Category Archives: industry

Publishing 2.0

It has been thus since Gutenburg invented the printing press. Once they printed their fill of bibles, publishers began printing books based on their love of literature. They weren’t in it for the money, which was just as well because they weren’t going to get rich in publishing. In fact, they knew that the top ten percent of their list would support the other ninety percent, thus assuring, hopefully, that they wouldn’t lose money. These publishers believed in the work they did. And they believed that bringing new voices to an eager audience raised the level of all human discourse. And so it was.

In the second half of the twentieth century two things happened. The first was that multi-national conglomerates took over every company they could leverage, including publishing houses. These corporate titans didn’t read great literature, they read spreadsheets. And they weren’t interested in new voices. They were interested in dollars. Suddenly, the ninety/ten rule was out the window and profit was the new king of New York. It became harder and harder to enable new voices to be heard and literature began to suffer for it.

Now the second thing that happened began, slowly, to negate the first. In the second half of the twentieth century technology began to take off at lightening speed. From the B movie sci-fi scenarios of the fifties we wound up in the nineties, where everyone had a computer in their house, to the new century where many people carry one in their purses or bags. And the playing field began to level.

These days, with traditional publishing only willing to take a chance on a known quantity, writers are looking to technology to give them voice. And technology has responded in full force. Welcome to the era of the Indie Author. Writers are now taking their destiny into their own hands, eschewing traditional publishing for methods they can control. The Indie Author movement is spreading like a wildfire through the west and traditional publishing has no hope of putting this fire out. Newer writers as well as established authors are exploring the opportunities that technology and pragmatism have joined together to create. Publishing 2.0.

A librarian friend recently expressed concern on this issue, citing Barbara Bush is an Alien as an example of why the Indie Author will always be viewed skeptically. But I don’t think so. The market will shake out the silly, the irrelevant, and most importantly, the badly written. But for those who are looking for the next frontier, this may be it. And to them I say, “bon chance.”

1 Comment

Filed under general, industry, publishing, Uncategorized, writing

Christopher Moore Totally Gets Me

It’s funny, too, because he doesn’t actually know me.  But a while back he said, as I’ve mentioned before, “Being an Author is a complete cycle of “I’m a piece of crap/I’m the king of the universe” that oscillates on a minute-by-minute basis.”  So, like I said, he totally gets me.  That statement is an accurate description of my life these past few … well for a long time but especially these past few weeks.

When I started sending out queries in an attempt to secure representation I was completely logical about it – or as logical as I get, anyway.  I understand this business, I know how it works, my eyes are open to the reality of the process, blah, blah, blah.  The true reality is that impatience sets in quickly, which is a direct path to Christopher Moore’s prescient understanding of where I’d end up.

One of the first queries I sent was to an agent in the west that I respect.  She’s notoriously picky.  Within twenty-four hours she asked me for a partial (meaning a limited number of pages for you non-writers).  I was ecstatic, but still a realist.  I remember telling my husband that even if she doesn’t offer representation she has framed my entire experience more positively because my first response was good.  Yeah, that was two weeks ago.

Since then, I’ve received her rejection, two other rejections and one other request for a partial from an agent with a prestigious  New York firm.  Besides that, nothing.  Now, I understand the reality, which is that it’s way too soon to hear.  And I also understand that on the strength of a one page letter, half the initial responses have been positive, which is huge.  Doesn’t stop my minute by minute oscillations, though.  Doesn’t even slow them down.

Hopefully, I’ll find another quote, from another author who’s been where I am, that helps me keep things in perspective.  In the meantime, for any editors who happen upon this post, I offer this quote from Erle Stanley Gardner, “It’s a damn good story.  If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.”

Leave a comment

Filed under general, industry, poles apart, publishing, this writing life, Uncategorized, writing

81,187 Words Later

The process of trying to shepard a novel through the sale/publication process is fascinating. But that’s an academic assessment made by someone who has never done it before. It’s also frustrating, agonizing, daunting, likely foolhardy and, hopefully, rewarding.

Christopher Moore once said, “Being an Author is a complete cycle of ‘I’m a piece of crap/I’m the king of the universe’ that oscillates on a minute-by-minute basis.” Nowhere is that sentiment more true then in this part of the process. The highs and lows come so quickly that your head becomes a spinning top, most closely resembling Linda Blair in The Exorcist. 81,187 words later, I find myself having no choice but to move past the manuscript and on to phase two: The Query.

