Bestselling Author Joe Ide: Facts and Fantasy of ‘Bestselling’

L.A. author Joe Ide, frequent keynote speaker and workshop leader at the Southern California Writers Conference, is delighted with the success he has enjoyed since selling his first novel, IQ at age fifty-eight, simply delighted, making no bones about that in his keynote. Few writers reach the heights of bestselling. Part of the magic motivating us to remain seated at our writing place includes nurturing the fantasy that our stories will someday resonate, too.

The dream of becoming a bestselling author is perfectly fine to dream. After all, at our core, writers are dreamers. But is that why we write stories? For fame and fortune? The answer is no and if chasing fame/fortune provides the only motivation, this segment of those writing eventually move on to other ventures.I have always been drawn to writers ‘woke’ to this reality of storytelling

Craft vs Business

We write stories because we have to write them and why  Joe Ide’s keynote at the recent SCWC flagship conference so resonated with me. In his time at the podium, Ide delivered many terrific tips about creating characters from our everyday living, echoing what we know about our tribe, at our core, writers are nosy. I videoed what I could and had to hear more so I attended Ide’s Sunday morning workshop. He did not disappoint. Joe talked craft, the creative side of publishing, co-mingling solid craft ‘pointers’ with the business side of publishing, selling and making money. Again, he pulled no punches, straight talk from his own experience about what bestselling means in terms of dollars and cents.

Defining Publishing ‘Advance’

Joe Ide’s  latest novel, The Goodbye Coast: A Philip Marlowe Novel garnered a six-figure advance. Sweet, right? Absolutely, and Joe wasn’t complaining as he broke down what the six-figure sum meant to his bank account. Some writers, likely new to our tribe, don’t know that getting an advance from a traditional publisher requires the author to earn back that six-figure sum in book sales before seeing any more money from the publisher. Since Joe’s novel centered on a famous person, Raymond Chandler’s ‘Phillip Marlow’ character, permission to use this name came with a price. Raymond Chandler’s  estate had to be negotiated with before Joe could pen his novel.  I don’t know what the estate required but when I negotiated with the Women’s National Team to write All American Girls (with full access to the team) that sum was 50% of a very nice advance offered by my publisher, Simon & Schuster. Joe pointed out other facts: his agent’s take of 15% as well as Uncle Sam’s portion. All of a sudden, that six figure advance has a bit of a different context in reality.

Why Writers Write

Even before traditional publishing took a pummeling from the arrival of the worldwide web, writers have nurtured fantasies about bestselling books, national book signings, film options, TV interviews and oodles of money. None of these fantastical imaginings are rooted in reality. I share this story often in my workshops, a story told by one of my writing mentors, the founder of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, Barnaby Conrad, a multi-published, bestselling author in fiction and nonfiction . In the early 1990’s, as we gathered for the opening night SBWC ceremonies, Barney announced that this SBWC session had attracted the greatest number of conferees in its (then) 20-year history. He asked us to looked around the packed auditorium brimming with 400 writers and so we did. Then he said, “…At the most, one to three writers sitting here will be offered contracts from New York publishing.” The audience let out an audible sigh to which he replied, “We write stories because we have to write them. “ Wisdom shared from a man who had enjoyed a storied career himself, Barnaby Conrad.

Write on.

That’s what we writers do.

@writersmama on Twitter & Instagram


Joe Ide’s accolades & awards include being nominated for the 2017 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American writer. IQ’s sequel, Righteous, was also widely praised.


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