On Publishing Your First Book: A Reality Check From Claire LaZebnik

by guestofaguest · January 6, 2009

"I Really Oughta Be in Pictures"

When I saw the 2003 remake of “Cheaper by the Dozen,” I couldn’t stop laughing. Not at the antics of Steve Martin, but at the—to me—unbelievably ludicrous idea that the Bonnie Hunt character could sell her first manuscript and then be sent on a BOOK TOUR a couple of weeks later. Reality check: it takes a minimum of a year for a book to go from manuscript to being in stores and there’s no point going on tour until then. And anyway, no first time author gets sent on a book tour, unless she’s already famous for some other reason.  Otherwise, only three people ever show up at a book signing: a couple of friends you begged to come and some woman who came into the bookstore for a copy of "He’s Just Not That into You"and came over for the free wine.

I’m always amused by the way the book world is portrayed in movies. Take “Smart People,” which I just watched last week. Intriguing, interesting if somewhat flawed movie about intriguing, interesting, somewhat flawed characters, right? But they lost me when the Dennis Quaid character informs his daughter (Juno’s Ellen Page) that she doesn’t have to worry about how they’ll afford tuition at Stanford because he had just sold the academic book he thought he’d never sell. Four years of private college tuition? That’s an awfully big advance for a book no one else was bidding on. I want his agent. Oh, wait. He didn’t have an agent. They just paid him a lot for no reason. Yeah, that happens all the time in the book world.

In Wonder Boys, Robert Downey Jr’s book editor is so eager to get his hands on Michael Douglas’ next book that he travels to Pittsburgh to see if he can get him to hand it over. Now that’s a dedicated editor. My editors send me e-mails when they need something from me.

But of course it’s the ease of success in the movies that makes any hardworking real life author want to pull her hair out. All it takes to get a book on the bestseller charts is . . . to write one. Shelley Long in Irreconcilable Differences. Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. Candice Bergen in Rich and Famous. What do these women have in common? Their characters all write books which instantly bring them wealth, acclaim and fame, transforming them from nobodies into feted celebrities--I believe Shelley Long even has an entourage a few months after the book debuts. Yeah, right. Someone forgot to tell me and every author I know that we’re the equivalent of Paris Hilton. For some crazy reason, the paparazzi keep forgetting to follow us.

No, the closest thing to authorial reality in my opinion is Jodie Foster’s character in “Nim’s Island.” She’s a successful writer who has agoraphobia and never leaves her house. Almost all of her contact with the outside world is through e-mail or the telephone. All she wants to do is stay home and write and be left alone and the world couldn’t care less.

Yeah. Now that sounds right.

Claire LaZebnik lives in Los Angeles with her TV writer husband and four children. She is the author of the novels Knitting Under the Influence (5 Spot, 2006) and Same as it Never Was and co-author of Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies, and Hope That Can Transform a Child's Life. Her most recent book is The Smart One and The Pretty One. You can read more about her at http://www.clairelazebnik.com