In this stage I write a one page letter to an agent (they can occasionally be two but brevity is rewarded). An agent/author relationship is a funny thing; the agent works for you but you’d dance with the devil to get a good agent to let you hire them. But back to the letter. I have somewhere between a nano-second and five words to wow the agent, totally mesmerizing her or him into begging to read my entire novel before the sun sets that very day. Now, to put this in perspective, Kurt Vonegut was rejected more than 800 times before he was published. And he was Kurt Vonegut the entire time. How different would our cultural discourse be without him? I can’t even think about it. Hopefully, inspired by Kurt’s determination, I whip out a brilliant query letter. On to phase three: The Synopsis.

In the synopsis I get a full five pages (sometimes more, sometimes less) to tell the agent the entire plot of my novel — including the ending. That’s right, it’s like Cliff’s Notes for the time-challenged. Not only do I have to condence 448 pages down to five, but I have to be riveting, show the agent my writing style and the tone of the book and, oh yeah, it better be damn good. Every time I’ve ever accomplished this I’ve celebrated with a simulated wrist-slitting. Once that’s done it’s on to phase four: The Approach.

This is the part I’m looking most forward to. Here’s where I send my obviously pithy query (with or without my brilliantly riveting synopsis, as they command) to agent after agent after agent. These days many agents take e-queries, so that, at least, cuts down on the expense. But it certainly doesn’t save me from having minute pieces of my soul dug out of me with a dull spoon. I’ve been published so I’ve had rejection. Lots. Some have been complimentary. The worst told me to study craft and then compared me to Faulkner, Kipling and London. Go figure. I can’t wait to see what new forms of rejection I’ll receive. I’m thick-skinned so I can handle this process. Especially because at the end I know, I just know, beyond all doubt, that I’m going to get a letter offering representation. And then the craziness begins anew.

Leave a comment

Filed under general, industry, poles apart, publishing, this writing life, writing

Aiding & Abetting

I recently spoke with a woman I know.  She’s older, in her seventies, and likely as right-brained as I.  For the time I’ve know her she’s been writing a book. It’s a thriller but it’s loosely based on her experiences during the war. She tells me she’s nearly done.

“It’s about 400 pages,” she says.

“Good length,” I reply.

“Yes,” says she, “it’s 190,000 words.”

Imagine my horror! 190,000 words is more than double what the publishing industry wants to see.  But as I’m trying to decide what to say next it dawns on me that the math isn’t right.  And then I ask the question I regret as soon as the words escape my lips, “that isn’t single-spaced, is it?”

The next twenty minutes are a debate.  On my end we’re discussing what the industry is looking for – font, spacing, word count – and how she can get her manuscript where it needs to be.  From her perspective the only topic is her desire to add her name to a laundry list of writers who have put out very long books,  J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and of course, Stephen King.  She is oblivious to the notion that these cash-cows could write a phone book and their publishers wouldn’t bat an eye.

I have mentored a number of novice writers over the years.  It can be pain or pleasure, depending on their attitude going in.  But with this particular writer, who I adore, I wound up telling her that the rules are only true until they aren’t, i.e. that if she’s determined to try she could, possibly, succeed.

Now, the reality is that I know she probably won’t.  But she didn’t want to hear how to fix things.  She wanted me to tell her that she’s the exception, which I won’t do.  I don’t think there’s nobility in telling someone what they want to hear if you believe it to be untrue.  But I also don’t find grace in forcing my advice on to someone who clearly doesn’t want it.  The situation leaves me stuck between the proverbial rock and it’s cousin, the hard place.

What is my point, you may ask?  Well, airing frustration comes to mind.  But more importantly I suppose, is a caution to the novice writer:  you are not Stephen King.  You may well have great talent coupled with high hopes and aspirations but in 2009, publishing is all about big business.  You need to follow the rules, at least most of them, to achieve success.  We all do it.  We decide where we won’t compromise and then we compromise everywhere else.

As for Stephen King, I met him once — at Harvard.  Nice guy.  I’m sure he doesn’t remember me.  But once upon a time he paid his dues, just as we’re paying ours.  Just as those we mentor will pay theirs.  And you know, I kind of like it that way.

Leave a comment

Filed under advice, editing, general, industry, publishing, this writing life, writing