New writers often ask me for advice. Although I’m a bit of a lone wolf in that I’ve never been a part of a writing group or have had early readers, I still received plenty of help along the path to becoming published. So, it’s my pleasure to answer questions and share whatever helpful information I can.
Between you and me, I still feel a not-so-tiny thrill at people thinking enough of my books to consider me an expert in the field. It’s a win-win: folks come away from our conversations with the tools they need to finish, edit or polish their work. And I get to feel like a rock star. More importantly, I am helping them.
Well, it was a win-win right up until it turned into a win (for him) and a I-wish-I-had-bashed-myself-in-the-face-with-a-hammer-until-I’d-passed-out-so-I-wouldn’t-have-to-talk-to-this-jackwagon-any-longer for me. This spring I got a call from a man identifying himself as a neighbor who’d heard I’m a novelist. As I was listening to his message, I dug around in the junk drawer for a pad and a pen. For I knew he was going to ask for help and I was already imagining meeting him at the Essex library and sharing with him the seven things that all great novels need. It’s an outline I created from working with my own genius editor, Suzanne.
I grabbed a pink magic marker and a horse-shaped sticky note. Although his name sounded vaguely familiar in a not-so-wonderful way, I couldn’t place it. But, in the two years since my first book launched, I’ve never turned anyone away, so I happily called him back and left a message.
A few hours later, I was driving with my kids and he called again. Not wanting to talk shop while I was with the little people, I didn’t answer, but I did listen to his voicemail. Hearing his name again suddenly triggered enormous, flashing, screaming red flags.
Crap. This couldn’t possibly be who I thought it was. Crap.
I quickly called Kurt (using hands free blue tooth, of course). Our conversation went something like this:
ME: Hi Sweetie. Remember when we were getting the permits to build the house and some crazy person got removed from the town meetings because he kept screaming at everyone? What was his name?
KURT: That guy? Willie Johnson.
ME: Oh no. He called me today asking for help with his book.
KURT: Good luck with that.
I consoled myself thinking that I’d done the right thing by contacting him and maybe I’d get lucky and he wouldn’t return the call.
Not so much.
The next morning, I was minding my own business, continuing my glamourous existence as a novelist. And by that I mean I was in my pajamas with fuzzy socks and sandals, gnawing on a hunk of cheese and trying to make my fourth book a story about a girl who grew up in the racecar world rather than a book about racecars as I had promised my agent a non-racecar racecar book. I was so engrossed in coming up with a synonym for “turned left” that I didn’t even check the caller ID when my phone rang and I answered it.
“Sue,” came a nasally voice, “this is Willie Johnson.”
Where’s a hammer when you need one?
My conversation with Mr. Johnson went something like this:
ME: Just to let you know, I have a meeting at my kids’ school within the hour.
HIM: Blah blah blah. I’m such a wonderful writer. Great American novel. Blah blah blah. Should I self-publish or use a traditional house?
ME: Blah blah blah. Depends on your goals. Self-publishing can be great. Marketing this. Percentages that. Publicity and royalties.
HIM: This is the greatest book ever written. It’s much better than yours.
ME: Um… okay. Do you have an agent?
HIM: No one’s signed me yet because they’re all stupid.
ME: Really? All of them?
HIM: How much do you make?
ME: (Long, awkward pause).The industry standard provides authors a percentage of the sales.
HIM: My book is too good for that. I get to keep everything if I self-publish.
ME: True. But, with self-publishing you don’t get marketing, bookstore placements, online media publicity, print ads, reviews in national publications, author blurbs, an editor, a copy editor, a proofreader, a cold reader, an agent, a cover design team or any way to market the book as most indie stores won’t sell self-published books.
HIM: But, I get to keep all the profits.
ME: Yes, but if no one buys it, that doesn’t do you any good. After all, 100% of nothing is still nothing. Oh, would you look at that, time for my meeting.
Never in my life had I been so happy to get called to the principal’s office.
Fast forward six months to a Sunday evening when we found a notice of action rubber-banded to our front door. Years ago, while we were getting approval from the town to build our house, Willie Johnson took a tour of our property without permission and a dog bit him. Yes, it was our land, but it wasn’t our dog. Recently, he was skulking around our land again and got bitten by yet another dog, also not ours.
Kurt called our homeowner’s insurance people and sure enough, Willie has filed suit against us. He claims that we should have taken action to prevent the dog from entering our property. He has a point. If we’d built the Great Wall of Essex around our house, I suppose it would have kept him out, as well.
Needless to say, this is going to be a fight for our insurance company. We’ll leave it to the powers that be to explain to this guy that we don’t have a dog and he was breaking the law by entering our property without consent. We found out from the people who actually do own the dog, that Willie Johnson has been planning to file suit against both of us since the first incident nine years ago. I want Kurt or our lawyer or the insurance agent to tell this guy that he has very large testicles to call me for help with his amazing, magnificent book while he’s in the midst of suing us.
In case that doesn’t happen, I guess the best I can do is blog about him and hope he’s a subscriber.
NOTE: Because it’s an active claim, I had to change his name and the circumstances of the case. Unfortunately for me, the phone call is almost word-for-word.