Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Worth of a Book

By Jeffrey Savage
(Warning: I wrote this Monday night at 10:00. At 10:15, at the very moment I was trying to post it, my internet provider's link to all things Google went down, and still is not up. I had to post this using my cell phone internet access. Coincidence? You'll have to decide for yourself. So yeah, I'm backdating this to Monday night.)

It’s getting very close to a time that is both exciting and nerve-wracking for an author. You’ve written your story. You’ve acquired the agent of your dreams. You’ve gone back and forth, changing, improving, polishing and editing. Finally your agent says, “Wow, this story really stinks!” Okay, that’s not really what your agent says—except in those reoccurring dreams that wake you up weeping on your giant pillow. (Ten points for the movie reference.)

What your agents does say is, “I think we’re ready to send this out.” Which translates roughly as, “You know that book you’ve been eating, breathing, and sweating over for the last nine months? Well you’re about to find out if it has any value in the real world.”

Of course that really isn’t true. Because whether or not the book sells, and even the size of the advance, does not really place an accurate value on a book. If it did, J. K. Rowling wouldn’t have gotten a single rejection. And books that completely bombed wouldn’t have gotten seven figure advances. It’s amazing how many times one publisher turns a book down, and another snaps it up, or the wide variance in offers from one publisher to another. You can’t set a price on a book, the way you can on a say a hot pastrami sandwich with brown mustard on marble rye, with a homemade dill pickle that . . . yummm . . . Sorry, moving on.

But it feels true.

You start having these discussions where your kids suddenly say things like, “Hey, Dad, if your book sells for a lot of money, can we go on a Disney Cruise?” You find your wife pricing a new tile floor and granite counter tops. Your oldest son asks what kind of car you’re buying him when he gets home. And you remind them over and over that you’ll be thrilled if the book sells at all.

But deep inside, you’re asking yourself the same question. Will it sell? Will it be a multi-book deal? Will it sell? Who would be my ideal publisher? Will it sell? Will we retain foreign rights? Will it sell? You tell yourself not to dream, but really you can’t help it. You go from researching all the deals you can find on Publishers Marketplace to bracing yourself on how you’ll handle things if you don’t get any offers. Because even the best book, repped by the best agent, may not sell.

What makes it even worse is a part of you is saying how crazy the whole thing is anyway. “You know what I don’t understand?” says a voice that sounds exactly like Andy Rooney at the end of Sixty Minutes. “Why anyone would pay anything for a story you made up? You can’t eat it. You can’t wear it. You can’t drive it to work. You can’t even touch it unless you spend a few bucks for a ream of paper and the ink to print it on.”

And you know the voice is right. Roughly a year ago you were about to fall asleep when you imagined a teenage demon waiting for a train full of humans who had been cast into Hell. Who would pay good money for a story you dreamed up?

But then you start thinking about all the books you’ve read and loved. You look around your office and realize that between you, your wife, and your kids, you own well over 2,000 books. Even if a good chunk of them are paperbacks (and probably 1/3rd of them are not) that’s still over $15,000 worth of stories. All of them made up in someone’s head. All of them nothing more than words on paper. And even if someone offered you twice that much to take away all of the joy you had reading them, you wouldn’t even consider the offer.

And there are certain books you wouldn’t give up for any amount of money. The first time you read The Outsiders, or Lord of the Flies, and were just blown away. All the times you’ve read Where the Red Fern Grows to your kids, and they never knew you suddenly had to take lots of drinks of water toward the end of the book not because you were thirsty, but because you were trying to keep them from seeing you cry. Lord of the Rings, Ender’s Game, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Something Wicked This Way Comes. All stories that you wouldn’t give up for any amount of money.

