I would never pass muster as a vegan; I just love cheese too much.
Looking back, it seems I spent half my adolescence – after school, weekends, vacations – slinging the stuff at my family’s (now closed) specialty food store, Tuttle’s Red Barn. Manchego, Gouda, Humboldt Fog, Maytag Blue, Petit Basque, Cabra al Vino, Stilton… Don’t get me started lest I short out my keyboard with drool! Cheese, to me, is a divine combination of nature and nurture, a gift from the gods, wrought by man, to rival the sweetest ambrosia. Of course, I wasn’t always so enthusiastic when it came time to clock in for my shift, but once behind the deli counter, knife in hand, I was a cheese-selling machine. In the spirit of full disclosure, cheese sells itself. I was just the (not so) pretty face that cut, wrapped, and handed it to the customer. But, giving credit where credit’s due, I sent many customers happily on their way with two, three, hell…six more hunks of cheese than they’d intended to buy. It wasn’t hard; all I had to do was make a suggestion or two, let them sample something they’d never tried before, and off they went, hands full, wondering why they hadn’t thought to grab a basket when they came in. Like I said, cheese sells itself.
Armed with the naïve misconception that everything is as easy to hock, I took a job selling Toyotas when I moved to Chicago. My first day out on the floor, I leased a brand new convertible to a middle-aged divorcée. No BS, no underhanded car lot tricks. Just me, walking away from the deal nearly $800 richer, thinking to myself, “Now this is how you make a living!” That delusion quickly faded when, for the following three weeks, I didn’t sell a single car and had to make due with the meager weekly “draw” (a base salary of sorts that must be repaid to the dealer when you finally DO manage a sale). I lasted three and a half months at the dealership. Not exactly laying the foundation of a career, and a far cry from selling cheese. Sales, it seems, is more difficult when the customer can’t try a nibble of what you’re selling.
It’s been a while since I’ve made a living in sales. Now I moonlight as an inventory planner/purchaser, buying rather than selling, as I chase my dream of becoming a professional writer. So let’s talk about this for a minute… When you think author – or painter, playwright, screen writer, sculptor, actor, dancer, or [insert artistic pursuit here] – you don’t think sales, right? You don’t picture big business, margins, percentages, losses, profits. Neither did I when I got started. All I knew was that I had an idea that needed to get out, characters and events that had to come to to life. For nineteen long months I worked on my story, breathing that life into it, giving heart and soul to a concept that would have remained locked away, lifeless, in my mind were it not for my burning desire to release it, to put it down on paper for whomever wished to ride along with me and my imagination for a little while. And when I finished my draft almost exactly a year ago (pictured below, printed for the first time, alongside a celebratory beer), I thought the hard part was over.
How wrong I was!
To be sure, spewing 130,000 words is not an easy task. I endured many a day where I actually lost words, editing and cutting as I progressed, chopping fluff. There were days I stared madly at my computer, willing inspiration to strike. And even on the days when I netted words, when I forged ahead, I would often think to myself, “You’re wasting your time. No one will want to read this sh*t.” Still, I trudged on, and in the end, I was thrilled just to have finished such a monumental undertaking. In many ways, I’ve been good at talking myself out of taking risks in life, but in this case, my pessimistic side was fortunately trumped by the part of me that was determined to see this through.
Last spring, after nearly six months of revisions, I began submitting my story to literary agents. At first I mistakenly believed that all I needed to break into the publishing world was a compelling manuscript and a winning query letter. And to be sure, NOTHING is more important than a compelling manuscript. But faced with two equally compelling stories, how does an agent choose which one to represent? The answer, it turns out, is simple: the agent chooses the story that has the stronger author platform behind it. They’ll choose the writer who’s taken the time and made the effort to establish an online presence, who recognizes the value in networking and self-promotion, who’s invested in himself and his future. In short, the writer who’s a stronger salesman wins.
Sales. Whether we’re talking cheese, cars, or stories, a sale is a sale is a sale. In today’s Internet age, writers are expected not only to be master story-tellers, but also sales and marketing experts. As if it’s not difficult enough to write a novel, we’re now shouldering much of the responsibility that traditionally fell to the publishing houses’ marketing machines. And the learning curve is steep. Social media. Website development. Product placement. Readings. Giveaways. The list goes on and on. The Internet now enables artists to reach a far wider audience than ever before, but with this power comes a whole host of new challenges. Writing the story is the EASY part. Selling it, convincing an agent and editor to pick YOU out of the thousands upon thousands of prospects that pour into their inboxes every day, is much harder.
I write, first and foremost, for me. I have stories to tell and find it incredibly gratifying to tell them. But as I’ve said before, I also write for YOU, holding close the hope that one day, you’ll read one of my stories and, for a little while, be transported far from your everyday concerns to a place filled with intrigue and wonder. A place where anything is possible and where dreams (and occasionally nightmares) become real.
My hope is that you’ll discover a new favorite!