In a former life, I tended bar at a Mexican restaurant. It was a hole-in-the-wall dump of a place, a converted Frisch’s Big Boy with a few colorful blankets and sombreros and piñatas tacked to the walls for “atmosphere.” The food was authentic, though, and we always got good reviews in the newspaper.
I started each shift by cutting dozens of limes into wheels for garnishes, mixing five-gallon tanks of margaritas, and generally prepping the bar for what we called “Fiesta Hour.”
Between 2PM and 7PM, you could buy jumbo margaritas and well drinks for half-price, and you could eat fresh tortilla chips and homemade salsa for free. In theory, the cheap drinks and free snacks were supposed to stimulate customers’ appetites. In theory, they would then order a plate of rellenos or enchiladas or pollo con salsa verde. In practice, however, quite a few patrons regularly came in strictly for the cut-rate tequila buzz and comp munchies.
One of those patrons was a guy named Marco.
Mid-thirties, tall and thin, stringy blond hair, big Adam’s apple, still lived with his parents.
He always ordered multiple margaritas on the rocks (light on the ice; he got more booze that way), multiple baskets of chips, and multiple tubs of hot and mild salsa. He never bought anything off the menu, and he never tipped me a dime.
But those weren't the main reasons I dreaded seeing him.
You see, Marco was a self-proclaimed perfumier. He had a “laboratory” set up in his basement, where he distilled oils and essences, spices and extracts--all sorts of exotic and volatile concoctions designed to titillate the human olfactory nerve. Drop-by-drop, Mad Scientist Marco filled tiny glass vials with these precious potions of his, and then mounted the vials in a briefcase for display. Sometimes he brought the briefcase to the bar with him.
There was only one problem with Marco’s fragrances: they didn’t smell very good. In fact, they stunk.
That’s not just my opinion. Everybody who ever smelled Marco’s products said they stunk. Popping the cork on one of his bottles was like unleashing the hounds of perfume hell. Imagine an elevator full of blue-haired, lipstick-toothed octogenarians, whose senses of smell died sometime during the Carter administration. Add a couple of funeral sprays, some rubbing alcohol, and maybe a dash of Pine Sol. Shake well.
Oh, he occasionally sold one of those vile vials, to a kindly cocktail server or a nearby customer who took pity on him. I even bought a bottle one time, only to pitch it in the dumpster on my way home.
Unfortunately, our patronage only encouraged him. He kept making more of that kerosene cologne, kept trying to hawk it during Fiesta Hour. Eventually, the restaurant owner had a talk with him. Marco didn’t come in very often after that.
Marco’s dream was to be a famous perfume designer. The way I see it, he went about it all wrong.
Shouldn’t you know a little bit about chemistry? Shouldn't you be aware of how various substances might interact with human glandular secretions? Shouldn’t you maybe spend some time in Paris or New York or somewhere studying with masters of the trade? Shouldn’t you analyze popular scents on a molecular level to see just what it is about them that turns people on?
Marco didn’t do any of that. Marco bought some smelly stuff through the mail, pumped it into amateurish-looking containers, tried to sell it from a briefcase at the cantina.
And he wanted to call himself a perfumier.
Sorry, Marco, but you have to earn that title.
Just as, in my opinion, writers have to earn the title of published author.
Anyone who can scratch out words on a page can have those words printed and bound and put up for sale on sites like Amazon. To me, that type of publishing is tantamount to bottling perfume from a basement lab and selling it from a briefcase in a bar.
In other words, it’s very likely that the end product will stink.
I was at a writer’s conference one time, outside smoking a cigarette, when a fellow attendee strolled up and asked for a light.
“What kind of stuff do you write?” he asked.
“Hardboiled. I’m working on a private eye novel.”
“Anything published yet?”
“Not yet. I’m still looking for an agent. How ‘bout you?”
“Yeah, I have a book out.”
“Really? Who’s the publisher?”
He named a certain POD outfit. "Here, let me give you one of my cards...”
He handed me a business card and walked away. He avoided me for the duration of the conference, preferring instead to hang around with other “published authors.” I felt like grabbing him by the collar and shouting you’re not published either, you punk, but of course I didn’t. Anyway, I doubt my harsh words would have penetrated his cloud of arrogance.
There are no shortcuts to becoming a published author. You have to earn the title by landing a contract with a legitimate publisher, and that can take years of hard work.
Some folks would rather throw up a lab in the basement and start hawking product right away (throw up and hawk being the key words there).
That’s their choice, I suppose, but I really don’t see the point.