Thursday, June 2, 2011

Springsteen & Me: Taking Control of Your Writing Career

For those of you thinking this is a post about Bruce Springsteen and me, let me say right here that it is not. I do not know Bruce Springsteen. Of course I know who he is, but until quite recently I hadn’t followed him. So, if you’re interested in Springsteen’s music stop reading now. This post is about how Bruce Springsteen inspired me to take control of my career, and how those of us who are creative can learn from what he did.

In October of 2010 I was having a beer with my publisher. But he wasn’t my publisher then. He was my friend. I didn’t even realize Chris was a publisher until that conversation. Christopher Meeks is a writer who I met attending grad school at USC. We were both aspiring writers on the—then, fledgling—Professional Writing Program. Chris told me he was publishing one of our old professors, acclaimed playwright and novelist, David Scott Milton.

Chris learned his publishing skills working for Peter McWilliams, and has gone on to self-publish two short story collections, a novel and a play. For more on Chris and Peter McWilliams go HERE.

During that conversation in October, Chris mentioned an HBO documentary he’d seen about Bruce Springsteen. It seems after the success of the first album, Springsteen realized he was under the control of his (then) manager. As is typical (I guess) in the music business, the contract Springsteen signed gave his manager total creative control forever. That didn’t sit well with Bruce. In fact, he gambled his future on ending that contract. Springsteen decided he could never record again under those conditions.

Bruce, along with the members of the E Street Band were young, and hungry—but not hungry enough to give away creative control. He’d rather go back to obscurity than turn his ideas over to a gatekeeper. He was an artist. An artist needs to control his art. He didn’t record for three years.

They could have caved to the pressure and made a living, but he stuck to his guns, not recording for THREE WHOLE YEARS. The special is about those years and the first album they recorded after he waited out his manager. Springsteen called the album “a meditation on where are you going to stand.”

I was impressed with the story my friend Chris told about artistic integrity. Luckily, one Saturday afternoon I was flipping channels and saw the documentary was again on HBO. I watched it. It is a brilliant special. It changed me. The Promise: The Making of Darkness On The Edge of Town. The documentary is acclaimed for how he created the music. I love it for the message it sends to those of us struggling out here in the creative community.

Soon after I saw it I asked Chris and White Whisker to be the publisher of Boyfriend From Hell, along with the two other novels in the saga. Why? I was with Tor, a division of McMillan/St. Martin’s Press—a Big Six Publisher. I loved my editor. My first novel , Never Slow Dance With A Zombie, sold very well. But I was not happy with the relationship. There was a disconnect. My editor loved my second novel, but her boss didn’t. They pitched me something else. I went to work on it. But every time I would do a reading or let someone read Boyfriend From Hell, they’d say, this is a great book. So I asked Chris to take a look at it. Fortunately, he thought it was a great book, too.

Me, I think it’s a terrific book. But I am the author. What do I know? I want to let you, the reader, decide. I can’t do that if it’s not out there. One of the E Street band members said “Bruce is a man with a vision, and at the same time he’s a man in search of a vision.” That is exactly how I see myself, constantly in search of the vision inside my head. But aren't we all like that?

When the Never Slow Dance With A Zombie movie option lapsed, I decided to shop the movie myself. I want to do it as a musical. My agent and many others don’t get this idea. Dancing zombies! Come on! That’s a great idea. At least it is to me. I don’t know if I will get it done, but I am in control this time. It feels good.

I am thankful that Chris is delighted with Boyfriend From Hell. Just as many of you decided what cover should go on the book, I want my work in your hands, and not the hands of some gatekeeper. Mind you, I had already published two horror novels under the pseudonym, Sal Conte, back when I was in grad school. I have a twenty plus year career writing TV and film and have been nominated for both an Oscar and an Emmy. So I knew my work wasn’t crap. But can I write paranormal YA?

Like Springsteen, I wanted to be in control of my ideas. I was inspired by him to take control of my career. Is the book good? You will let me know. Can I have a career as a YA author? You will let me know. I’d rather hear it from you than some gatekeeper.

Today I found out the ARCs will be in on the 13th. Reviews will follow. I will know very soon what people think of the book. I am now in total control of my career. I’m not a kid. I need to do everything I can to make this damn thing work. It’s daunting yet exciting. I feel invigorated. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you in advance if you leave a comment. I hope some of you will. I hope all of you read the book. I also hope this inspires some of you who have been sitting on the self-publishing/Indy-publishing fence to take a stand. We can be each other’s cheer leaders. Take control of your careers.

That’s the story behind Boyfriend From Hell, and how I started taking control of my career. Here we go.



  1. Excellent, excellent post. It amazes me that you--being with one of the "Big 6"--took a turn that most would deem insane. But I fully understand it. I signed with an "indie" publisher three months ago and we are hard at work on getting my book ready for publication next year. Several of my friends (via Twitter/Blogs) who are agented haven't sold their books yet. I'm so glad I have the publisher I do, and that I'm not sitting around waiting for this experience!

  2. I am not a writer because I am not a wordy person. I understand how frustrating it must be for a writer to write something and put it in a publisher's hands and be told over and over again to rewrite it to their specifications. I would hate that. So, I am glad you found someone to be comfortable with. It can then truly be your work.

