Posted by: mygentlecloud | September 7, 2007

Advice from David Gibbins

This evening, I went on my own to one of the  Pre-Writers Festival events, the book launch of author David Gibbin, just to have a view to how book launches are conducted and what the authors speak about. The one hour was well invested, so much so that I actually bought one of the books he wrote, as a show of support.

The book launch was organized by NAC together with Penguin, the Asian distributor for Headlines, a publisher in UK. As expected, the turnout was not great, being a Friday night and all. The audience were mostly aspiring writers, out to learn a tip or two from a published author. To beef up the numbers, NAC staff joined in to make it look more well-attended. Such is the fear of an organizer. I should know for we count registrants for events like they were gold coins 🙂

Anyway, back to the book launch. After a quick introduction by the organizer, David started off by reading the start of his prologue. It was not a genre which intrigued me, perhaps, so the reading seemed a tad long. After which he went into a brief introduction about his background, why he started writing and his writing regime.

It is quite rigorous. He lives on a farm with about 10 or was it 100 acres of land, with a lot of vegetation. He writes in a little cabin deep within the vegetation, secluded from civilisation. He starts at 6 am in the morning and puts in between 5 to 7 hours before breaking for lunch. After which, he spends the rest of the time either reviewing his writing or researching.

He currently churns out one book a year. He has a 8 year old girl and an ex-wife and lives practically alone. That piece of information made me wonder which came first, the breakup and therefore, the time and need to write, or the passion to write so all-consuming that his marriage suffered. At the back of my mind, Catherine Lim’s words about her three sacrifices in her writing careeer: commitment, religion and career. Does writing take such a toll on all authors? How sad.

While I mulled over the sharing, he read the end of his prologue which contained a bit of gore.  Listening to it, I kept wondering why he chose those passages to read. It did not move me to want to read on. Perhaps it was his reading voice, a bit expressionless and not melodious.

However, when he shared more about his writing experience, I started to warm up to him. He was modest about his success, and very earnest to share. Here are some of the key learnings which I found useful:

1)  always bolster your own confidence in your book during the writing of it. It helps to drive you on. Believe that you’ve got a best seller and write it so that it can be a best-seller. Many lose steam and even give up mid-way simply because they could not bolster enough faith in their work. So, the mindset is very important.

2) when writing to an agent, remember that it is all a business to them. A typical agent receives on average about 300 books a WEEK. From these, they have to place their bets on a few to recruit as their clients so as to more easily earn their 15% which is the normal commission fee they charge. How do they select these precious few people who would pay for their homes, their cars, their baby’s milkpowder etc etc? Here are the little nuggets of wisdom.

a) keep the proposal letter only one page. Give the gist of your story in two to three lines at the start.

b) mention that a few other books are lined up as well. It would sweeten the proposal when they know there is future revenue streams as well as the first. Nobody wants to work hard on a – nastily put – one night stand. They want their time well invested in an author who would ride from wave to wave.

c) impress upon him your passion and show how ambitious you are to make the book a success. They like nothing better than someone who is prepared to drop everything and invest their time to do book launches, speeches and other marketing/publicity stints sometimes over protracted periods of time. A tall order, I would say, for part-time authors, but there it is. It is a business investment they are making. They are investing their time. There is opportunity cost in that. So they want full cooperation from their client. In this instance, David had a good story, for he really resigned from his full-time job and buried himself in his writing.

Normally a stingy poker, I actually bought a book by the author at that session. $15 was not a high price to pay for such learnings, I feel. And on top of that, I got myself a present for my hubby (hope he likes it though) and better still, it was personally autographed by the author himself with my name on it. Cool!

Last little observation on this last aspect. If you feel compelled to buy a book there, go for the latest one. You would have thought that $15 is $15 whichever book you bought. But that’s where you (or me in this case) are wrong. The book launch is a vehicle for the author to drive sales of his latest book. His older books are already proven. The attention is on the number of copies sold for the new book. He needs these numbers to be high for the new book as a form of assurance to the publisher that his new books are making it so that they will continue to publish his future books.

Sigh. I arrived at this conclusion after reading his body language and facial expression when he signed the others’ books as opposed to mine. Or am I being sensitive.

Nope, I don’t think so.

Su Yin


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