Dog Boy. Wolf Man.

by John Ramsey Miller

I have something like two million books in print, not counting what has been pulped. Not a huge number compared to lots of other authors, but not too shabby for a country boy without a college diploma. It’s been a struggle here and there, and I was out of print for eight years between my first book, THE LAST FAMILY, and INSIDE OUT, my second. LF was a Literary Guild Main Selection, was printed in 12 languages, and some more stuff that’s bragable, but I’ve lost track of it. Hallmark bought the film rights but never made the film. Imagine a Hallmark film that opens with the murder of a Cub Scout and ends with people being exploded and shot to shit. After two years they made THE ODDESY instead with Armande Asante parading about in a toga.

My first book, The Last Family, was a disappointment to my publisher because it only sold 45,000 copies in hard cover, and like 450,000 in paperback. When I didn’t deliver a second book (they liked) on schedule I lost my seven figure contract. After five years and the insistence of an editor who believed in me, they gave me a new contract, and I wrote six more books for them. Don’t get me wrong, they paid me a lot of money, and I had two, three book contracts, but even though I got great reviews, my books failed to perform to expectations. I had the best editors, the best sales team, the best promotion, the best house, and now it’s back to square one.

The truth is that I might never have another book published, and not because I don’t write good books, but because I haven’t sold in numbers that impress publishers and faith in a break out book are not there.

If I had it all to do over again, I’d not let the publisher think I agreed with everything they were doing if I was uneasy about it. Looking back I can clearly see the mistakes I made, or allowed to be made by others. I think if the publisher had introduced my books differently and looked at building my career differently, it might have worked better fo all concerned, but that’s hindsight. I could be wrong, but I think I just went along for the ride and that didn’t do my career amy good. I can’t blame the publisher, I can only blame myself. So my advice is to go with your gut and make waves if you think you’ll suffer if you don’t.

Ours is a hard life and is getting harder all the time. But every occupation has its difficulties and there’s no security in any of them. So far in my career I wish I’d been less a dog, and more a wolf.

12 thoughts on “Dog Boy. Wolf Man.

  1. Insightful post, John, as always. You never hesitate to pull back the curtain and give us a glimpse of the man behind it. And your post today is just one more example of how unpredictable the publishing business can be. Why anyone would want to get tangled up in it is beyond me. Now, excuse me while I get back to work on book number 6.

  2. John, Thanks for sharing so freely and being so transparent. It’s a tough road, and today’s success doesn’t guarantee tomorrow.
    I’m wondering if it’s just a coincidence that the “word verification” for leaving a comment to this post is–no kidding–“enema.”

  3. Awesome article, John! Yeah, it really is a tough road. Thank you for sharing your experiences. And also thank for the reminder of following your gut!! I think a lot of of are so eager that we are willing to go for the ride, and sometimes we tend to fight any nagging feelings we may have.

    Thank you for posting this! It makes me think now.

  4. Letting out the inner wolf…I like that image, John. Recently I’ve been thinking wacky thoughts about how authors can break through in today’s publishing environment, like maybe we need our own reality TV show. Picture it: A bunch of authors vying to write the next breakout book, and each week we submit new pages to the judges, who would vote one author “off.” Book clubs across America could vote every week, too. I think it’s a really great idea, but when I described it to one of my media-savvy friends, he blanched and said, “That is the worst idea I ever heard! What would be more boring than watching a bunch of authors every week?”

    Sigh. I’ll just keep thinkin’…

  5. John,

    I find it amazing that the publisher could be disappointed that you sold “only” half a million copies of your first book. I guess it shows that expectations are just as important as sales figures.

  6. Thanks for this honest and forthright post, John. Your advice—based upon personal experience—means a lot to those of us still struggling to get a foothold in the publisher world. See you on the book shelf.

  7. Good post, John. Very thoughtful. And Kathryn, your idea of a writer’s reality show is a great one, only you KNOW the networks would insist on having all the writers be under the age of 25, half men, half women, no one overweight, requiring the women to wear bikinis at least 50% of the time, and everyone living together in a spectacular oceanfront mansion.

  8. I used to work in the publishing biz. I can tell you first hand, no one has a clue what works and doesn’t work. The crackerjack promotion you did for the last book doesn’t seem to work for this book. Was the cover not right? We talked to lots of people – got lots of feedback and it seemed right at the time. Was the gap between the books too long or too short? The list goes on….

    Just too many variables in the formula. And you might even think that the one variable you can control is the quality of the writing. But I’ll ask, how many great stories have you read from authors that no has heard of?

    This might come off sounding negative and I don’t want it to. Use it as liberation. All that crap is beyond your reach. Should I have done this? Could they have done that for me? Sure. You can twist yourself in knots thinking about all the “what ifs” in the publishing biz. Write your story. Get a decent publisher. Do some promotion. And enjoy the ride.

  9. Thank you for your insight on this. It is a tough business. As a romance novelist, I fortunately chose the indie publisher route, getting e-pubbed first (some are also out as POD), but you know? At least I’m making enough money I can write full-time and now officially claim “novelist” as my evil day job. *LOL*

    And there are writers starting out in the indies and breaking into “traditional” print, like Lora Leigh. And they’re going on to make the bestseller lists and become nationally recognized names. I know the romance genre can be a different demographic than more mainstream fiction, but more and more writers today are going that route. At least it’s a foot in the door and a way to build a backlist, a fan base, and valuable marketing experience. And I don’t have manuscripts sitting in a drawer and not earning me money. Would I love a NY “traditional” contract? Sure. And I hope to one day have one.

    For now, I consider myself darn lucky.

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