IMAGINARY FRIENDS in October of 2007. From there he blogged a page a day on his newest series of books (PETER AND THE VAMPIRES) for three years until he decided to jump into the e-book publishing realm. Now, he’s back in Georgia and has three e-books in the PETER series out there for public consumption.
Without further adieu, here’s Darren…
Thanks to J.E. Taylor for letting me write here on Manic Monday. I appreciate it!
I thought I would share one of the biggest insights I ever had as a writer. Actually, it’s less of an insight than it is a commandment, and it came to me while I was on a bad blind date.
Boiled down, it’s this:
Don’t be a bathtub refinisher.
Let me back up a little bit and give you some context.
I started writing novels at 18. Actually, ‘novel’ would be more appropriate. I worked slowly on the same book until I was 21, and made the colossal mistake of starting to rewrite it when I was only halfway done. (Yeah, don’t do that.)
Burned out from working on the same thing for years, I wrote a sci-fi novel quickly and submitted it. Lots of rejection, though I did get one very encouraging letter from an agent. I started on a third novel…and discovered that what I really wanted to do was go to Hollywood and write for ‘the movies.’
I learned a lot from my years writing screenplays. My major mistake was the same one that plagues a lot of people who say they want to be screenwriters (or novelists, or musicians, or actors, or artists): I never fully committed to going the distance, no matter what. And I never learned to deal with rejection.
For five years I wrote screenplays on and off as I lived a hand-to-mouth existence. I worked for a small (very small) production company writing scripts and promotional materials for them. In my off hours, I finally wrote what I considered to be the very best thing I had ever written and ever would write: a comedy about a single dad who starts to see his two little boys’ imaginary friends. I miraculously got an agent from the first batch of five query letters I sent out. The agent submitted the script to 20 major studios and production companies, and…
It didn’t sell.
I was crushed.
When you can’t sell the best thing you’ve ever written and ever will write, what do you do?! I tried to keep writing, but my failure was the capstone to a bunch of near-misses and back-stabbings on previous small script jobs. Plus, I was burnt-out.
So I gave up.
I quit writing. At first I told myself it was a break, and then I finally just admitted I was throwing in the towel. I decided writing wasn’t worth it, and that was that.
After drifting for a year, I wound up in what was (for me) a very lucrative but very brain-dead job in the backwaters of the entertainment industry. I got a new car, a new apartment, a new wardrobe, a new life. I was happy…sort of. But something was missing.
A couple of years after I abandoned writing, I found myself on a bad blind date. It wasn’t awkward or boring – in fact, the woman was beautiful, funny, and charming. It’s just that she didn’t ask me a single question about myself the entire night. Not one. She was the epitome of the Los Angeles stereotype “it’s all about me.”
But she did tell me a very interesting story.
She had managed a band back in Nashville before she moved to Los Angeles to be an actress. With her characteristic exaggeration, she said that the lead singer “was one of the most talented songwriters that has ever lived. He could have been the voice of his generation.”
But he had a drinking problem. She once locked him in a bathroom and refused to let him out until he finished the lyrics to a song. An hour later he slipped a page of scribbled lyrics under the door (“breathtaking…some of the most amazing poetry I’ve ever read,” naturally), and she opened the door and gave him a bottle of Jim Beam.
His drinking problem eventually doomed the band, and she gave up on him and left for greener pastures in California.
So what happened to this potential Voice of His Generation, I asked?
“I don’t know,” she said. “Last time I heard, he was refinishing bathtubs somewhere in Florida.”
That answer was a punch to the gut.
I realized that I was doing the exact same thing as the alcoholic rocker:
I was refinishing bathtubs.
Not literally, of course. I was actually doing quality control work on DVD releases of bad movies. And I was in California rather than Florida. But my job was just as creatively meaningless. It paid the bills but didn’t feed my soul. It wasn’t the reason that I was put here on Earth. When I abandoned writing, I might as well have just chucked all my dreams and passions out the window.
(Quick point: I don’t necessarily advocate quitting a job and trying to find one that ‘completes’ you, especially if you want to write. If you can find a job that inspires and fulfills you, awesome. You’re one of 0.5% of humanity. If you can’t find a job like that, at least get one that supports you in your quest to write, and doesn’t sap all your time or brainpower. I was working 60-70 hours a week in a job that sucked everything out of me, and which I gradually grew to hate.)
Shortly after that blind date, I went back to the script I’d put away on a dusty shelf and re-read it. I quickly discovered that while it was good, it was probably not the very best thing I would ever write. (Funny how your perceptions can change when you walk away for awhile.)
But it was way too good to die alone and unread on my bookcase. So I rewrote it as a novel and submitted it to agents.
Couldn’t get anybody to take a look at it.
Eventually I self-published it. IMAGINARY FRIENDS is available on Amazon.com as a $13.00 soft cover, but because I was horrible at promotions, I think it’s sold maybe 70 copies. And most of those to friends and family.
Didn’t matter – much. It always stinks when your fantasies of wealth and fame aren’t instantly gratified, but it does temper your expectations and bring you back to reality. (And hopefully makes future successes all the sweeter.)
I blogged the stories a page a day and developed a loyal following over the course of three years. I’m currently written over a thousand pages and am halfway through the 18th story.
Then I tried to get an agent. Fifty rejection letters later, only one person read it – and passed. I had a half-dozen people tell me that because I had ‘vampire’ in the first title, no one would want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. The market was oversaturated from TWILIGHT and television’s “Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood.”
Meanwhile, indie ebook publishing sensation Amanda Hocking went on to a multi-million dollar deal based partly on a trilogy of vampire books…but I digress.
That’s what’s amazing today, with the explosion of Kindle and Nook: more than ever, an astounding amount of power is in the author’s hands. It started with POD (print on demand, which is how I published IMAGINARY FRIENDS), but with the increasing embrace of eReaders and ebooks, a person can cheaply publish their work for sale and put it into a virtual bookstore where anyone can find it.
Is it still difficult? Ohhhhhhhh yeah. That’s my major reason for writing this blog, to try to draw attention to my ebooks. I read somewhere that “obscurity is a greater obstacle than talent” when it comes to selling books as an indie, and that’s definitely true.
But you have a lot more power – and with a lot smaller investment of time and money – than ever before. No more set-up fees of $200. No more $13 price tags that make customers balk. You can sell your work at the price you decide, and in a rapidly growing marketplace that will soon eclipse traditional bookselling venues.
But if you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: don’t be a bathtub refinisher. If you’ve always wanted to write, but never have, now’s the time to get off your butt and give it a try. If you’ve got a couple of novels languishing on the shelf but were always too nervous to send them off to agents – or, like me, stopped after 50 rejections – then dust them off, edit them, format them, get professional-looking covers, and put them out there in the world. Promote them. Then do it again.
You won’t know what you’re capable of until you try.
Don’t do it for money alone, because I can tell you that except for a few lottery winners, it don’t come quick, and it don’t come easy. (Though there’s a better chance than ever that the money will come, if you’re good enough at both writing and promoting yourself.)
Do it because it feeds your soul. Do it because after you finish writing for the day, you feel that sense of completion and nourishment that only comes from doing something you love. Something that you were put here to do.
It doesn’t specifically have to be writing; in fact, it could be just about anything.
But do what you were Meant To Do. Even if the money never comes, and it just has to be a hobby rather than a career.
Do that thing you always wanted to be when you grew up.
And unless your passion lies in enamel and water faucets…
…don’t be a bathtub refinisher.
Don’t forget to swing by on Friday to dish it up with Suzanne Tyrpak.