This article appeared August 30, 2017 on Writers in the Storm
My whole life I’ve had a star-struck, rock-star admiration for authors. Before I even imagined writing a book I’d pour over back flaps, studying author bios and photos, wondering how much of the novel was inspired by real events.
While I drafted what would become my debut: Root, Petal, Thorn, I dreamed readers would savor the subtle connections and deeper themes in my novel, like I’d done as a reader over the years. They’d ask insightful questions and I’d provide profound answers. They’d know me via my story and I’d know they loved it.
I was in for a Reality Check.
Yes, I’ve had fantastic conversations with readers about my work, but in truth many conversations (especially those which occur in passing) are far from the imagined ideal. Below is a list of the most Frequently Asked Questions, my canned Answers, and What I’m Really Thinking:
Q: How is your book doing? How many copies have you sold?
A: It’s hard to track all of the sales but I think it’s doing well. Enough. *modest shrug*
Really Thinking: I have no solid idea. Turns out it’s very difficult to determine how many copies are sold until that twice-a-year statement arrives. And even then the royalty statements are difficult to read. In this age of constant connection I believe this royalty system should be a little more precise and if not more precise, more transparent, and if not more transparent, at least more timely.
Q: Have you made a lot of money?
A: Not enough to pay the mortgage. Turns out most published authors make less than $10,000 a year. *smile as they gasp in horror*
RT: After I finished Root, Petal, Thorn (but before I got an agent) I must have lived in a bubble. I guess I didn’t read the proper blogs about a typical advance. I dreamed of taking all of my beta readers (and their families) on a far-flung vacation to thank them for their help (I was thinking a Greek Island). About this time I went to a small, local conference where one giddy woman had just sold her book to an actual publisher. I was in a bathroom stall as she stood at the sink washing her hands, discussing her advance loudly over the rushing water. I stopped mid-stream to hear her say, “Seven Thousand Dollars.” I couldn’t finish. I found that girl later at the conference to confirm. Face pulsing from embarrassment and fingers crossed behind my back that I’d misheard, I stuttered, “If you don’t mind me asking, I overheard you say you received an advance of $70,000. Is that typical?” She laughed. She actually spit a little of her Diet Pepsi into her hand. “Drop a zero.”
Huge reality check (sadly not a huge advance check…)
Q: I have this great idea. You could write a book about it and we could share the money. You see, there’s this guy and he…
A: *listen quietly for five minutes, then break in* That is a great concept! But it’s really your story to tell.
RT: If you only knew how many fantastic ideas I have. Coming up with story nuggets is the very best part of writing a book because they’re all so perfect at conception. The real work is taking that shimmer of an idea and turning it into 90,000 words.
Q: I found several mistakes in your novel. Things like the true syndication date for The Brady Bunch. I’ve made you a comprehensive list on my Goodreads review.
A: Thank you. I’ll take a look. A team of people read the book before publication but we’re all human.
RT: Are you kidding me? I better also see five stars!
Q: I’ve written six hundred pages about my great-great-great grandfather’s journey from Norway to the United States. I’m wondering if you’d give it a read and provide a little feedback?
A: Actually, you would be better served finding a group of other writers who are at the same place in their writing process. I currently have a group of beta readers who I work with.
RT: No, oh lord, no!
Q: My grandma loved your book but I didn’t read it.
A: Grandmas tend to love my book but so do a bunch of young people. You should read it.
RT: Was she being rude? I think that was a subtle dig. She thinks my book is boring.
Q: The cover isn’t something I’d pick up. Did you choose it?
A: I didn’t. The publisher has the last say about cover art.
RT: The cover for Root, Petal, Thorn wasn’t exactly what I imagined when I wrote the book, but it grew on me over time. I’m still working to embrace the cover image for Where the Sweet Bird Sings. I wish I had more input on my cover art but sometimes we authors don’t always get what we want.
Q: In your second book, where does the title Where the Sweet Bird Sings come from?
A: The story is about secrets hidden in the branches of a family tree. That’s where the sweet bird sings, you see, in a family tree. It’s a search for identity through ancestral and genetic records. It’s about accepting and loving a family even after betrayal, even after tragedy. I hope you read it!
RT: See above. I do hope you read it!