Regular and occasional readers of this page may want to know about a couple of new books that are finally in print. The first is called Out Bad: A True Story About Motorcycle Outlaws. The second is titled The Aging Rebel: Dispatches From The Motorcycle Outlaw Frontier. Both books are self-published, like Granny’s collection of her very best poems or, to be less self-deprecating, like Stephen Crane’s Maggie A Girl of the Streets.
Nobody in the publishing business would touch either book with a ten foot pole. I tried for 30 months.
The idea for both books began with a general, blind, email query to a couple hundred literary agents in March of 2009. The subject line was, “Oh No! Not Another Writer! My Life Is Hell!” In hindsight, I should never have clicked send. What can I say? I was feeling giddy that day and I really was trying to appeal to literary agents. Probably the mirror I imagined was a little too sharp. Also, I am certain I should have deleted the comment about the gun.
The Initial Query
Dear Literary Agent:
We do not yet know each other but we are destined to meet and makes lots and lots of money. Tons of money! Is money something you might be interested in?
I have been writing for about thirty years and made practically no money at it at all. But, I do not believe in the false heresy of Antecedent Probability. I believe in the Holy Law of Averages. So today I am asking you to visualize a whole big room full of nice, new money, greenbacks and Euros. Can you see the money yet? Concentrate. Can you?
I have to be honest with you. I was fairly certain long ago that I would never talk to another literary agent again unless I had a revolver stuck in his eye. Just something about literary agents, I guess. I get along with whores, strippers, most tribes of outlaws, bartenders, drug dealers, lawyers and other psychopaths, tradesmen, authors, reporters and from time to time even the police but literary agents, not so much. Maybe I have just been unlucky. Probably it is not you but something wrong with me.
I only write now because I have found some very interesting stories for a website I run at www.agingrebel.com. I thought I should probably talk to an agent before somebody else publishes a book about one of them. Look at “Framing Dave Burgess,” for example. I think there is a lot there. I would really like to pursue that. There is a murder case in Arizona I am calling “The Sober Murders” that I think people should know about. There is even an ex-Outlaw named Ron Stahlman who I care about. Stahlman’s life has turned classically tragic. Somebody should write about him. Perhaps we can make lots of money, you and I, by exploiting one or more of these poor wretches before somebody else does. What do you think? All I need is a small advance.
Please, do not pigeonhole me as true crime. I am ready, willing and able to write anything. Travel. Sixty Strip Clubs in Fifteen Cities in Five Days. Adventure. Bugs In Yer Teeth! Learn to read. Topher and His Dad Run From The Police. Kids. When The Heat Sweated Tuscany. Young Adult. Don’t Get Caught in Wilkes Barre. Adult contemporary romance. Earning Sarah Her Property Of Patch. Chick Lit. Sex in South Jersey With the Pagans. How to business. Big Hugs and Well Constructed Pipe Bombs: Rebel’s Fully Illustrated Step by Step Guide to Beating Your Competition. Financial advice for these troubled times. The Magic of Putting Everything in the Name of Your Motorcycle Club. For entrepreneurs. Gun Shows and Border Crossings: A Miscellany of Little Known Ways to Earn Tax Free Cash. Cooking. Let’s Make Meth! Horticulture. Rebel’s Secret Garden in a National Forest. Fashion. Well, actually, maybe not fashion but everything else.
It does not have to be any of what I just said, anyway. I am just TRYING TO HELP YOU visualize the enormous potential profit in me. Really, I agree with you. The writing and story and all that is just content. The creative part is the art of the deal. Take a look at the site. Then, tell me if you see anything you can sell as a proposal for a book. Please. I promise you I am not Jack Henry Abbott.
Is Rebel That Stupid
Yeah, I am actually that stupid. I not only wrote that, I sent it – like 200 times. I have always been pretty stupid. Being stupid is the single, hardest thing about being me.
About 95 percent of the agents did not respond. A couple of them were very annoyed with me. “I can’t begin to imagine what you expect to accomplish by saying that to me,” one nice, important lady replied. One agent said I obviously wasn’t for her but she referred me to another agent in her office. The guy was a graphic novelist as well as a literary agent. You know what a graphic novel is, right? He liked action. I wrote him.
“Well, what specifically are you proposing,” he wanted to know.
That day I replied, “The Mongols case. I can’t believe there won’t be at least three books published about the Mongols case and at least one of them should tell the truth. Doc Cavazos has already published a book. At least one of the ATF undercover agents will write a book.” That was the project that became Out Bad.
Multiple proposals and many sample chapters later the literary agent disappeared. Then he resurfaced as an editor at a major publishing house with his very own “male oriented imprint.” He remembered me – which at the time I blindly assumed was a good thing.
The process of selling a non-fiction book is always frustrating. No one will ever read a non-fiction book written on speculation. You must start with a proposal. If you start with a completed book it only proves that the book must be no good.
Where Baby Books Come From
Proposals must contain an “Overview” of the proposed work, an “About the Author” section and an analysis of, “The Market (Audience) – Who is the target audience? A bulleted list is fine. Be specific and quantify whenever possible. That is, if there is a certain organization who will be interested and you know how many people are members, or the circulation of their newsletter this adds weight.”
What was I going to say? Well, there are about five hundred Mongols? Of course, right now, a lot of them are in jail?