And maybe you aren’t Tolkien or Bradbury. But you must be doing something right when you get e-mails that say things like, “You deserve an award winning medal. I have never read books for fun until my teacher, Mrs. Cox, requested this extrodinary book to my achknowledgement. I thought it was some other book. I took a look at the cover and it sparked something inside me. I got two pages into the Water Keep, and it caused a downpour of gasaline on my desire to read.. I read your book for hours upon hours fuiling the fire lit inside me. “

And you realize that regardless of what happens (or doesn’t happen) over the next few weeks, the value of a good book is . . . priceless.

So what books would you never give up, no matter the price, and why?


9 Comments:

At 10/05/2010 10:08 AM, Blogger Krista said...

Excellent post. Something to remember as we wait and wait for word on a submission, for feedback from readers, for a release date...

And also, So I Married an Ax Murderer.

And also, is there swiss on this sandwich? Because it looks pretty big and I'm a little hungry. Sharesies...

And also, LoTR, Harry Potter series, my Jane Austen collection, the first romance my grandma gave me, The Great and Terrible series... oh, just go see my Goodreads list.

 
At 10/05/2010 10:11 AM, Blogger Krista said...

Oh wait, in So I Married an Ax Murderer, it "wee little pilla", not giant pillow. So ax that answer. Heh.

 
At 10/05/2010 10:17 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Nope you were right the first time. He's making fun of his son's giant head and says, "He'll be crying himself to sleep tonight, on his huge pillow."

 
At 10/05/2010 10:55 AM, Blogger Krista said...

Ha! "I'm not kidding. It's like and orange on a toothpick!"

 
At 10/05/2010 2:03 PM, Blogger Michael Knudsen said...

Although I found almost everything else he wrote virtually unreadable, I have never been able to get William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury out of my head since college. It's just the most genius piece of writing I've ever come up against. Great stories...priceless!

 
At 10/05/2010 6:13 PM, Blogger Charlie Moore said...

One thing good about being an established author, whether nationally or regionally published, is that you have "foot in the door" status. That means a publisher is going to look at your continuing bodies of work (as long as they're making some money off of you, of course.) It may not always mean publication, but it will mean feedback for improvement and direction to what is being sought. I think this sometimes means the waiting game is not as painful or maybe just in a different way. In no way am I saying all pre-publication stress is eliminated.

For me one of the great books written in the 20th century was The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck knew what he was doing. But for the reading I crave, the books I would never give up and that I read repeatedly are those of Louis L'Amour.

 
At 10/05/2010 7:46 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Charlie,

That's true for my LDS stuff. But for national publishing, I got nothing. Even my Farworld books give me no clout in NYC. So in this case I'm right back to the beginning. In fact, I've even worse off than that. Because back then I had no idea what was going on. I was blissfully naive.

 
At 10/05/2010 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlie:

I don't think its feedback the already-published authors enjoy. The foot-in-the-door is really a direct line to the editorial staff. When your next book shows up, its doesn't go on the same pile as the initial submission. It goes directly to the editor's desk who does not want to know: Is this worth a closer look? What she's asking herself on the second submission is: what reason, if any, story problem, stupid pros, dumb plot, audience relevance, sellability, would keep us from accepting this one for publication?

On the first book they want to know if there is any reason to accept the MS. On the second submission they want to know if there is any reason to reject it.
There aint a lot of feedback in any of it. But with your foot in the door you don't have to impress so much as not dissapoint.

Jeff:

What I would never give away? Johnny Tremain! Its a 1943 children's novel by Esther Forbes and it retells in narrative form events in Boston prior to and during the outbreak of the American Revolution. The novel's themes include apprenticeship, courtship, sacrifice, human rights, and the growing tension between Whigs and Tories as conflict nears.

Events described in the novel include the Boston Tea Party, the British blockade of the Port of Boston, the midnight ride of Paul Revere, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

The book won the 1944 Newbery Medal and is the 16th bestselling children's book as of 2000 in the United States, according to Publishers Weekly.

 
At 10/06/2010 3:07 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Great post! Happy reading to all those editors who have Demon Spawn.

 

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