Welcome to the writer’s life!

By Caitlin Kelly

As readers here know, this is an ongoing series, usually every six weeks or so, updating you on the joys and sorrows of life as a full-time freelancer.

It has not been dull, kids!

The good news:

I’ve gratefully had lots of work, challenging and interesting and well-paid — the trifecta!

I was asked to ghost-write for someone I knew in freshman classes at University of Toronto, someone whose own creative life kept intersecting with mine over the ensuing years — as she also moved to Montreal then to New York City. I had never ghost-written for anyone before but it was deemed excellent and didn’t even require a second draft.

Still blogging occasionally about pancreatic cancer research for the Lustgarten Foundation. I still have never met my editor, even though we don’t live that far apart — thanks to the pandemic.

Worked more on a story for The New York Times, which I’ll blog about here when it appears, probably next week. I started work on it back in December so it’s been a while.

We leased a Mazda CX0-30 last fall, our first time in that brand, and love it. While at the dealership, I picked up the glossy Mazda magazine and emailed its editor, based in England, to say, truthfully, how much we’re enjoying the car — and can I write for them? She and I did a get-to-know-you Zoom a while back. Several pitches now under consideration, and we might work together again as a team, Jose and I, since he is a professional photographer. That would be cool!

My income from some of these has been good enough I can actually just rest for a bit. We get our Johnson and Johnson one-shot COVID vaccination this Sunday and plan to take Monday and Tuesday off if we need it afterward.

I’ve been busy with coaching clients. I spoke to a PR firm in Ohio this week and next week working with a writer pal on three of his pitches.

The frustrating:

My bloody book proposal is still not finding any success — YET!

It’s been read by five agents and one editor.

I sent it this week to a Very Big Name in our industry, someone I’ve met twice a while back, who’s published 17 (!) books on writing. He was very generous and wrote back quickly and very encouragingly.

So I’m on a steep and tiring learning curve — still trying for an agent and a trade house; starting to research potential university presses and self-publishing. It’s a lot at once to manage and it’s really hard not to just give up.

But when people who know the subject say: “This is important and timely and I can’t wait to read it” I am going to take this as sincere.

My last book was published in 2011. The publishing industry has since massively shrunk and consolidated, meaning there are fewer and fewer smaller publishers. To sell a book to one of the Big Boys now means you have to have a subject they think will sell a lot of copies.

None will look at anything without an agent….and I’ve been through five already.

But — goddamnit! — I also see what books are being commissioned and I want to throw a chair. Some are so banal I simply cannot imagine that thousands and thousands of readers are going to rush to buy them.

I try to be a good soldier and cheer on all those others but it’s hard sometimes not to succumb to bitterness and envy. My first two books quickly found good agents and they worked hard to sell them to major publishers. Many agents now are not even accepting new clients and even those I am personally referred to or know personally can’t even reply to emails. It can feel very very depressing to keep banging on every door of every gatekeeper.

This business requires tremendous determination.

Kaboom! Pow! Crunch! (aka Trying To Sell Your Book)

Books behind the bed
Image by zimpenfish via Flickr

The magic formula for selling a non-fiction book proposal might go something like this:

Talent+Timing+Idea+Voice+Competition+Agent’s Reputation+The Proposal Itself+Big Name Books Just Like It That Sold Like Mad, but Not Too Much Like It+Room Left In The Marketplace For A Book Like The Best-Sellers On A Similar Subject, But Different+Editors’ Balls+Sales Team’s Enthusiasm+Zeitgeist+Writer’s Credentials/Platform+Big Names Who Will Blurb It+Big Names Who Will Review It, Preferably Favorably+Prior Platform+ Future Appetite For Topic (by this writer in his/her voice)+Writer’s Prior Reputation+Writer’s Previous Book Sales+Writer’s Ability to Be Fabulous In Every Possible Medium for Publicity Purposes+Writer’s Pre-Existing Blog with Millions of Eager Readers+Writer’s Website Already Set Up And Paid For+Oprah Producer Ready to Take Your Call+Writer’s Ability and Willingness To Line Up Dozens of Interviews, Articles And Events to Make People Demand This Book+Writer’s Ability To Be Witty And Charming on Live Radio And/Or Television, Looking Lovely And Remembering¬† You Must Never Swear+Mental, Physical and Emotional Stamina To Complete Book On Deadline+No Seriously Competing Books Showing Up In The Meantime+Author’s Grateful Ability To Live On Very Small Advance (30% upfront, 15% to agent, 15%, or more, to taxes.)

If there’s a more spine-testing endeavor than trying to sell a book proposal (maybe a play or a film or a work of art), I don’t even want to find out what it is. Having worked this summer with a veteran agent who is not, thank God, the sort of wide-eye naif telling me How Great I Am or How Big This Will Be, our 67 double-spaced pages are now on the desks of a bunch of editors. The trick is this. We have to really believe in its potential value, or why bother? But if we care too much — OK, if I care too much — the old ego can take one hell of a beating as it makes the rounds and, inevitably, takes a bunch of hard hits. Continue reading “Kaboom! Pow! Crunch! (aka Trying To Sell Your Book)”