Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Making Money Writing and Secret Windows

Photo: Hardcover art, from the book's Wikipedia site.  (Go there to see the Contents page; one chapter is called "Great Hookers I Have Known," but if you remember your remedial writing days, you'll see right through that.)  I read the paperback with the building on the cover.  This cover is terrible and just a little creepy.  But it's what Wikipedia had.  The building cover is better.

Described as "a companion book to On Writing," this volume reads more as a long interview with King, done over maybe 10 to 12 years, with a couple of never-before-seen stories thrown in. 

It is worth your time.

I put off reading this for awhile because I thought it was, frankly, a cheap attempt to cash-in on his On Writing success.  But that didn't turn out to be the case.  This book is actually much different.  On Writing is, as its title says, at least mostly memoir.  Part writing tutorial, part memoir, is how I speak of it.  But Secret Windows is a book of questions King doesn't answer in On Writing, and as such is, as I said, more of a long interview, over 10-12 years, on a variety of topics--much of them, surprisingly, not about writing, per se.

This book is more for writers, in some ways, than On Writing is.  While that book is mostly memoir and sometimes a writing primer, this one is about the more minute parts of the business.  Did you know that King got an agent to hawk his novels and short stories?  I didn't, because agents don't sell short stories anymore--well, unless you're a Stephen King level writer, that is.  Then they'll be more than happy to sell your underwear or shopping list, just to keep you happy--and their client.  But for you and me, they won't sell our short stories today.  We'd have to do that for ourselves. (I know, because I do.)

Did you know that King sent out a query to agents before he'd finished his manuscript for Carrie?  I didn't, because that's a huge no-no today--and must've been then, too.  Because writers, like everyone else, won't finish something when they say they will, and agents know this.  So they all say--today and, I'm sure, then--that you have to finish the manuscript, perfect it, and then solicit them.  King was more ballsy than that.  He pitched them when he was almost done with his manuscript--for Carrie, I think--and his selling point was the huge list--I'm talking 20 or more here--of short stories he'd sold and been paid well for in just two years.  At $200 per story, times 20 stories--that's $400.  10% of that is $40, so 15% of that is $60.  Many agents in 1974 would take $60 to send out a couple of quick letters to publishers about a client's work.  It would take them about an hour, maybe.  If that.  Probably half an hour.  $60 p/h, max, in 1974 would sound good.  The bottom line is: King essentially was ballsy enough to say to these prospective agents: "Even with my short story sales, I can make money for you."  And then, more importantly, he finished his novel manuscript, just as he said he would.  That's good business, and that turns on agents, too.

So what's to be learned from this?  Be ballsy.  But also be productive, so you have something to be ballsy about.  And then, be good at the business, and finish the manuscript when you say you will.  Lost in all the millions Stephen King makes is that he has always produced, even pre-Carrie, and at a very high level of both quality (ie--it'll sell) and production.  In other words, he's always been bankable, and very good at the business.

You won't learn this kind of thing from On Writing.

You will from Secret Windows.

If you dream of a writing career like I do, you should read it.  And read On Writing, too, of course.

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