Friday, February 16, 2018

The Man Who Ineffectively Gave Up Everything to Be a Writer

Upon arriving in Laramie to visit my good friend, she thrust at me a book and said, “Tell me what you think of this.”

Let’s be honest. When I’m asked that, what they’re usually saying is, “I want you to rip this a new one.”

But I, constantly oblivious to the cynical light my friends put me in, looked at it with an open-mind, the cover being actually interesting, unique, yet professional looking. I didn’t realize it was self-published until I started to read the back. As I looked through one of the least informative summaries I’ve ever seen, my friend started to tell me the story behind the book.

The author was married to a beautiful wife whom he loved and who loved him. He had several kids with her, a good paying job, and a great house. According to him, his life was perfect, but he was not happy. He had always wanted to be a writer, to travel across the states peddling his book. So, one day, he decided to give it all up. He told his wife he wanted a divorce, quit his job, printed many copies of the novel, and left California to seek his fame, traveling across the states. He wanted to get to the East coast.

He had stopped in Laramie, Wyoming, for no other reason than because it was there. It wasn’t as though he had a signing or reading. If you know anything about Wyoming, it is a state predominantly inhabited by cows. While being one of the bigger land masses, there is less than a million people in its boundaries.

I don’t understand this man.

My experience is predominantly in theatre and short stories, so I can’t give advice to selling novels, specifically, but I will say that I have attempted to promote myself, and my biggest successes comes not from the internet or functions, but rather personal, one on one connections, which is clearly what he’s trying to do. And it worked to some extent. He gave my friend the book for free, but her boyfriend, interested in writing, bought one too, and it was through her word of mouth that it came to me. If it had been my genre and the back hadn’t contained so many errors, maybe I would have stolen if from her. But I believe that you don’t need to travel across the country to do it. What’s on the east coast specifically? Why couldn’t he have started closer to home where his children and wife were, the one he complained about missing so much? Why did he need a divorce instead of just going out to the bars in one town over and doing the same thing?

I mean, sure, I understand why it is easier to pitch to stranger than people you know; I feel that. But even still, go two hours over and get your name out in a specific town. What you want is for a core group of people to start talking. It’s better to be the big fish in a small pond than to randomly grab random fish from different ponds. Having people talk about your book, two people who know something about it, is incredibly useful.

I think the obvious answer here is that he wanted to do a road trip. I know I do. I want to grab a motorcycle and ride cross country ala King style. I don’t blame him for that. So why does he need to divorce his wife to do it?

Couldn’t he have just talked to her, said, I need to do this for me? Give me six or eight months to try and sell my book? According to my friend, he didn’t have that discussion, but just informed her he wanted out.

“Sounds like a mid-life crisis to me,” I said.

Perhaps he wanted to start over. He regretted his decisions and thought this would make him happy. Maybe he was lying, or there’s an issue of miscommunication. Maybe his wife said, “If you go, I will divorce you.” Who knows? Something is off here.

The whole strategy seemed desperate and poorly thought out. It’s like when you get rejected by literary journal and think, “Well, if only the readers could see it, they’d like it!” So you take to self-publishing to find no one else cares either. Or, in my case, when I couldn’t find producers, I produced myself. You can’t make your friends buy your books, so you turn to strangers. You can’t write because you are too busy, yet when you find yourself unemployed, you still can’t work. These are not bad decisions. It’s just that we often, when most lost, will seek out big changes in our situation to help us only to find that it didn’t change the results at all. And in his case, he risked everything, putting all of his energy into misguided places.

I want him to succeed. I can’t be angry with him (though I kind of want to be) because I honestly don’t know the whole story, why he left his family like that—maybe it was their idea. Maybe he thought he’d come back with more money. I have a feeling his happiness there was a lie, or a “grass is always greener” reflection on the past. But he put a lot into his work, and that is too be admired.

I just think he put it in the wrong place.

His summary needs work.

He has a few (albeit less common) grammatical mistakes. He inadvertently criticizes his own cover by negating the childishness of it and spelling out for the audience the book is for grown-ups. He spends the entire summary describing the kind of book it is, vague, “deep” thematic connections, and making promises of emotional investment and payoff that he can’t necessarily keep. He misled me into believing it was nonfiction by claiming it was a “faithful documentation” of… insert winding and vague description here.

The reason he never explained what the plot was because it turned out to be disjointed short stories with characters of hugely differing ages, different time periods, and no real through-line. Keeping in mind that random, unconnected tangents tend to be the ineffective work of an inexperienced author. This didn’t give me anymore faith.

I wish I could follow his story. Perhaps if I examined the book better I could find a blog or something detailing his experience. It’s certainly something I’d be interested in. But it was a lesson for me in a big way. Not only do we not have to give up so much to be writers, sometimes it’s not in our best interest. It’s possible if he, instead of handing books to random strangers in random places, had been more precise about his audience, attempting to pick his location better, studied effective and non-effective book backings, and had realized that changing his scenery wouldn’t necessarily change his outlook, it’s more likely his energy would have achieved more than—or as much as—the depression he felt drinking in that bar that day.

It’s difficult for all authors to know where to direct their effort, what will be fruitful, and what sacrifices will result in success, but I will remember from now on that the harder and more effective venture is often about working with what you have and not running to the other side for greener pasture.

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