.
I have set a rather ambitious goal of having the envisioned rolling Route 66 information center as a Route 66 centennial project and Jim Hinckley’s Americamobile studio on the road by the time of the Route 66 Fun Run, which is held on the first weekend in May. The first hurdle to overcome is needed funding that will have to come from sponsors as well as through our crowdfunding initiative.
There is little needed to make the ’51 Chevy panel truck a rather dependable local driver. But if it is going to be driven to events such as the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois or a book signing at Auto Books Aero Books in Burbank, California there is need for a bumper to bumper work over. And it is the tours that will make it valuable promotional resource for the Route 66 community.
Since its formation in 1994 the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona has always been quick to support promotional projects and public arts initiatives. Still, I was humbled and surprised when they announced that the association would contribute $1,000 to the endeavor. That should cover tires and the purchase of a wiring harness.
Over the course of the next week I will complete a full evaluation of the truck, and then create a budget. This includes a short Route 66 drive to scrounge parts from the parts truck that was part of the package. And I will get it registered and licensed for the first time in five years, and take care of insurance.
I recently finished an article for Routeabout the Dunton family that has had a business association with Route 66 in western Arizona since at least 1926. N.R. Dunton, the family patriarch, had a garage and towing service in Goldroad, built Cool Springs, and purchased Taylor Owens Ford in Kingman shortly after WWII. It should be published in February, which is in time for the Route 66 Byways Conference in Needles, California.
Several days before Christmas an article about Route 66 neon signage was finished and sent to the editor of Crankshaft, a new automotive publication. As I have worked with Richard Lentinello in the past during his tenure at Hemmings, I have hopes that this will become a regular gig.
I put the downtime of the past eighteen months to good use. The first of the two books written is scheduled for release next month. So, promotion and book signings will be added to the schedule pending more curve balls such as those that we have been dealing with since March 2020.
A new season of community education programs developed for Mohave Community College kicks off in January. I initially created the classes to foster a greater awareness about area history, Route 66 and how both can contribute to tourism related economic growth.
The college had initially planned for the tourism department to put the classes to use in educating the areas service industry personnel. When that didn’t happen Lori Gunnette, the ambitious Corporate and Community Education Coordinator got creative. And I began meeting with the owners of companies such as Laughlin Tours. So, I am quite confident that we will be making a positive contribution this spring.
A mock up of the envisioned rolling Route 66 information center and mobile studio.
Of course the big project is work on the self guided, narrated historic district walking tours. This ambitious endeavor being spearheaded by Kingman Main Street could be used as a template for development of similar projects in other communities. That enhances its value.
I have always had an issue with the development of long term strategies but since at least March 2020 things are subject to change at less than a moments notice. And that is just a bit maddening. Still, the first quarter of 2022 is shaping up to be busy, productive, and possibly profitable.
I launched my professional writing career in 1990 with the sale of a feature article to Hemmings Motor News. Over the course of the next fifteen years I wrote a stream of feature articles for an array of publications, had a part time job as associate editor with Cars & Parts, and wrote a few books. A couple of the books garnered international accolades and awards. And two of them landed me an interview with Jay Leno in his famous garage.
Still, I had a full time job that supported the writing habit. Then in 2015 my dearest friend and I launched Jim Hinckley’s America as a multifaceted travel network that was built on books I had written and would write.
I have no complaints. I greatly enjoy writing. But what I enjoy most are the friendships that are made through writing, and the doors for amazing adventures that writing have opened. So, from that perspective I am a very successful author.
Well, the contract for book number 20 has been finalized. That as well as the negotiation for that contract inspired a great deal of reflection on the changes that are transforming the publishing industry, the challenges associated with making a living from the written word, and the misconceptions that people have about writing.
First, it has never been easy to earn a living as a writer. Very, very few authors earn their entire living from the writing of books. That was the case in 1890, 1940, 1960 and today. Even though word processors, research using the internet and other modern wonders have made the job easier, the money earned from writing has, in general decreased. Case in point, last year in search of work I contacted a major publication that had published some of my work in the 1990s. The amount paid for a feature article is now $50 to $100 less than it was twenty-five years ago.
And yet, if the author is willing to take side jobs, it is easier than ever to supplement income. Content is king. Websites and marketing companies that build websites realize the value of well written blogs to boost SEO as well as traffic. So, I write blog posts for pest control companies, marijuana dispensaries, chambers of commerce, RV sales and service companies, and others. It pays the bills. For each blog post I am paid almost exactly what I was paid for feature articles when I was writing for a regional newspaper – in the 1990s.
As the writing is but one component in the Jim Hinckley’s network, I am fortunate to be able to solicit for advertisers. And I am fortunate to have fans that will trade support of our crowdfunding initiative for exclusive original content.
If you would like to read more about becoming a published author, the challenges associated with juggling projects to provide an income flow, or updates on the current project, please consider becoming a supporter of our crowdfunding initiative on the Patreon platform.