The Importance of Networking
After I signed my first contract with a traditional publishing house (I admit it, I cried I was so excited!), I saw myself tapping away at my laptop, a happy camper creating good and compelling stories on a blank screen one year, then starting all over with a new story and doing it again, and so on. Boy, was I wrong. There's the major detail of getting the word out about my novel and, then the next step, getting it into the hands of readers.
The hard part for me, is promoting, selling what I write. The business aspect of writing, having never worked a sales job in my life, remains a challenge. An agent would help but I don't have one. We as writers can write tremendous stories that are at risk of becoming the best kept secret in town unless we can somehow get the word out, grow and nurture a large following and accumulate more than a local audience. I haven't done this yet, but I've had a few chances.
The book business has changed dramatically over recent years and by no means is the metamorphosis done. My hometown of St. Louis was recently voted the number one city for independent bookstores, but since that title was bestowed, two bookstores have gone under and another large one will soon close. If there's been a more difficult time in history to break into this business, I'd like to know it. Millions of people are, or have written, books. How can one stand out and have a better chance at greater distribution to the point of quitting the day job? I'm not there yet either, but here are my suggestions. One relates to the craft of writing and one to getting a foot in the door somewhere, anywhere.
No matter how great we may think we are as writers, we can always be better. Two extremely helpful books on the art of writing are Story by Robert McKee and The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. They break down writing and story to their essentials. I have no vested interest in these books other than they helped me write better stories. There are other great books on writing too. Who suggested the books to me in the first place relates to a chance I had at getting my foot in the door.
To do this, we have to network, make the right contact(s). It may only take one. If you've written a novel, go to local book signings of known authors in your genre. Look up their websites. Meet them but don't stalk them. Mention you have a book you're looking for help with and see how they respond. Trust me, they've heard it before. That's how I met Ridley Pearson, who was kind enough to refer me to his assistant who referred me to his former editor in California. I hired this editor (for as long as my money lasted because he didn't come cheaply), to edit and critique a much earlier version of my manuscript. He told me of the two books mentioned above. My knowledge of story and writing grew and, if I could convince this editor my manuscript was worthy of his standards, he'd pass it on to an agent and publisher and put his name behind it. I had a chance for a much broader market, but my writing wasn't up to speed years ago. It cost me a grand for that shot which didn't pay immediate dividends, but did help push me forward, better prepared.
I attended one writer's seminar last year at my publisher's suggestion and highly recommend it for every wannabe writer. Choose one in your genre. Mine was out of town and, with hotel and fees, cost about $500-600 for the weekend. Conferences usually have not only best-selling authors, but publishers, agents and other writers, either published or wanting to be. The genre closest to my writing is psychological suspense/crime fiction. I rubbed elbows and ate and drank with Jeremiah Healy, Steve Hamilton, John Gilstrap, and Hank Phillippe Ryan during my conference. I struck up a relationship with Jeremiah Healy and we got to talking about movie deals because my novel Counterfeit drew early attention from New Line Cinema staffers and from an underling of director Sam Raimi (I had joined Publisher's Marketplace on-line the year before, for $25 a month you can pitch your novel to anyone who's a member, that includes agents and movie houses). Talks fizzled with both, but Mr. Healy gave me his personal e-mail address and was so kind he collaborated with me on a movie synopsis for Counterfeit, spending hours of his personal time on our synopsis. I failed to defer to his expertise when he suggested to compress several characters into one and simplify my complex plot for Hollywood, and as a result, we couldn't resolve our artistic differences. The point of this is I had another shot at greater exposure, even though I probably blew it for now, but I had a shot. I also have his third draft of the synopsis and will modify it to my liking and send it to another contact of mine. Why did Mr. Healy do this for a relative unknown? He said he was paying it forward and, if I ever make it to his level, I will do the same. Network, network, network. Like I said, it only takes one.
A licensed clinical social worker, Scott L. Miller earned his Master’s in Social Work at St. Louis University and has worked with adults, children, and the elderly in state and private hospitals in St. Louis city and county over thirty years. Working at the old Malcolm Bliss and St. Louis State Hospitals provided him with his early psychiatric training and gave him his first taste of the street life captured in his second novel, Counterfeit. The protagonist, Mitchell Adams, is a Ph.D. social worker in private practice in present day St. Louis.
Long fascinated by the wonders of the human mind, he quit writing exceptionally bad poetry and studied fiction writing under the late John Gardner and later at Washington University. He began writing and re-writing versions of his first novel, The Interrogation Chair, in lieu of sleeping at night. The sequel, a stand-alone second novel, Counterfeit, was published in 2013 by Layla Dog Press, a subsidiary of Blank Slate Press. The first in the Mitchell Adams series, The Interrogation Chair, initially self-published May of 2011, has been re-written and planned for release as Interrogation in October 2014.
He is currently working on a third Mitchell Adams novel, working title The Virtual Suicide Machine, from his home in Chesterfield, MO, where he lives with his wife Beta and their barn of beagles and cats. He occasionally finds time for sleep now, unless the animals hog the bed.