Always be unprepared

Had I canceled my gig at the Sidekick Books and Wine Bar, I probably wouldn’t have returned.

I never know what to expect. Last night I was at the Sidekicks Books and Wine Bar in downtown Rock Springs, Wyoming, giving a Beyond Heart Mountain book talk.

The opening event was a solo guitarist and singer named Wayne. He’s an indie musician and his own roadie. He started his set at 4:30 and ended at 6:30 pm. After he packed up, he was on his way for another gig in Ogden, Utah.

Four people sat and listened to his music. That’s the life of an indie artist. We move from place to place, not knowing if anyone will show up.

“Do you want to cancel?” The bookstore owner named Lisa had called me the day before. She didn’t know if anyone would show up because of other activities happening in town.

“No, I’m pretty sure there will be people,” I reassured her. “Even if it’s two people, that’ll be worth the drive.”

Rock Springs is 350 miles from Boulder. At a minimum, I’d sell some books to the store. I also planned a stop at the Centennial, Wyoming library in a small town 25 miles from Laramie.

On my way to Rock Springs, I made a cold call at The Second Story bookstore in Laramie and closed a book sale there.

After leaving Laramie, I stopped in Rawlins to stretch, went to my bank, and deposited some money. On my way to Centennial this afternoon, I’ll deposit the check from Sidekicks.

What I have learned over the years is that I can’t plan for everything and go into everything unprepared. I set things up to be around 75 or 85 percent complete. The remaining 15 to 25 percent are unknown challenges. Resolving them can be routine or a mad scramble.

The four people who sat down for Wayne stuck around for my book talk, along with six others. It was a small but appreciative crowd who all bought books, beer and wine. A good time was had by all!

What I’ve learned about literary agents

How many times have you assumed someone was going to complete a task but didn’t? The more middle people involved in a project, the more time it takes, and in the case of creative industries like books, that means more money out of my pocket for no guarantee of results.

Self-produced “Beyond Heart Mountain” media kit

“I thought …” are the first two words that come out when I asked a beta reader if they’ve made any progress reading my manuscript draft. “It was the other guy’s fault.”

I don’t need to pay someone to be incompetent. I can procrastinate as well as the next person.

People shouldn’t think so much. I wrote yesterday about what I’ve learned about traditional publishers. They aren’t in a hurry because they are beholden to first-time memoirists like me who need quite a bit of editing and editors who have multiple projects to read.

Over the past year, I’ve attended a couple of writing conferences and signed up to talk to literary agents, mainly to find out what criteria they use to pick books and authors to represent.

Agents are in business and need to make money. Agents aren’t interested in your first book. They want to know about your second and third books.

“I don’t want to take on a one-trick pony,” one LA-based agent told me after I handed him a copy of “Beyond Heart Mountain.” “I don’t make any money from authors who have one book.”

“Here’s the synopsis for a novel,” I responded and handed him my one-sheet.

“Well, it’s a novel. How many novels have you written?” he asked, continuing to dissuade me.

“The manuscript is finished. This is the first, but I have a sequel, too,” I said.

“Here’s my process. I like that you have one book published and doing pretty well. Send a query letter and the completed manuscript for your novel,” he said.

I can join the crowd.

He hears from many first-time writers and to the point that he can be picky about who he represents. He nurtures the clients he has to create stories that are likely to sell.

“Even if you have a publisher or agent, you still have to promote yourself,” another agent advised. “I can only open doors if we have a good product. I can hire people to improve your cover or come up with marketing materials, or you can do it. If I do it, that is in addition to my management fee.”

In exchange for 10 percent, an agent can only move as quickly as their subcontractors perform and as fast as a publisher answers or returns phone calls.

“When you’re starting out, it’s better to self-promote,” she said. “Build your social media audience. You need to show your books sell.”

When I started the market development process for “Beyond Heart Mountain,” I contacted public relations consultants and event planners about hiring them to schedule a book tour.

That would be an additional cost, considering the publisher charges me 60 percent of the $15 cover price for my copies and pays 20 percent royalty for books they sell.

I didn’t find anyone to help, which was a good thing because I learned what it takes to set up events. The process is very time-consuming and costly to print up professional-looking promotional materials.

My success was mixed. Out of the 200 first-class mailings and 400 emails, I ended up with six museums and stores that carried the books and 15 speaking gigs.

I don’t think I’ll make any money from “Beyond Heart Mountain.” I see the project as one of “customer acquisition” and hope I have the capacity to finish my novel, the sequel, and a second in a series of three “Beyond …” memoirs.

Maybe I’ll make enough money to trust an agent. Maybe I’ll become an agent or publisher.