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23 February 2012

Cross your legs


I am told that once upon a time there was a simple, straightforward way to get your name associated with a book on the NY Times' Best Sellers list.

The first thing to do was . . . drumroll . . . write a good book.Then, all you needed to do was get an editor interested in your stuff, or get an agent get an editor interested in your stuff, and then you'd get a big advance, which meant the publisher would push your book hard, and if the publisher pushed your book hard, you had a good chance of getting your name on that sexy NY list. All you had to do was write. That was the template for success once upon a time. Or so I've heard.

Reminds me of Route 66 and it's demise.

Back in the day, if you wanted to get from Chicago to LA, or just get away, period, Route 66 was a destination unto itself. Drive to any part of it's questing black ribbon and the possibilities were endless. East or west but mostly west, once you made it to the highway, your destination was almost assured. Not only that, there were so many interesting stops along the way.

Songs were written about it. Vacations were planned around it. A substantial chunk of the American experience was attached to it. So of course, we as a people stopped using it. Today, if you wanted to follow Route 66 from chi-town to the City of Angels, you couldn't. It doesn't exist anymore.

And there's the link to the publishing world today. The old way seems to be gone, even though the simplicity of that relic structure calls to me. The advent of e-publishing has not only altered the old way for publishers, it has placed icky requirements on the writer. I'm told that a writer can't just be a writer now. To sit in your study and bang on a keyboard, sending off a chapter now and then to your agent as proof that his next commission is imminent, well that's akin to owning a motel along Route 66. Even if you've got the world's biggest ball of twine in the lobby and only charge a quarter for the viewing public, loser is already printed on your forehead.

Now as writer you have to market yourself, position yourself, brand yourself. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't sound fun to me, especially that last thing. I've got to brand myself?

This spring I am going to help a friend dock his sheep. Don't know what docking sheep is? Well, take this as fair warning, don't search Google Images. Docking sheep and all that goes with it will make most men cross their legs. I'll leave it at that.

What does that have to do with Route 66 or being a best seller?

Well, Route 66 was replaced by the newer, swifter interstate system. America's eternal quest for the bigger better. The publishing industry seems to be going through a similar change, though what kind of system will survive isn't clear. In the meantime, I'm one of the holdouts trying to drive my '57 Bonneville along the old route. Here and there I might branch off into something new, but I'm most comfortable on the two-lane. I hate self-promotion. I hate pushing product. I just want to write. But I know I need to man up and hit this new golden path.

I have this sinking feeling though. Whatever is coming, whatever form this new avenue of travel takes, I just know docking myself will eventually be apart of it.