Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NIck Jans: When the Book Dream Comes True

Nick Jans

It’s a writer’s dream come true. A major publisher grabs your pitch, offers a wow contract, and off you go. You get good support but plenty of freedom, spot-on editing, and a great cover design. Best-selling authors offer fabulous blurbs. Your book opens to glowing reviews from the usual places, and better-than-good national sales. Supported by a savvy marketing plan and superb distribution, supported by a flurry from established bloggers, the first printing of 20 thousand moves fast enough that two weeks later, they’re printing a few thousand more; and three weeks later, another small printing (that’s the method of addressing demand in this era of nimble printing and supply). A national big-box store picks up your book. Your agent and editor trade email high-fives with you. There’s talk of a big time review, but it doesn’t materialize.

Six weeks after release, the publisher hires an outside publicist to organize a national radio drive—a blitz of a couple dozen phone-in interviews. This, along with social media, email, online reader reviews, and a professionally redesigned website (the latter your own idea and built on your dime) are the ways your book gets around. Old-fashioned author events, not so much. In fact, your publisher’s entire budget for author travel is just 2500 bucks. You pitch in airline miles, couch surf with friends, and eat a lot of Subway on a modest regional tour—a total of fewer than a dozen events, more than half set up by you, the rest by the publisher. The events are well-attended in your own back yard; by the time you get to Seattle, solid but less than overwhelming. Event book sales range from respectable to much better than that. You remember an old adage—the main reason for tour events is to schmooze with the booksellers who will give special placement and hopefully hand-sell your book long after you’ve moved on; and to make personal connections with as many readers as you can.

Then, out of nowhere, three months after release, there it is: a review in the New York Times. It’s not long, but dammit, it’s glowing. You might have written it yourself. And, as it breaks, someone holds out a cell phone. Look, you’re on the New York Times bestseller list. And dang it, there it is. Not anywhere near the top—number six in one of their categories—but it’s there. It counts. Almost overnight, the book shoots up the Amazon sales rankings, and temporarily sells out. Your editor passes the word: they’re going to invest in another radio drive, send out a batch of copies focused at special interest groups, and push you hard in upcoming holiday sales listings. Time to print another few thousand hard covers to keep the pipeline full. The book’s not over that mythical hump where a book starts showing up everywhere and selling itself, but it has a chance.

All the above isn’t a scripted fantasy; it’s a compressed, up to the moment blow by blow of my latest book, A Wolf Called Romeo (Houghton Mifflin, July 2014). Friends and family pat me on the back and send congratulations. But they’re puzzled—my writer buddies most of all—that I’m not more animated, reveling in the moment. Why the matter-of-fact, almost subdued demeanor? Why am I not thrilled out of my skin? I seem more preoccupied than anything else; unusual for a guy who tends to emote and talk a bit too much.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m paying attention, focused and watchful as I seldom am. A success like this, after 20-some years and 11 books, engenders more reflection than celebration. Why here and now? Why this book? Have I really blasted upward to a new artistic level? The best answer I can come with goes like this: I’m no better a writer now than I was twenty years ago. All my books were equally successful, far as I can tell; I turn the pages of my early writing and remind myself. All I’ve done, ever, is what any serious writer does: sit down, apply the craft to the best of my ability, work my arse off, and be ready if the luck shows up. All that’s different is that this time, it did. And I’ll take it. 

Writer/photographer Nick Jans is a contributing editor to Alaska Magazine and a member of USA Today's Board of Editorial Contributors. A Wolf Called Romeo is his 11th book. He and his wife, Sherrie, live north of Haines, Alaska.  


Anonymous said...

Congratulations! It's fun to read about your success. Enjoy. :)

Tele said...

Congratulations, Nick! I bought a copy from Old Harbor Books this summer, enjoyed reading it on our run south. Great job. Do consider Bellingham's Village Books for a reading - they're a wonderful indie bookstore, great reading space & promotion, and we've got a couch.

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Nice to hear a positive story for once -- sometimes the system works. (The fact that the successes can be random keeps us guessing but also humble.) Congrats, Nick!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Well deserved, Nick, enjoy the moment!