Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Magnanimous Javelina

I have blogged about this before, but it bears repeating. Please, Shakespeare or Henry VI or Dick the Butcher or whomever, let's not kill all the lawyers first. Or ever, really. For starters, I am one. Laura is one. I'm married to one. A number of my close friends are lawyers. Apparently we run in packs - like javelina. Only without the hunting, killing, and maiming with those demonic, razor-sharp tusks. Okay, shake it off, Kris. Those years in Tucson took their toll. At any rate, as I noted In Defense of Lawyers, most of us have plenty of qualities that justify continued existence. We are funny, we know a lot of the rules, we can throw a latin phrase into almost any conversation - okay, fine, that undercuts the argument, but you get my point. And recently I was reminded that certain of us are downright magnanimous.

I was reading a blog post by David Kazzie, he of The Corner, So You Think You Want To Go To Law School, So You Think You Want To Write a Novel, and perhaps most significantly, The Jackpot, a legal thriller that should definitely grace your Kindle. David Kazzie is something like our male doppleganger. Only a little - okay wildly - more timely, driven, and - fine - successful. So maybe he's not our doppleganger at all and we're just flattering ourselves. Point is, he is an attorney who writes fiction and blogs about his process. He is insightful and funny and generally inspiring and published The Jackpot on Kindle within months of when we published The Pecking Order. The post I recently read was a detailed account of his experience with a Kindle Direct Publishing program he used to promote his book. The results were incredible and The Jackpot eventually broke into the top 100 paid Amazon books. This program is available to all of us who have published on Kindle but some of us didn't pay much attention to it. In fact, from the reaction to his blog post, most of us didn't. We just cruised along mildly embittered that our book hadn't yet trended on Twitter or otherwise gone viral a la that traveling pants book, somehow manufacturing hope in the fact that we had sold at least one a month since it had been published (yeah, do the math, that's 12 a year). But mostly we were just bitter. Kazzie admits he was headed down the same path before he discovered this program. And he could have treated it like his own special secret, hoarded it from the rest of us for some perceived competitive advantage, let us all wallow in our e-book marketing desert, but instead he chose to share his process. To write a road map for the rest of us. To be magnanimous with those folks who he could justifiably consider his competition.

We followed his road map and in three days, the The Pecking Order downloads tripled. It didn't break into the top 100 paid Amazon books, but many more people are getting to know Abby and Adam, the Pecker and the Blowhard, and Babies Don't Spit Up and Motorcycle Man, Man Slippers and Sweat Rings. For that, we thank Kazzie, and for his belief that there is infinite space in the universe for art, and that the pursuit of creativity, unlike law firm life and family, is never a zero sum game.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oh, the Places She Should Go!

Rejection is the foundation upon which most writing careers are built. We get it. We know publishers turned up their noses umpteen times at Harry Potter and The Help and even Gone With the Wind. We take this sparkling diamond of a fact, wrap it in silk, and stitch it into the lining of our souls, because knowing it's there is often the only thing that keeps us going. We understand, in a rational legal-mind way, that publishing is a business. We don't (usually) fantasize about severed horse heads soiling editors' sheets. We have learned (through yoga and meditation and just plain getting old) to let go, to live in the current breath, to be thankful for the opportunities we've had and to seize the ones yet to come. Sure, we are disappointed our book doesn't recline upon store shelves. That the contract with our agent expired faster than an iPad deal. That the electronic release of The Pecking Order didn't single-handedly crash Amazon's site. But, mostly, we deal with it and hammer away at new projects. And drink champagne.

Today is not one of those days. Today, we stomp our feet and cross our arms and stick out our bottom lips and bitch, thanks to Jennifer Weiner and Dr. Suess. If you don't know Jennifer Weiner, you should. She's a funny, snarky, Bachelor-watching, blogging, tweeting writer with great hair who personifies that quote, "well behaved women seldom make history." She's also published more books than the Bible's got Psalms. (Okay, maybe not that many books, but I couldn't resist a House of Pain reference. Admit it, you're Jumpin' Around now...) She's long been an advocate for women writers, taking to task critics, the media, and authors (looking at you, Franzen), for the disparate treatment of books written by men versus women. She particularly calls out people who dismiss what they have labeled, pejoratively, "chick lit." She recently penned a brave and spot-on blog post regarding how the the New York Times statistically gives more coverage to books written by men. (For Huffington Post's discussion of the issue, see here.)

As we read her blog and tweets over the past few days, we became increasingly incensed. Don't get us wrong, we never expected our book to be reviewed by the NYT, but in our own podunk way, we have felt the same bias. Our agent called our book "upscale commercial women's fiction" and shopped it to major publishers. Every single one found it laugh-out-loud funny, engaging, and well written. But they passed because the market was "saturated." In other words, there was too much "chick lit" clogging up the shelves. Bullshit. How about male-written thrillers with well-coiffed male protagonists, some sort of far-fetched legal conundrum or conspiracy or code to crack, an egregious amount of passive voice, and overuse of adverbs? You can't spit in a bookstore without hitting dozens of those . . . and they're usually on the front tables. (For what it's worth, I'm not sure you should ever spit in a bookstore, but you see my point.) Good for those authors. You did it. You should be proud. We hope you ordered a cake and threw confetti. . . we know we would have. But it's time for women's fiction (and not just the "important" kind, whatever that is) to be invited to the party.

At this point you may be thinking . . . wtf does this have to do with Dr. Suess? (Or maybe you're thinking about a peanut butter chocolate chip milkshake. Or maybe I'm projecting). NPR aired a piece this morning, on the 75th anniversary of Dr. Suess publishing his first story, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. I'm a huge fan of the Doctor. I listened to the segment with a smile on my face, nodding in solidarity when I learned his story had been rejected by publishers 27 times. This is exactly the encouragement I need today, I thought, pouring out a little green tea for my literary holmie. Then I heard this: Dr. Suess had all but given up when he was walking home and "bumped into a friend ... who had just become an editor at a publishing house in the children's section." Of course he did. Where's that champagne?