THE HAVES AND HAVE NOTS
by Robert Lopresti
A long time ago someone in Seattle organized a big mystery fan appreciation night. A whole gang of writers from the area were going to do readings, shake some hands, sign a lot of books and show the fans how much we appreciated their money. Support. Appreciated their support.
About half a dozen of us authors were going to head down from Bellingham and environs. One member of the group very kindly offered to drive us all down in his spiffy new van. We all gratefully accepted.
On the way down our driver started complaining about the company that was audiotaping his novels. He felt they did a poor job.
“Do any of you have trouble with your audio publishers?” he asked.
I watched as the rest of us exchanged glances. Very quietly everyone agreed that we did not have trouble with our audio publishers.
It was obvious to everyone except our driver, I think, that none of us – several paperback novelists, a couple of short story writers – had an audio publisher, good or bad.
Up and down the ladders
The world of mystery writing is small – and friendly – enough that you may easily find yourself on a panel, or at a banquet table, or in a van, with someone who is a thousand miles out of your league in publications, fame, and maybe even filthy lucre.
If you want to see this in action step into the signing room at a big convention. The people standing in line to have their books signed do not form a bell curve. People like me will be sitting at an empty table, friendly smiles fixed in place, hoping that some of the fans waiting for the superstar next door will talk to us out of boredom, or pity.
Don’t get me wrong. I love chatting with those who are higher up on the ladder – and most are happy to talk. But it’s a funny moment when someone complains about getting a bad review in Big Name Weekly, and the person hearing the complaint is thinking “I couldn’t get any review in that mag if I slept with the publisher.”
There are at least three things that help the struggling writer at times likes this. First, most of the people at the top of the ladder deserve it. Not every bestseller is a great book, sure, but the people who build up long careers are talented, hard-working people.
Second, and I can’t emphasize this enough, most of them are nice. I hear again and again about mystery writers who take an interest in people they could just as easily have seen as competition.
And third, well… One day I told a friend that I had a new story coming out in Alfred Hitchcock’s, my twelfth.
“Wow,” she said, “you must get in there automatically now.”
“Not a bit,” I said. “They rejected me just last year.”
“They always reject me,” she said. “So far.”
So the moral is, if you’ve got a spot on the ladder at all, stop complaining.