Defacing Books For Fun and Profit
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.