Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Worth of a Book

It’s getting very close to a time that is both exciting and nerve-wracking for an author. You’ve written your story. You’ve acquired the agent of your dreams. You’ve gone back and forth, changing, improving, polishing and editing. Finally your agent says, “Wow, this story really stinks!” Okay, that’s not really what your agent says—except in those reoccurring dreams that wake you up weeping on your giant pillow. (Ten points for the movie reference.)

What your agents does say is, “I think we’re ready to send this out.” Which translates roughly as, “You know that book you’ve been eating, breathing, and sweating over for the last nine months? Well you’re about to find out if it has any value in the real world.”

Of course that really isn’t true. Because whether or not the book sells, and even the size of the advance, does not really place an accurate value on a book. If it did, J. K. Rowling wouldn’t have gotten a single rejection. And books that completely bombed wouldn’t have gotten seven figure advances. It’s amazing how many times one publisher turns a book down, and another snaps it up, or the wide variance in offers from one publisher to another. You can’t set a price on a book, the way you can on a say a hot pastrami sandwich with brown mustard on marble rye, with a homemade dill pickle that . . . yummm . . . Sorry, moving on.

But it feels true.

You start having these discussions where your kids suddenly say things like, “Hey, Dad, if your book sells for a lot of money, can we go on a Disney Cruise?” You find your wife pricing a new tile floor and granite counter tops. Your oldest son asks what kind of car you’re buying him when he gets home. And you remind them over and over that you’ll be thrilled if the book sells at all.

But deep inside, you’re asking yourself the same question. Will it sell? Will it be a multi-book deal? Will it sell? Who would be my ideal publisher? Will it sell? Will we retain foreign rights? Will it sell? You tell yourself not to dream, but really you can’t help it. You go from researching all the deals you can find on Publishers Marketplace to bracing yourself on how you’ll handle things if you don’t get any offers. Because even the best book, repped by the best agent, may not sell.

What makes it even worse is a part of you is saying how crazy the whole thing is anyway. “You know what I don’t understand?” says a voice that sounds exactly like Andy Rooney at the end of Sixty Minutes. “Why anyone would pay anything for a story you made up? You can’t eat it. You can’t wear it. You can’t drive it to work. You can’t even touch it unless you spend a few bucks for a ream of paper and the ink to print it on.”

And you know the voice is right. Roughly a year ago you were about to fall asleep when you imagined a teenage demon waiting for a train full of humans who had been cast into Hell. Who would pay good money for a story you dreamed up?

But then you start thinking about all the books you’ve read and loved. You look around your office and realize that between you, your wife, and your kids, you own well over 2,000 books. Even if a good chunk of them are paperbacks (and probably 1/3rd of them are not) that’s still over $15,000 worth of stories. All of them made up in someone’s head. All of them nothing more than words on paper. And even if someone offered you twice that much to take away all of the joy you had reading them, you wouldn’t even consider the offer.

And there are certain books you wouldn’t give up for any amount of money. The first time you read The Outsiders, or Lord of the Flies, and were just blown away. All the times you’ve read Where the Red Fern Grows to your kids, and they never knew you suddenly had to take lots of drinks of water toward the end of the book not because you were thirsty, but because you were trying to keep them from seeing you cry. Lord of the Rings, Ender’s Game, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Something Wicked This Way Comes. All stories that you wouldn’t give up for any amount of money.

And maybe you aren’t Tolkien or Bradbury. But you must be doing something right when you get e-mails that say things like, “You deserve an award winning medal. I have never read books for fun until my teacher, Mrs. Cox, requested this extrodinary book to my achknowledgement. I thought it was some other book. I took a look at the cover and it sparked something inside me. I got two pages into the Water Keep, and it caused a downpour of gasaline on my desire to read.. I read your book for hours upon hours fuiling the fire lit inside me. “

And you realize that regardless of what happens (or doesn’t happen) over the next few weeks, the value of a good book is . . . priceless.

So what books would you never give up, no matter the price, and why?


kbrebes said...

My religious books, my tutoring books, my "how to write" books, and everything from my husband's journal to the dictionary. I cannot imagine my house without books, and I am completely dismayed when I enter a house without a book in sight!

Magenta said...

Wow, it's been a long time since you last posted. And this one was really great! ^_^ Thank you!

How exciting!!! So you're really going to publish Demon Spawn?! That is awesome to the max! Can you reveal when it's going to be released?

(You think I can get an autographed copy of your book? Please???)

A few books I'd never give up, even if you paid me, are my collection of Harry Potter books (a big part of my childhood) and my prized ARC copy of Maze Runner, won off a contest held by James Dashner himself. ^_^

Jeff Savage said...


I agree 100%! I feel so bad for people who tell me they never read for pleasure.

No guarantees yet. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed. And I will absolutely autograph a copy for you. After all the hard work you've done,you deserve it!

Laura said...

Jeff, I feel all those things you mentioned. But for the record, I really doubt your submission journey will be long and dry. Good luck with all of it.

And, I wouldn't trade my bookshelves full of stories. Now I see them and not only think of the ways the stories touched me, but how they will someday affect my children. If anything, I only want more to share with them.

Dave Cebrowski said...

It's funny you ask that question. I just bought a book online that was printed about 25+ years ago and has been out of print for 20 years. I loved the story (you would too) so I found a seller and bought it. I imagine is would be on my shelve for a long time. It's called "A Personal Demon"

The other books I wouldn't give up are Animal Farm and Atlas Shrugged.

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

I wouldn't give up any of my Jane Austen, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, or any autographed book (I have your signature on Waterkeep). But really I find the entire idea of giving up books to be repugnant.

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

OH MY WORD! I just LOVED this post. You so get how we book lovers feel. To others, it's a foreign language, but I have a book called The Egyptian, that I would NEVER part with. It's a novel and very old. It was my parent's and I still remember thinking, as I looked at the worn, gray, ugly cover for the first time, "How good could this possibly be? It was written during the ice age."

I could NOT lay it down. I LOVED it. I have a few books I feel this way about but it's those really old novels, the ones with dirty, torn, ugly covers that hide that pot of gold. Thank you for making me think of it one more time.

Peggy said...

Awesome post! I got chills reading it.

Julie Wright said...

it hurts my carpal tunnel just thinking about typing out al the titles to the books I can't give up for any price. And to answer the question: It WILL sell. Because you are you. And your writing is as awesome as the mind who creates it all.
My verification word is glurb. SOunds like a swamp creature

Anonymous said...

wow! you can't beigin to understand how much that helped my confindince I am writing a book and i thought no one would like it Thank you so much sir

David John Dickson said...

I'm nearly a year late to the party on this one, but I couldn't bear to leave the movie reference unanswered. (Unless I missed it in the comments?)

So I Married an Ax Murderer.

Excellent movie. ;) And excellent post.