Nicholas Griffin at Café Grumpy, NYCI met author Nicholas Griffin at the Steerforth booth at BEA, where he was signing galleys of his latest novel, Dizzy City, just out this week. When the publicist told me what the book was about--an AWOL British soldier playing a complex con in New York City in 1916--I declared that it sounded right up my alley. I read it a few weeks ago, and it sure was.
Besides evoking New York on the eve of American involvement in World War I, Dizzy City contains an almost-too-perfect depiction of the protagonist's bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder. I'm still recovering from PTSD and had to take a breather after some of the passages.
Griffin's previous books are the nonfiction CAUCASUS: Mountain Men and Holy Wars (Thos. Dunne) and the novels The House of Sight and Shadow (Villard), The Requiem Shark (Villard) and The Masquerade (Little, Brown). Last Wednesday, he met me for coffee at the peaceful--and seriously caffeinated--Café Grumpy Chelsea on West 20th Street. I asked him to share what he'd learned about publishing.
The game doesn't end when you hand the book over. I used to think that writing the book was 90% of the work; now I think it's more like 40% or 50%. Domestic sales are just the beginning. The real money is in foreign rights; a thousand dollars here and there adds up. Holland and Germany are really big markets.
Personal relationships with bookstores are really key. The odd email and phone call go a long way. I have a relationship with The Poisoned Pen in Arizona; they'll sell a lot of my books. I wish I knew bookstores like that all around the country; I'd be set.
Think of your agent as an editor. When you pick an agent, don't just look at their numbers; look at the quality of their authors. Don't disregard small publishing houses. You may not see as much money upfront, but careerwise it may be a better move for you. The big review pages are more likely to receive and listen to a phone call from the publisher of a small house than a big one. The big guys just aren't going to get on the phone for you.