Another mandatory section regards, “Promotion – What can you, as the author, do to sell the book? Do you give workshops, lectures, retreats? Do you have an organization or a newsletter? Are you affiliated with anyone? What TV/radio/print coverage have you already gotten, and what programs/publications would your work be appropriate for upon publication? What’s the angle? That is, if you say, ‘My book is perfect for Oprah,’ or ‘for NPR,’ you need to say very specifically why it will appeal to Oprah’s audience or to the NPR audience, and in the latter case you will specify which particular program on NPR your book most suits.” Finally, a proposal must contain sections on “Competing Titles,” an expanded table of contents and sample chapters.
Beginning with the “graphic novelist/agent/editor” and continuing on through multiple, additional agents and editors I wrote about a dozen different proposals for Out Bad. One problem with me from the publishing business’ stand point was that I am just some guy. I am not a proven investigative reporter like Julian Sher, or a prosecutor like Kerrie Droban or an ATF agent like Jay Dobyns or a celebrity. I didn’t graduate from college and the college I dropped out of wasn’t in the Ivy League.
I was also pretty stumped as to how I was going to promote Out Bad. I actually mock NPR in that book. I don’t even have Oprah’s phone number. I have had a little correspondence with Fox News and I know they aren’t going to do me any favors. Also, in the course of writing the book I managed to piss off Doc’s Publisher, William Morrow, with some rude questions about how they felt about having their book entered into evidence in a RICO case.
It got kind of time consuming and frustrating so finally I gave up. I quit writing proposals and just wrote Out Bad which practically guaranteed its failure. Most of it was done a year ago.
From the beginning, the hardest thing about writing about the Mongols case was the volume of information. I almost drowned in information about the case. There is so much easily available information about Operation Black Rain and the criminal and civil cases that followed that I still can’t quite believe that Julian Sher, Doug Century, Kerrie Droban, Chris Blatchford or a dozen other writers did not write the story first. The first draft of Out Bad was about 300,000 words. I managed to get it down under 75,000 words so it may actually sell more than 25 copies.
I do expect Out Bad to sell fewer than 100 copies. I did not write it with an expectation of profit. I wrote it because I promised some guys I would write it and get it in print. Then, after I was in this project up to my ears it was kind of hard to back down from completing it. It would be nice to make enough money from Out Bad and The Aging Rebel to stop writing copy for payday loan companies and for various “content mills.” I also would like it if both books sold enough copies that America might begin to understand the love-hate relationship this nation has with motorcycle outlaws. I will not hold my breath.
Why Is It Called Out Bad
Out Bad was always founded on my opinion, as I put it in the book, that:
“The point of Operation Black Rain was to put every outlaw in America out bad – to seize his cut, his motorcycle and his memorabilia, to rough him up, wreck his home, scare him and tell him “don’t come around this club no more.” It was simultaneously emotionally, financially and legally devastating for the men involved. The point of the “enforcement effort” described in this book was never to punish “criminals.” The point was to crush a set of seductive, romantic, dangerous, and maybe obsolete, ideas.”
It seemed obvious to me years ago. So I wrote to that.
I would have been better off arguing the point at some Starbucks with some buxom, middle-aged art teacher. I might have gotten lucky. Instead I wrote a whole book about my opinion and then tried to convince literary agents and editors that it mattered that the American secret police had gone into the business of crushing ideas. After most of the book was done I sent out copies of a highly revised outline and sample chapters. The professional opinion was that I do not write very well and that most of what I state in the text is either unfocused or was just stuff I had made up.
The head of one really swell agency said he was “looking for terrific writers.”
“That’s so cool,” I told him. “You like terrific writers? I’m a terrific writer!”
“Beauty,” he replied after he got a load of the sample chapter I sent him, “is in the eye of the beholder. I have represented many accomplished authors and I am afraid I can’t agree. But good luck.”
The premise of most books about motorcycle outlaws is to “give readers the vicarious experience of being a…” insert club name here. My opinion about what it means to be a member of this subculture differs radically from successful writers on the subject. They see “psychopaths.” I see men who live their lives like heroes. I was repeatedly advised that I was “dangerously naïve about outlaw bikers.” I also heard “biker apologist” a couple of times. “So you are saying everything everybody knows about biker gangs is wrong?”
Yeah, that was what I was saying. I was saying that practically nobody, with the obvious exception of Professor Daniel R. Wolf, has gotten it right yet. It is not, I have been told, a very commercial notion. It is not something people want to buy. Decide for yourselves.
As far as The Aging Rebel goes, I thought if somebody stumbles onto Out Bad and likes it why not sell them another book? The Aging Rebel, which is made of 50, slightly edited selections from this website, is full of people, situations and motorcycle rides that the general public might not know. Parts of it are, at least amusing. Personally, I think this would be a better world if 10,000 or so people bought copies to keep in their bathrooms.
Did I mention that reading Out Bad has been proven to cure both baldness and impotence!? Try it for yourself and see!
And, at least Out Bad didn’t wind up being a comic book.
You can get both books on Amazon. The Aging Rebel may not be up for a day or so. Out Bad is at http://www.amazon.com/Out-Bad-Donald-Charles-Davis/dp/1467950831/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1321810299&sr=1-5