NIck Jans: When the Book Dream Comes True

Nick Jans

It’s a writer’s dream come true. A major
publisher grabs your pitch, offers a wow contract, and off you go. You get good
support but plenty of freedom, spot-on editing, and a great cover design. Best-selling
authors offer fabulous blurbs. Your book opens to glowing reviews from the
usual places, and better-than-good national sales. Supported by a savvy
marketing plan and superb distribution, supported by a flurry from established
bloggers, the first printing of 20 thousand moves fast enough that two weeks later,
they’re printing a few thousand more; and three weeks later, another small
printing (that’s the method of addressing demand in this era of nimble printing
and supply). A national big-box store picks up your book. Your agent and editor
trade email high-fives with you. There’s talk of a big time review, but it
doesn’t materialize.

Six weeks after release, the publisher
hires an outside publicist to organize a national radio drive—a blitz of a
couple dozen phone-in interviews. This, along with social media, email, online
reader reviews, and a professionally redesigned website (the latter your own
idea and built on your dime) are the ways your book gets around. Old-fashioned
author events, not so much. In fact, your publisher’s entire budget for author
travel is just 2500 bucks. You pitch in airline miles, couch surf with friends,
and eat a lot of Subway on a modest regional tour—a total of fewer than a dozen
events, more than half set up by you, the rest by the publisher. The events are
well-attended in your own back yard; by the time you get to Seattle, solid but
less than overwhelming. Event book sales range from respectable to much better
than that. You remember an old adage—the main reason for tour events is to
schmooze with the booksellers who will give special placement and hopefully
hand-sell your book long after you’ve moved on; and to make personal
connections with as many readers as you can.

Then, out of nowhere, three months after
release, there it is: a review in the New York Times. It’s not long, but
dammit, it’s glowing. You might have written it yourself. And, as it breaks, someone
holds out a cell phone. Look, you’re on
the New York Times bestseller list.
And dang it, there it is. Not anywhere
near the top—number six in one of their categories—but it’s there. It counts. Almost
overnight, the book shoots up the Amazon sales rankings, and temporarily sells
out. Your editor passes the word: they’re going to invest in another radio
drive, send out a batch of copies focused at special interest groups, and push
you hard in upcoming holiday sales listings. Time to print another few thousand
hard covers to keep the pipeline full. The book’s not over that mythical hump
where a book starts showing up everywhere and selling itself, but it has a

All the above isn’t a scripted fantasy;
it’s a compressed, up to the moment blow by blow of my latest book, A Wolf
Called Romeo
(Houghton Mifflin, July 2014). Friends and family pat me on
the back and send congratulations. But they’re puzzled—my writer buddies most
of all—that I’m not more animated, reveling in the moment. Why the
matter-of-fact, almost subdued demeanor? Why am I not thrilled out of my skin?
I seem more preoccupied than anything else; unusual for a guy who tends to
emote and talk a bit too much.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m paying attention,
focused and watchful as I seldom am. A success like this, after 20-some years
and 11 books, engenders more reflection than celebration. Why here and now? Why
this book? Have I really blasted
upward to a new artistic level? The best answer I can come with goes like this:
I’m no better a writer now than I was twenty years ago. All my books were
equally successful, far as I can tell; I turn the pages of my early writing and
remind myself. All I’ve done, ever, is what any serious writer does: sit down,
apply the craft to the best of my ability, work my arse off, and be ready if
the luck shows up. All that’s different is that this time, it did. And I’ll
take it. 

Writer/photographer Nick Jans is a
contributing editor to Alaska Magazine and a member of USA Today’s Board of
Editorial Contributors. A Wolf Called Romeo is his 11th book. He and his wife,
Sherrie, live north of Haines, Alaska.  

4 thoughts on “NIck Jans: When the Book Dream Comes True”

  1. Congratulations, Nick! I bought a copy from Old Harbor Books this summer, enjoyed reading it on our run south. Great job. Do consider Bellingham's Village Books for a reading – they're a wonderful indie bookstore, great reading space & promotion, and we've got a couch.

  2. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Nice to hear a positive story for once — sometimes the system works. (The fact that the successes can be random keeps us guessing but also humble.) Congrats, Nick!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top