A while back...actually a long while back now...my wife and I were having dinner with artist Richard Prince and his wife back when he kept a house in upstate New York. Prince was already a world renowned artist/photographer at the time and a mega success. But he was also a huge noir fan, a book collector, a rare bookstore owner, and also a writer. As we polished off a bottle of wine together while the girls chatted among themselves, he offered me up a bit of advice that I've never forgotten.
But before I reveal the advice, I should tell you that this was around the time I'd signed on for a big advance with Delacorte Publishing for a two book, hard and soft deal, and if I recall correctly, my first novel, The Innocent (As Catch Can, as it was titled back then), had already been published. So I'm guessing the year was around 1999 or 2000. I remember relaying to Richard about how anxious I was about the book's sales, which at the time, weren't exactly hot. Richard nodded, and listened, and then, sitting back in his chair said, "Listen, the only thing you have control over as a writer, is the writing. That's all you can do. Throughout your career publishers and editors and sales people will come and go, but you and your writing will always be there. Concentrate entirely on the writing. Work harder than the other guy. Make it the most important thing in your life, and you will succeed."
Of course, many ups and downs have occurred since that dinner at the Prince home. But I have gone on to make a nice, solid, career for myself. I guess you could say, I have become established. But even after hitting two Amazon No. 1 Overall Bestsellers. Even after having spent 4 weeks in the Top ten (with The Innocent), and another three weeks with The Remains. Even after hitting the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Even after winning the PWA Shamus Award (Moonlight Weeps) and the ITW Thriller Award (also Moonlight Weeps), even after selling hundreds of thousands, perhaps even a million, copies of my books over the past five years alone, things still sometimes don't go my way.
|The novel that would become The Innocent|
Just this past two weeks alone, I learned that one of the architectural trade publications I've been writing and editing for for ten years no longer needs my words now that a new owner has taken over. Add to that a two book deal my agent has been working on for months, which even included a rewrite for the acquiring editor, just went inexplicably belly up. Hmmmmm. Go figure.
There's no one to blame in all of this, since this is how the business side of the writing game works. Nothing is forever. But then, these events most definitely fall into "the things I cannot control" category.
Now, I've also been lucky these past couple weeks.
The novel that was supposed to be sold in said two book deal got immediately picked up by another publisher also in a two book "nice" deal. The book will come out in hardcover in Jan, 2018 and be found on every New Releases table in bookstores from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, as well as on your favorite eReader. Lucky, yes, but in the end, I still had no real control over the deal. It just sort of happened and I'm happy for it.
But what I do have control of is my writing. No matter what happens on the business side of publishing, whether it be something positive or negative, one thing holds true above all others: My writing comes first. No one can take that away from me.
Tomorrow morning is Monday. The beginning of the working week. I'll wake up after the sunrise and like, Papa Hemingway used to say, I'm going to bite on the nail. Writing is the hardest work there is. But it is also something I have total control over. Thanks for the advice Richard. I'll never forget it.