Randy Ingermanson has published six novels and received about a dozen awards for his writing. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the entire software department for Vala Sciences, a San Diego biotechnology company. Randy is the inventor of the "Snowflake Method," used by novelists around the world to design their novels. He the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world's largest electronic magazine on writing fiction. More than 1000 novelists read his daily blog, the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. Randy's goal is to become Supreme Dictator For Life, and he may have already succeeded. Visit his site at www.SupremeDictatorForLife.com.
The Lean, Mean Jesus Machine by Randy Rooney
aka Randy Ingermanson
There followed much grunting and grinding as Sam pushed himself out onto the kitchen floor, reestablishing himself firmly inside his pants...
A lot of novelists I know obsess about their sales numbers. When a book doesn’t sell well, the author wants to know why. Was it the title? The cover? The marketing campaign? The writing? (No, surely not!)
I decided to ask Sam the plumber. Sam is a deep thinker who knows everything there is to know about just about everything.
Sam was under the kitchen sink installing a new faucet when I consulted him. Sam pretty much fills up all the space under the sink, although it wasn’t clear whether his pants had traveled quite as far in as Sam had. Quite frankly, it wasn’t a pretty sight, but I closed my eyes and steeled myself to ask the tough questions.
“Hey, Sam, when a novel doesn’t sell well, whose fault is it?”
Sam stuck his hand out and snapped his fingers. “Pliers.”
I picked up a filthy pair that looked like it had been stored inside a T-rex since the Jurassic period and handed it to him.
Sam grunted something that might have been, “Thanks.”
I waited, knowing that Sam’s wisdom runs slow, but it also runs deep.
After a few minutes, Sam said. “Okay, turn on the water.”
I did. It worked flawlessly.
There followed much grunting and grinding as Sam pushed himself out onto the kitchen floor, reestablishing himself firmly inside his pants. He put his pliers back into his toolbox, scribbled out his bill, and handed it to me. “I’ll need to do a FOX study on that question, all right? I’ll call you when I get some answers.”
I was impressed. I hadn’t realized that Sam had connections with the FOX network. “How much is that going to cost me?”
“Figure five hunnert. And if you don’t mind, cash.”
That sounded a little steep, but I desperately wanted to know the answer. “Okay, fine.”
A week later Sam called. “You ready for this? ’Cause you’re not gonna like it.”
I pulled out my pen and a fresh pad of paper. “Give me the brutal facts.”
“I did a FOX poll.” Sam cleared his throat. “Asked a bunch of publishers and authors why some books don’t sell well. The answer is that it depends.”
“Depends?” I echoed, feverishly scribbling on my pad. “Depends on what exactly?”
“It depends on who ya ask.”
I waited, knowing Sam would explain himself—in his own time.
“The publishers are anonymous that it’s the author’s fault when a book don’t do well.”
“It means a hunnert percent,” Sam said impatiently. “Flunked algebra, did ya?”
“Not exactly, but—”
“Well, but never mind the publishers—they don’t know nothing. I polled the authors and got the straight scoop.”
I wrote the word Authors on my pad.
“Fifty-eight percent of authors believe it’s all the publishers’ fault. The theory is that the publisher printed the thing, so it’s their business to sell it, too.”
“That seems sensible. So that’s the majority view then?” Somehow, I’d been hoping for more.
“No, not at all. Sixty-eight percent of all authors say it’s all the fault of the publicist.”
I wrote that down and stared at it. “Sam, those numbers don’t add up.”
“Listen, I’m the expert here. Look, the job of the publicist is to publicize the book, right?”
“Um . . . right. And you’re saying they don’t do that?”
“I’m saying most authors put all the blame on the publicist. But it gets better.”
I didn’t see how it could get better, but I waited.
“Eighty-four percent of all authors blame the readers.”
“Blame the readers?” I drummed my fingers on my desk. “Why blame the readers?”
“It’s simple. Everyone knows that the best kind of marketing is word-of-mouth, right?”
“Right . . .”
“So if a book don’t take off, it’s because there was no word-of-mouth, and that’s the readers’ fault.”
“Sam, that doesn’t make any—”
“Hey, but here’s the clincher. Ninety-two percent of all Christian novelists blame Jesus.”
For a minute I thought I was going to choke. “What’s Jesus got to do with it?”
“It’s simple. Look, a hunnert percent of all Christian novelists believe Jesus decides if their book’s going to succeed, am I right?”
“And five percent of all novels are best-sellers.”
That sounded about right to me. “So you think—”
“I don’t think it, I know it. Subtract five from a hunnert, you got ninety-two percent that blame Jesus. He’s supposed to be their lean, mean marketing machine. If he don’t come through, then it’s his fault, am I right?”
“That’s outrageous!” I hissed. “That’s sacrilegious! That’s—”
“Stop while you’re right. There ain’t one of these writers who expects Jesus to wash their dishes, am I right?”
“You’re . . . right.”
“They don’t expect Jesus to balance their checkbooks. They don’t expect Jesus to unclog the toilet. How come they think Jesus is gonna do all their marketing?”
I felt like the air had gone out of the room. “Sam—”
“That’s the outrage. That’s the sacrilege. Why do these people think the only thing Jesus is any good at is marketing?”
I didn’t say anything for a long time. Finally, I asked, “So whose fault is it?”
Sam snorted. “It ain’t anyone’s fault, but if you got to throw some blame, then try blaming the math.”
“Yeah, math. Not everybody can be number one. Somebody has to be number two. Somebody else has to be number three. If you got five hunnert novelists writing, one of them has to be number five hunnert. None of this ever occurred to you?”
I wrote Blame the math on my pad.
“Listen, I got to go unplug a sink,” Sam said. “You got any other questions?”
“Just one. How do you spell FOX?”
Sam snorted. “You call yourself a writer and you can’t spell a four-letter word?”
“Spell it, Sam.”
“F-A-U-X. It means I made it all up, but you got to admit it makes sense. That’ll be five hunnert bucks. I’ll send you a bill.”
Two minutes later, my fax machine spit out an invoice from Sam.
I sat looking at it for a long time. Had I gotten my money’s worth? Had Sam earned his five hundred bucks?
I decided he had. I opened my wallet and pulled out five Ben Franklins.
I faxed them to Sam.