Throw the dice, find a four-leafed clover, don’t forget your horseshoe … oh yeah … and the BIG secret

teehee … Now we’re either on the edge of our seats waiting for the big, top secret to success. But first …Here are some crazy business/publishing/reader facts just to make you feel like crap:

  1. Our readers: 1/3 high schoolers don’t read another book after high school. And 42% of college grads can be lumped in the same box. 80% of US families DID NOT buy or read a single book last year. 70% of American Adults haven’t set foot in a bookstore in at least 5 years.
  2. 70% of books published do not earn their advances back. (meaning 70% of all books on the market lose money for their publisher)
  3. According to R.R. Bowker, there are about 175,000 books published each year. That is an average of 479 books each day, or about 19 books every hour. (Kind of makes me feel NOT so special right now)
  4. According to Publishers Weekly, there are more than 86,300 publishing companies worldwide. Self-publishers make up the vast majority. In fact, self-publishers make up about 86,000 of that figure. There are about three or four hundred mid-sized publishers and six large publishers that are well-known. These figures give you a good idea of how difficult it can be to have a book accepted by a major publisher.
Uff … Take a seat. I know. We have these incredibly high hopes for our books and our author platforms. We’ll be the next … fill-in-the-blank.
So what’s that secret? It depends on how you define success.
As for success in my career, that’s tricky. True: I have four published books and am writing my fifth (under contract). But my numbers, by any measure of “success” aren’t successful. In fact, my sales are … not good. Honestly, I owe my career to my relentlessly supportive agent and first novel, FREEZE FRAME, that won the IRA (international reading association) Best Book for Children and Teens in 2009. This was a big deal award and I’ve been riding that out on every novel ever since. Again, though, I’m NOT a “successful” author because I simply don’t have sales … I’ve never earned royalties on any books (to date) and have never gone into a second printing on any books, not even FREEZE FRAME … I feel successful in my career, though, because I’m able to do what I love. Also, it’s a hard world to break into. Just having one novel on the shelves is a gift!
So, let’s ignore the numbers. After that ramble. What makes any writer successful?

  1. I love my job.
  2. I work hard. I sit and write. I write badly. I revise. I listen to critiques. I re-write. I stare at cursors blinking on the screen. I procrastinate. But at the end of the day, I write.
  3. I’m hungry. As opposed to “life success” … my career success hinges on this. I need to feel the hunger, the drive to write better. To come up with more interesting characters. To read and read and read and study so I can write better. Hunger is KEY to success. I don’t sit back and think a muse will come. I sit and work my tail off until at least one sentence in ten pages is worth saving.
  4. I share. So many people want to “guard” the gates. Keep secrets. I recommend agents and editors to writers. I pass along information. I try to help my writers’ group with critiques. I support libraries, teachers, and anybody who loves books. I will give a SKYPE visit to anybody who donates to my charity of choice: FIRST BOOK.ORG, instead of asking for payment.
  5. I’ve been able to write what I love. I’ve had editors and houses support my crazy ideas and back me up even when the numbers weren’t there. Lots of people work to make this happen. Lots of people take leaps of faith. I’m just lucky to have had this, time and again.

Ignore the numbers. Define “success.” And enjoy the ride because, well, it’s a tough one but worth it. Even if you get ONE SINGLE LETTER  a year from a kid who says, “Wow. I haven’t read a book in ages. I loved your book.”

One letter? Success. Big time. That’s the secret — that one letter.Image


My Literary One-Night Stands


Hold on! We’ve gotta make this last!

I read a wonderful article about love and how falling in love is the easy part (it’s involuntary, it’s chemical, biological … animal). Staying in love, though, is a choice. It hit home because my husband and I have been together for fifteen years. (Yikes! We’ve gotten through TWO seven-year itches.) And, admittedly, the fireworks are still there, just perhaps not as loud or sparkly. Two daughters later, one JUST a year old, it’s hard to get the passion going when you haven’t slept through the night for a year. (Yes. The whole babies sleep through the night at three months is a bunch of bullshit. If you’re one of THOSE parents who had that, just … just don’t tell me, okay?) But my husband and I have constructed a wonderful life with the kind of quiet love (yeah, the loud will come back more frequently one day) that has grown over years of unforgettable moments: practicing to be human statues to make money to pay the rent; hiking through the Himalayas, Torres del Paine and Peru;  hitchhiking in Europe; buying our first apartment; dancing until dawn; dancing in the moonlight in Saint Marco’s Square; now raising two little miracles (who don’t sleep). I’m okay with the quiet. In fact, it suits my personality. I’m as loyal as hell and can’t imagine my world without this beautiful man (even through groggy mornings and earlier than I thought adults would ever go to bed nights).

My literary loves, though, aren’t quiet ones. I’m addicted to falling in love – that first-time-feeling when I read a new book. I’m a love junky! So I rarely re-read books. Rarely. (This could be because in college, we had to read and deconstruct novels ad nauseum). There are a few exceptions, but when I re-read, I do so for the craft of the novel, to study its construction, not for the love affair. My love affairs with novels, then, are my one-night stands and summer romances (the kind I never got into being single since I was too shy for that kind of thing.) . I’m kind of a book tramp, I guess. J So now, I give all my books away to the local library after reading them except for the ones that make my juices run, the ones that make me laugh out loud. Those, though, I don’t want to re-read because I want to keep that first impression, that giddy feeling of holy shit this is out of this world. These novels include: Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,  The Book Thief, The Road, Going Bovine, Speak, Feed, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,  Five Flavors of Dumb, Winter Girls, As I Lay Dying, Cannery Row, The Day of the Locust, Breadcrumbs, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Fat Vampire … There are more. Many more.

asilaydying five.flavors.dumb

Maybe one day I’ll revisit these novels. Maybe when my daughters or nieces are falling in love with them. It would be nice to read them down the road and talk about them and see the beauty of being head-over-heels for someone else’s words. Until then, though, I think I’ll just keep them on the bookshelf so I can glance at them and remember what is wonderful, what writing is truly and absolutely phenomenal. It’ll be like having my own personal collection of saucy love notes and souvenirs from those one-night stands. *sigh*