While my early novels were all bestsellers on the science fiction lists, hitting the New York Times bestseller list was another matter entirely. With each novel that you write, you’ll find that you make new business and personal connections with people. You need to be prepared for that.
For example, when my first novel came out, my very first fan letter came from another young writer, Tad Williams, who had also recently released his first novel. Back in those days, most of my fan mail came from the post office, and it wasn’t easy for folks to send letters or for us authors to stay in contact with our fans. Now, even though Tad and I have never become extremely close, we can keep in touch on Facebook.
But a lot of other connections start coming to you. For example, at my very first book signing, I met the assistant manager at a small Barnes and Noble, and we became friends. A few weeks later, he was promoted, and I did a signing at the new store where he had become a manager. A few months after that, he was hired to be the buyer for the entire store chain. Each month he would put out a magazine at the store informing customers of new books that were coming out, and guess what? My books tended to get the leads.
With the release of my novel Star Wars: the Courtship of Princess Leia, of course, the pool of readers was much larger, and new opportunities began to come in.
For example, I met one young woman whose husband trained astronauts how to fly the space shuttle. She told me that “They always need ballast, and if you would like to go up on a training mission with them, I can get you on.” It would have cost a bit of money at the time to fly to Florida to do it, and so I turned down the offer, but have long regretted that decision. In the same way, a fellow at an Air Force base in California invited me to come fly in a MIG. He said, “We had Tom Clancy here last week, and we got him up in the air. He threw up in his oxygen mask when doing a barrel roll, so you might have to worry about that . . .” I don’t do well in barrel rolls, so I passed on that one too, and every once in a while I kick my own behind just to remind myself not to pass up such opportunities.
Other opportunities are easy to take. When Disney World called and offered me and my five children first-class tickets to come and visit the park (on a guided tour) in exchange for about three hours of work, I did some calculations and realized that I would be getting about $9000 per hour in benefits for that work, so I wisely said yes.
But many other things began to happen. As the lead judge for the Writers of the Future, I would get to visit with other judges on a regular basis, and became friends with people that I had only been fans of—people like Fred Pohl, Roger Zelazny, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Frank Frazetta, and so on.
When my Star Wars novel came out, I suddenly began receiving faxes in the middle of the night each Sunday, showing me where I was on the U.K. Bestseller list. I couldn’t figure out who was sending them, so I called the number—and found that Anne McCaffrey had been sending them. She told me what a big fan she was, and how much she loved the book, and wanted to make sure that I knew how well it was doing over there.
Some of my fans later became movie investors, and so on. Several young women had me sign copies of The Courtship of Princess Leia, and then gave the books to boys that they liked. That resulted in three marriages that I know of.
But I need to warn you, that there can be a bit of a down side. There are a few predators out there who look for authors to bilk. For example, I was invited to be the Guest of Honor for a convention in Oklahoma, I believe it was, and I waited and waited for them to send my airline tickets, and they never came. At the last minute, I got a call from the head of the convention, who asked if I would go ahead and put the trip on my credit card, and promised to reimburse me when I got there. By that time, the airline tickets were $2000, and he wanted me to put my hotel room on the card to boot. Well, I’d seen Anne McCaffrey get bilked that way just a few months before, so I declined to pay. Within half an hour, one of the other heads of the convention committee called and warned me not to come—the chairman had run off with all of the money.
So beware. As you begin to publish, you will be approached by a lot of people, like literary agents who may be good, while others are shady. There will be lots of people who want you to publish in little anthologies or lend your name and expertise to their publishing ventures. You have to learn how to gauge those opportunities and decide which ones look like time wasters, which ones are genuine, and which ones are genuinely dangerous. You won’t always choose well, no matter how wise you are.
Oh, and remember that a lot of the people you meet are just nice folks. With my first Runelords novel, for example, I got some five thousand pieces of fan mail from folks who visited my web site. One of them was from a fellow in England, Matt Harrill, who offered to buy me a beer next time I was over there.
I explained to him in the email that, since I’m a Mormon, no one hardly ever offers to buy me a beer, but I’d be happy to go to the pub with him and have a Sprite. So a friendship began some twenty years ago, and thirteen years ago I went to England to become the godfather to Matt’s son, Scott, in an Anglican ceremony. (And in fact, I went to visit them at Disney World in Florida just over the weekend.)
So remember, not all of the relationships that you form will have an economic tie in. Don’t expect them to. Just learn to roll with it.
Next week I will be at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. Hope to see some of you there!