Will himself admits he's a great example of how to do everything wrong and still end up in the right place.
He wrote his first book ten years ago and immediately found a well-known agent. She primarily represents self-help celebrities like Dr. Phil and Stephen Covey. Although she loved his first two books, she couldn't find a publisher for them.
Will decided to self-publish and went through AuthorHouse. He said the experience wasn't a good one, and he eventually asked for his money back.
By then, he had figured out that he could self-publish through Lightning Source cheaper than he could through AuthorHouse (if he were going to do it again today, he said he'd use Lulu) so he created his own publishing company, MiddleFinger Press, and started selling his book from his website.
A New Zealand screenwriter got his hands on Lord Vishnu and convinced Will to sell him the film option for a dollar. The screenwriter then talked Michael London (who produced House of Sand and Fog and Sideways) into joining the project. London, in turn, convinced David Gordon Green, the director, to come on board, and the three sold the project to Paramount.
Now Clarke had a movie deal, but no broad distribution for his novels. Paramount's book division--Simon & Schuster--made him an offer for Lord Vishnu and gave him a list of agents who might help him negotiate the deal. He went with Jenny Bent, who likes quirky books (and Vishnu certainly qualifies as quirky). Simon & Schuster has now published both his books in hard cover and paperback.
Will gave all the members of my writers' group free autographed hardback copies of Lord Vishnu. I started reading the book last night. According to the Dallas Observer, it's "about a shallow, golf-loving, booze-swilling Lakewood dot-commer named Travis Anderson who is cursed with being able to read and influence minds even as he loses his. It's Kurt Vonnegut by way of Alfred Hitchcock, a screwy comic thriller." The first three chapters were hysterically funny, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest.
The New York Times did a double review of Will's first two books. Read it here.
Here are the lessons Will says he's learned from his ten-year journey:
- Learn everything you can about the publishing business. He recommends a subscription to Publishers Lunch and the book Putting Your Passion Into Print: Get Your Book Published Successfully! by Arielle Eckstut and David Sterry.
- Be sure you find the right agent--the one who is the right fit for your book. The wrong agent will shop your book but not sell it and leave you in a worse place than when you started. Will says this is because, once a New York publishing house has turned a book down, it will very rarely take a second look at the same book.
- Focus on viral marketing, selling your book by word-of-mouth. He believes this is far more important than a good book review.
- Be creative in your marketing efforts. He gave free finger puppets to booksellers, which helped them to remember him and his book.
- It's never too soon to start a blog or an account on MySpace.
- Enjoy the actual writing process. It will be the most fun you will have on your path to publication. From then on, it's hard work.