In the past months, I’ve been seriously considering taking a bold and different approach to how I get published. Not necessarily bold and different for a lot of people, as you’ll see if you keep reading this, but bold and different for me. I have a friend named Stephanie Thornton - a hugely talented writer of romantic and erotic fantasy and science fiction, a woman who has been courted by agents and editors for years and yet has not been published to the extent she deserves. I remember sitting down with her early last year and saying,"You know, I have the infrastructure in place to publish you. You might not have the backing of a large and well known publishing house, but you’d be out there. You could make it work." And Stephanie agreed: we’d see how things developed with her work, with my work, and with the publishing industry as a whole, and then we’d either make a go of it or not.
That was last year, and we haven’t taken the plunge yet. THEN, last week I saw this article by literary agent Richard Curtis, and I was immediately discouraged. It was as if Curtis had been reading my mind for the last year, and taken an active interest in dissuading me from taking a chance at both publishing myself AND publishing some of my associates who deserve to be published and haven’t been. In particular, what he said about Cory Doctorow and Seth Godin hit home. How WOULD I juggle the intricacies of publishing, editing, uploading content, marketing, and sales - for myself as well as for others - and still have time to write every day?
If you look down at the comments, though, author J. A. Konrath - one of the people Curtis cited in his article - wrote a response. And if you click the link in Konrath’s response, it’ll take you to THIS article .
Wow. It’s almost the opposite of Curtis’s conclusions regarding authors as publishers, and the numbers Konrath cites for all those self-published writers is staggering. Sure, I haven’t heard of two thirds of them, and neither have you. But they’re reaching 5 figures in sales volume a month - that means that SOMEBODY’S heard of them.
So, after reading Konrath’s response and stewing over Curtis’s original post, I’ve come to some conclusions, and that’s what I want to share with you today.
1) Did you know that Kindle sales exceeded expectations last year, and that over 10 million of the devices are now out there in the hands of consumers, just WAITING to download books that you and I and Konrath and Stephanie have written? Now, sales of hardcover books also rose last year, according to this article , and ebooks still only constitute a portion of the overall market. But Kindle sales and downloads outpaced traditional books nonetheless, and the gap is widening.
2) The difference for me, however, isn’t in sales. It’s in accessibility to my potential audience. In his article, Curtis stated that "Talent and hard work will out, but they must be leavened over time." This is the same line I’ve heard for years - if you’re good, and you’re tenacious, then eventually you will get an agent and the publishing credit that you deserve. This is simply not true. RIGHT NOW, without even thinking about it, I could name over 20 people that I’ve encountered over the last 15 years who are mega-talented, mega-dedicated to their craft, and as hard-working as they come, who have not for whatever reason found success in the publishing world.
Let’s face it, agents and editors are people, not gods. They have individual tastes that influence what they pick, and they need to make money off of their choices. And they make mistakes. The trouble is, they don’t suffer from their mistakes as much as the people they pass over do, because they’re on the inside looking out, while the people they turn down are on the outside, looking in.
With the advent of ebooks, writers have a growing opportunity to bypass the watchdogs of the publishing industry and take their product - because that’s what writing is, a product - directly to their audience. Oh, and I know there’s a bunch of terrible, terrible writers out there, and that their work will be available for Kindle and Nook and iPad downloads, too. But as I stated here in a previous post , the cream WILL rise. I just don’t think it’s accurate to say that the cream will rise with the traditional publishing model - because from what I’ve seen, there’s some cream that hasn’t even been given a chance.
3) Something that troubled me on my second and third read of Curtis’s article is the tone of condescension I detect. Sure, I’m probably overly sensitive to it given my position, but let’s take a few of Curtis’s statements and look at them, shall we? About Konrath, he says "He packages his own works but unlike Godin he’s smart enough to be disinclined to publish the work of others." If I were Seth Godin, I’d be a little put off by this. Wouldn’t you? And as you may recall, I was considering not just publishing my own work via ebooks - I was considering publishing Stephanie’s, too. Am I "not smart?" If you know me, either personally or via this site and my social media outlets, you know this isn’t true. And yet. And yet.
He says "If your name is not familiar to the reading public, however, emulating [Konrath] will flop. You will become a publisher, yes: a vanity publisher." Vanity publishing is one of those phrases traditional publishers like to flout around, and 10 years ago, it meant something. Now though, with egress to solid self-publishing tools that are beginning to prove superior to traditional models, it means nothing. Those authors Konrath listed self-published. Out of vanity? Perhaps. But with 10,000 or more in sales EACH in just December alone, it hardly seems that vain to me.
4) I was at a writing workshop last summer, and in a Q&A, one agent more or less toed the same line that Curtis does. She adamantly opposed self-publishing, again stating that whole thing about how if you’re good enough, you’ll eventually find representation. She also railed against investing in social media - Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, blogging - although in the next breath she admitted that she was relatively unfamiliar with how all those things worked. So… why do agents and publishers so ardently oppose self-publishing and self-marketing? Curtis implies that we shouldn’t engage in it because we won’t be good at it. That might be absolutely valid in a number of instances; we writers are by and large artists, not business people. Some of us are even horrible editors.