  3. EH,
    I'm not a writer but you have to know by now that you inspire me to take control of my career and more importantly, of my view of myself. Thank you for that. And I think it should be a musical - A zombie musical paints it's own picture and therefore sells it's self. See you on set!

  4. Hi E!

    I'm glad you decided to take the reins controlling your career! I've read so many indie books that left me scratching my head, wondering why some big name publisher didn't snatch them up? The answer can be found in your post... I've read about other authors's experiences with publishing, not all of it is good. There are good experiences, lets be fair, but not all of them, and lots of good books go unpublished. I'm glad you, like Bruce, stuck to your guns.

    Dottie :)

  5. This post is good advice to those of us pursuing a writing career. Something that I really will take into consideration when my book is ready for publication. Thanks for sharing your story, E!

  6. I'm not a writer or a publisher and I can't even explain why one book grabs me and another doesn’t.
    I can understand the frustration of creating something and being forced to change it from what your original idea or losing the rights to it.
    I wish you the best of luck!

    For fun - here's a movie trivia question for you.
    Which movie pokes fun at writers by having a screenwriter tricked into traveling by ship but due to overcrowding has to bunk down in the cargo hold in one of the animal cages to finish writing the script?

  7. Thanks for all the posts.
    Jamie said: "It amazes me that you--being with one of the "Big 6"--took a turn that most would deem insane."
    It's not like I left the room and closed the door behind myself. If the right opportunity arises with a Big 6 Publisher, I will take it. The important thing here is it's my decision. My career is in my hands.

    Linda said: "I understand how frustrating it must be for a writer to write something and put it in a publisher's hands and be told over and over again to rewrite it to their specifications."
    Everyone needs an editor, Linda. Someone to help you make the manuscript better. "Boyfriend From Hell" had two editors. I didn't make this move because I think I know betteer than editors. To make a book better, I will make as many changes as I am asked. I made the move to an Indy to get my work in YOUR hands. That is what is important to me. Getting work I am passionate about into the hands of readers.

    Thank you all for the kind words. Lulilut, I really appreciate you leaving a comment because you emailed me how much trouble you were having logging in, but you stayed with it. That means a lot to me. Thank you.

  8. Trivia Answer: That's a good one, Lulilut. A real stumper. Is it King Kong?

  9. Fantastic post E! You know I share the sentiment, but to hear it from someone with your level of industry experience is more than encouraging. I'm glad to be an ally in that journey with you and hope to absorb as much of that valuable knowledge as possible. You are awesome! :)

    I want to be a zombie extra! I'll be an usher, I don't care. I can't sing but I can bust out some choreo if I have to. :P

    King Kong it is!

    Childs Play covers are first on my list!


  10. Your choice to keep control of your creative ideas is inspiring. It seems like everywhere, it's encouraged to go with the flow and do things for utilitarian reasons rather than staying true to yourself. Amanda Palmer also did something similar when she broke from her label because they wanted her to create music that was more mainstream and they hated her solo album. I really respect all artists that stand up for their creativity over monetary gain. I am so looking forward to reading Boyfriend from Hell! There needs to be more people like you in the world. :)

  11. Wonderful post. I can't really say anything different from the other comments. I think it's great that people are doing what they love and not giving up on that. It's wonderful, so good for you. I can't wait for Boyfriend from Hell either. It sounds like a lot of fun!! And a zombie musical? It should totally be done!


  12. King Kong is correct - maybe Peter Jackson was making a statement with the caged writer character. lol!

  13. All I can say is way to go! I think Never Slow Dance... was excellent! And can't wait to read your new one!

  14. Thanks for sharing your story. This is really interesting. I found you from Book Blogs and I look forward to stopping back.

  15. Thanks for the great post. I am following you from Bookblogs and look forward to reading more. I can be found at

  16. After 11 years in the game, my debut novel just sold to a major. The world (the publishing world at least) changed in that time. I congratulate you on taking artistic control and your career into your hands. I feel like I have found a real meeting of the minds with my new editor--but I certainly understand the value of independence. There are pros on both sides of the gate.

  17. New friends from Book Blogs, thank you so much for leaving a comment. And Congrtulations, Jenny on selling your debut novel. As I said earlier, I don't think there's anything wrong with being with a major. I am happy for you.

  18. What an inspiring post! I love it ;)

  19. Loved your post. I am trying to write a novel and I am a huge huge Springsteen fan. Many Bruce fans don't just love the music they also love the man for his integrity and the effort hr puts into his job. He is indeed my inspiration.

  20. DITO!!



  21. hi! thanks for following me! im following you now and I should say what a great post! very inspiring! thanks for that!

    btw, I think that book is so cute hopefully i could read it oneday!
    More power,

    lalaine teensficbookrevs

  22. Please, please, PLEASE make Never Slow Dance with a Zombie into a musical!! That would truly make my life complete!!!

  23. What an "a ha" moment. I'm so glad that you had that conversation with Chris, your life will be forever changed because of it. I haven't read your book, but I can tell from your post that you're a great story teller.

    Good for you! We should all be so lucky to realize that we are the keeper of our own destiny.