David Comfort knows a thing or two about the publishing industry and he’s taken his experience and, in writerly fashion, corralled the wisdom of his trials between two covers. AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING should prove a valuable tool and compass for the hopeful scribe.
We’d like to thank him for taking the time to be part of our “5 Minutes Alone” interview series.
AuthorScoop: What was your very first publication credit?
David: •Book: FOR DOGS ONLY: How to Live with Human Beings (Pocket / Simon & Schuster, 1989) •Short Story: “Achilles: Letters to his Mother” (Pig Iron Press, 1991)
AuthorScoop: Tell us about your latest release.
David: AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING is a long-overdue self-helper for the million midlist, backlist, and no-list writers still waiting for deliverance by a survival manual based not on Publishers Clearing House You-too-can-be-a millionaire-novelist! fiction, but on the sobering realities of an overpopulated, hyper-competitive, bestseller-driven profession which is marginalizing literary writers and editors. The exposé leads writers-in-the-storm down the yellow brick road, pulls back the curtain on the Publishing Land of Oz, and helps each reclaim his or her head, heart, and courage.
AuthorScoop: Aside from your own hard work, who (or what) else do you feel has contributed to your success?
David: As a self-taught writer, I have no teachers to thank, per se. But, like every writer, I have learned by reading and studying the masters. They were my teachers, and to them I am indebted — not only for the inspiration of their work, but for the example of their determination, persistence, and drive.
In the first ten years of my career, I completed five novels. My father-in-law, a TV writer (Gunsmoke and Route 66), sent my first novel to an editor friend at Harper & Row. It was rejected after six months, and never resubmitted elsewhere. The other novels were represented by Reece Halsey (formerly William Morris fiction head), co-agenting with Alex Jackinson in New York. In spite of editorial praise, all were rejected as being insufficiently “commercial.”
Changing tack, giving commercial nonfiction a try, I wrote a humor title, For Dogs Only: How to Live with Human Beings (1989). My NY agent declined to represent the title, so I sent it out personally – over the transom. Simon & Schuster bought it. Subsequently, I secured new representation by Nancy Yost, of Lowenstein & Associates, who agented my next two books with Simon & Schuster.
Frank Scatoni of Venture Literary placed my next (serious) trade title, The Rock and Roll Book of the Dead, with Kensington. Don Fehr of Trident Media placed my current title with Writers Digest Books.
All three agents contributed to my success, as did my editors. I am also indebted to the editors who rejected my earlier work, but praised it, made valuable suggestions, and encouraged me to persevere.
AuthorScoop: At what time of day or night do you do your best writing?
David: For actually putting pen to paper: Morning. But, like most writers, I’ve got a virtual writer auditioning inside my head going pretty much 24/7.
AuthorScoop: Finally, what advice would you give to new or unpublished writers?
David: •Be humble. No matter how good you think you are, or how long you’ve been at it – be the student, never the expert. Keep learning. The greatest obstacle to my own professional progress was arrogance. I refused to take a single creative writing course, consider an MFA program, or even to join a writers’ group. I wanted my work to be as individual, pure, and underivative as possible. I tried to reinvent the literary wheel. This cost me a great deal of time. Worse, it isolated me in a profession where education and networking are vitally important.
•Never stop perfecting your craft. Along the way, find your style, your voice, your sweet spot, your home field. Abandon preconceptions. Be flexible. Perhaps you wanted to write the great American novel, but find that your niche is in nonfiction. Maybe you wanted to compose poetry, but find that your strength is in the short story. Maybe you wanted to do mysteries, but find that your imagination and creativity is truly set free by Fantasy or SciFi.
•The key to success of most successful people, not just in the arts, is focus. When you find your literary sport, stay focused on it. Wrestle it down till it sings. Don’t jump to something else due to temporary obstacles, setbacks, or frustrations. Avoid being a jack of all genres, but master of none. Unless you’re Shakespeare, Michelangelo or God.
• A cliché that bears repeating: A serious writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. Be the tortoise, not the fox. Be wise, deliberate, inexorable; not clever, impulsive, prone to hyperventilation.
•Don’t write for money and fame. If for no other reason than a practical one: Only .01% of writers get it, and a good number of these become miserable and/or creatively beached as a result. Write for the joy of creation, self-knowledge and exploration. Like a baseball batter, if you keep your eye on the fences and scoreboard, not the ball, chances are you’ll never hit a home run.
•To become a “successful” writer, you must market as much as you write. A bitter pill for many artists, but one that must be swallowed even by introverts. First, learn everything about the players in your market – the book publishers & editors, the magazines, the top talents. Then, put on your Willy Loman hat, and start going door-to-door in the neighborhood of your audience.
•Rejection is the one inevitability and constant in a writing career. Every author, no matter how accomplished or later acclaimed, has had to learn how to survive it and move on. Don’t take rejection personally, say many writing gurus. Grow a thick skin, advise others. Nonsense! Writers are sensitive, that’s why they’re writers. Show me an author who doesn’t take rejection personally, or who boasts a thick skin, and I’ll show you a self-deceptionist. Acknowledge the hurt, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and return to the fight. As Henry Miller said after the rejection of his first novel, Clipped Wings: “It was a crushing defeat but put iron in my backbone and sulfur in my blood!” He didn’t break through till 12 years later. Be Henry Miller.
AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING is out now and you can find David Comfort all over the web, but start here at eyeshot.net and DavidComfort.org.