But I think there’s something else at work. I don’t know for certain what it is - I can only guess. Is it fear of perceived competition? Is it clinging to an increasingly antiquated model because of an unwillingness to learn new paradigms? Is it a final ploy to hold onto something that might be slipping out of their hands? Is it uncertainty about the future of the publishing industry? Is it uncertainty about ALL OF THIS?
5) Finally, given what I know about ME, I’ve decided to go ahead with my plan. Let me lay portions of it out for you in brief: I have several books already written that just need a good editor. Therefore I don’t lack product to "sell." I know a few good editors who’ll work with me. I know several graphic artists who will as well. I also have friends who are good with computer databases and the like, who can help me with uploads, downloads, and programming. I myself have an extensive background in marketing and PR, and I’m good with social media. I know a few things about sales - online, in stores, and at conventions. I have loose capital that will pay for stuff. I have excellent credit. I’m already incorporated and I have a good accountant.
So why not give it shot? If I wait too long, out of fear of failure, out of concern that the things Curtis suggested might come true, then I believe it highly likely that the ebook boat will pass me by. The old model of doing things certainly hasn’t worked for me, so why not try out the new model? Even if I DON’T sell 5 digits worth of books - even if I sell only 1000, then that’s a 1000 more than I would have sold doing it the way Richard Curtis wants me to.
I liked him in the first 10 seconds I was in the room with him, even though I had no idea why. And over the course of the evening, as he and I and a few friends played games together, I began to understand why Jason Snape would quickly become a good friend - one I would only engage on occasion, but one who would be true and be real.
I’ll get this out of the way RIGHT NOW, and not make mention of it again. I think he’d appreciate that: Jason Snape is in no way related to Severus.
A couple of years back, Jason designed the cover of the magazine I TRIED to establish (he didn’t do the art itself, but everything else is his, and in retrospect, he probably could have done a fine job on the art, too). He’s also on tap to help me create graphics and artwork for a couple of game ideas that I have in mind. So I suppose I’ll be engaging Jason a lot in the future, and I’m excited by that. Writing is a lonely vocation sometimes, and the idea of collaborating with someone makes me feel all tingly - and all the moreso because it’s Jason.
When the prospect of our future collaboration (along with our other friend, Michael Collins, whom I’d be remiss if I failed to mention) came to the fore again a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that I could and SHOULD give voice via my web site to Jason. He is an artist as I am, and since I occasionally use this great forum I have to showcase people whose talent I admire and respect, I decided to dedicate a post to him. As you will see from Jason’s words below, he and I see eye to eye in this respect: we are all “in this together”.
So here’s Jason Snape, artist, cartoonist, graphic designer, writer, and friend….
Let’s start with one of Jason’s one off cartoons!
C’mon! It’s fucking funnier than Ziggy!
Anyway. Jason was born in a small, rural town, not far from where Lily Evans, Harry Potter’s mother, also grew up. His parents were a Muggle named Tobias and a woman descended from wizards named Eileen. At an early age, Jason showed an affinity for potions and the Dark Arts. All of that changed, however, after having what he calls “violent disagreements” with physics and calculus. Somehow, in the ensuing years, he wandered into design, and left the wizarding world behind.
With his eventual MFA in graphic design, he came to Atlanta for a job at an architecture firm. Since then, he’s worked with a software company, a number of small design boutiques, and a few big dot com entities. He’s taught at a university, does freelance work, and sometimes builds houses if times get tight.
If you replaced a few words in the above paragraph, you might be describing me. Hmm.
