Monday, July 24, 2006

Cycles. . . Riding the Ups and Downs

Anybody remember the early 80's craze for "biorhythms?" Based on your birthdate and body temperature or something, experts were supposedly able to track the flow of your physical, mental and emotional energies. Because each followed it's own wave and peak pattern and had a slightly different length of cycle, there were times that one part of you peaked while the others were off in mid-cycle somewhere. . . or hitting the skids. Every great once in a while-- like once every two months or so (it's a little fuzzy to me now)-- all three areas would hit their highpoint at the same time and a tremendous HIGH resulted. Unfortunately, this also meant they would sometimes bottom out together, resulting in a major DOWNER. The trick was to take advantage of the highs and minimize the damage done during the lows. They claimed to be able to predict your best days and your worst with scientific accuracy.

My theory is that this happens in publishing, too. We've got three major aspects of a book's life: the Creativite part (the written work), the Publishing part, and the more nebulous Market part. (It's my theory, so I get to name the parts.) For a book to do well, at least two of the three elements have to peak together. It starts with the writing itself and with the passion and fury and heart we put into a work. Simultaneously, there's the publishing part, which starts when the book is bought and continues on through all of the production and promotional parts of the process, including all things done to whip up a "buzz." Coincidental to both of those is the ebb and flow of the Market, where books are shelved, bought, read, discussed, reviewed, and occasionally anticipated and adored(Harry Potter) or discredited and reviled(A Million Little Pieces).

Major mega-hits require that, like with a biorhythm, all three factors are at their peak at the same time. It has to be a great book, published at the top of the publisher's game, that enters a market ready/hungry for something fresh, new, innovative, exciting, comforting, challenging, or at least timely.

Well, duh. Only makes sense.

Yeah? Well, do you know when it's happening? Can you feel when it's all coming together? Better still, can you tell which one of the three "Fates" is holding you back? Is this all just common sense, no theories needed?

Ever written a book that had your heart and soul in it and should have dazzled readers and reviewers alike, should have made the top of the lists, and should have thrust you into a new publishing level. . . only to have your publisher slap a hideous cover on it that confuses the buyers and sets you back two steps in your career? Ever had an editor leave and your potential blockbuster becomes the footnote to another editor's very long publishing list? Ever had war or hurricanes or train derailments sidetrack your best chance for stardom? If you've been around for very long, you probably have stories to tell.

So even if you see what's happening, what can you do about it?

Hang in there. I'm not being cute, I'm being honest. There will be times in this business that you feel like Fate just slammed the door in your face and caught your fingers in the crack. Times when you just can't seem to win. Times that your best goes unnoticed and unrewarded in the publishing houses and marketplace. But like with those biorhythms. . . if you hang in there and keep writing, sooner or later things will turn around. Opportunity is still there and sooner or later, you will rise on a current of creativity into the right time and the right slot. And whether you make the NYT or a single reviewer's "keeper shelf," you can feel proud and satisfied that your work was recognized and has made a difference in somebody's reading life.

My biggest commercial success was The Perfect Mistress, published in 1995. It represented the highest and best period of my creativity to that point and had a great deal of my heart in it. It got a wonderful cover with a sexy little pair of shoes on it, against a foiled, hot pink background. It followed a book that some (arguably) have called my best book ever, The Last Bachelor. It's been said that every bestseller owes a debt to the book that came before it. . . that's certainly true of "Mistress." Sales and enthusiasm were so strong for "Bachelor" that it carried over to "Mistress."
(There should be a picture of the cover here, but Blogger isn't cooperating! Check back!)

The cover was very good (not brilliant, I confess) and my house was wildly enthusiastic about its chances for a good showing on the lists. They worked hard, talked it up, and gave it their all. Also, booksellers really pushed and hand sold the book in a lot of places. Plus, I had a postcard program going and I had bought these sexy little plastic "Barbie/Cinderella" shoe give-aways that people went crazy for. My publisher had slotted me in a month that probably had less competition than the summer feeding frenzy. . . the market was primed. . . and the best happened. NYT and tremendous sales!

Every aspect of the industry had to come together to make it happen. And part of that timing was simply. . . luck. I'm very well aware of that. And I'm very grateful for that opportunity and experience.

Now. . . is it asking too much of Fate to bring those conditions around again next month for my September release?

Anybody have examples to help flesh out my theory? Ever been on a major peak of all three elements of publishing? Willing to tell us about it?

3 comments:

Betina Krahn said...

Okay, I just found a biorhythm chart web site:
http://www.bio-chart.com/
and I checked my biorhythm for the conference. Whoa.
I guess I should just stay in my hotel room and come out only for meals! Or maybe I should check another wite for confirmation. . .

Helen Brenna said...

I have no clue how to make this happen, but if you other ladies figure it out, please let me know before my first book comes out in February 07!!

anne frasier said...

i've never had all three going for me at once. i came close with Hush, but that book was an experiment for the publishing house, so while they were excited about it they were also cautious. i guess that's the strongest publisher backing i've ever had. actually the first real publisher backing i ever had.