Another thing we have in common is our attitude toward the state of the arts in the United States today. We were talking one day, and he mentioned that he thought Frank Zappa would never get signed as a musician, were he trying to make it in today’s music industry. I asked him to elaborate, and here is what he said. I’ll give it to you word for word, and ask you to imagine me standing beside Jason, nodding in agreement with everything he says:
“I never considered myself an artist until a few years ago; I’ve always been more comfortable calling myself a designer. An Artist is someone who sculpts, or paints astonishing canvases, or creates music. There are amazing Artists at KSU [where he taught], and it saddens me, because I don’t know what they do (and they usually don’t either) with their Painting degree. Do they become Painters of Light©? Work for Disney? Why can’t they just create? Artists in the old world seemed to have stipends from their families to go out and create, or explore without need for income. This seems extravagant and, in this country, frivolous and wasteful somehow, because we put value on industry, labor, profits, and constant improvement. We don’t see value in culture. Do we have culture? Maybe it is consuming. I have a sense (probably romantic and naïve) that Europe and the rest of the world value art and their culture, and cultivate it. When I talk with people about art in our country, in our world, I bring up my theory of Frank Zappa. I do not know a lot about Zappa; I do not have all of his music. But like Monty Python, it’s hard to believe that someone like him could get a music contract today, for the same reason I am doubtful about my book publishing aspirations – unless it’s a guaranteed profit, they don’t have an interest or the time for you. Too risky. The encouraging thing is that, as creative people, there are new avenues to explore. Frank would be all over the Internet, I’m sure. That would be his way of creating and getting his music out there. But would it pay? The internet is awash with blooming and previously-unpublished creative endeavors (and everything else). So the interesting question comes down to, do you want to create and get your art out in public? There are countless ways to do that. Do you want to make your living through your art? If so, it is a more difficult path. Here is one example of why: Story magazine was created by Whit Burnett in 1931, and published such young unknowns as J.D. Salinger, Truman Capote, John Cheever, Joseph Heller, and Norman Mailer. In an excellent book about writing, Burnett describes how these authors’ initial works were promising but unrefined, and that through the act of publishing, editing, and evolving, they became some of our most important writers WHILE BEING PAID FOR THEIR WORK. Story invested in them and helped them grow. Salinger did not hit the ground with The Catcher in the Rye, and yet that appears to be what the “artistic” industries expect of musicians, writers, and maybe artists too. Where is there room for experiments, innovation, the chance to fail and make improvements learned from the failure? In politics and corporate America, the failures appear to have enormous, real consequences that hurt people and affect the way we live, yet the ramifications seem slight in comparison. Art is about creativity, and creativity is how we discover new things, find new solutions and break away from old, obsolete parameters. It is supposedly still one very distinctive way that America remains far ahead of China, if that is a motivating factor. So how do we best foster creativity? Math time tests. Art class once every 9 days in elementary school. CRCT bubbles.”
And… with that stuck in your craw, I’m gonna sign off on this post. Read that again, if it pleases you. Read it out loud. You see why I admire Jason? It’s not just that he’s an artist, as I am, as you might be. It’s that he thinks deeply and with feeling. He takes time to play (his cartoons indicate that), but - like a child in his formative years - his play has substance and meaning. It’s a process by which he grows and learns.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve personally lost that ability. Then I spend a little time with Jason, and I can feel it coming back just a little bit.
For more examples of Jason’s art and design work, visit his site: www.jasonsnape.com. BTW, the title of this post, in case you’re wondering, comes from the name he’s given a portion of his site: Snape’s Ridiculorum - Finely Crafted Illustrations, Stories, and Nonsense.
I’ve been reticent about writing this particular post for some time. Two reasons why:
1) I don’t want to use this forum to sell stuff to people. I’m not Billy Mays shouting at you about Oxyclean or cool screwdrivers. I may promote my friends’ and colleagues’ work, and the whole idea of this blog is to increase my exposure, but I don’t like the idea of selling actual products.
Still, people sell products online everyday, so I guess I need to get over that. I promise you, though, that I won’t do this sort of shameless hard sell often – I don’t even foresee having another “product” available for a long time. It’s just this one thing.
2) The bigger reason for my hesitation, though, is that every time I start to write this, or even think about it, it just gets soooo long. I needed to sit down and narrow it down to its most salient points, despite the fact that this thing means so much to me, and needs – I feel – a lot of explanation.
But I think I’ve got it now.
THIS POST is my attempt to sell you an issue of a literary magazine that I published and contributed to 3 years ago. The following is a description of the magazine – called Some Assembly Required – and what I intended it to do, presented in as few words as possible.
What it is. SAR is a magazine published 3 years ago with contributions and help – a little time, money, heart, and soul – from several of my friends, including the contributing writers, the cover artist, the masthead designer, and my technical support. Definitely a labor of love.
What it was meant to be. There’s a brief essay at the front of the book that describes my intent in greater detail (I may publish that essay in a future post), but here’s the gist: SAR was my attempt to open a niche in the community of literary magazines and crack that shell by publishing a magazine that, rather than publishing individuals the way most magazines do, would publish entire literary groups – MFA classes, critique groups, etc. They could contribute as a whole and I would dedicate each issue to their group.
Seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.
What it turned out to be. I’m not the most successful writer in the world, but I don’t have a lot of things that I’d count as outright failures. This, however, would be one.
This magazine never saw a second issue. Ironically, the magazine sold enough issues to mostly pay for itself, so I was encouraged in that regard, and would have happily gone through the whole process – the investment of time and money – to publish a subsequent issue. But you can’t publish a magazine without content and you can’t have content without contributors, and simply put – I got no submissions.
I believe that the reasons for not receiving submissions are twofold.
First, I guess I miscalculated how hard it might be to get a group to come to a consensus on something like this, especially with no one to guide them through the process the way I did the group that I DID publish. (BTW, if there’s anyone out there who was part of group that saw this opportunity and ended up passing on it, I’d love for you to e-mail me and tell me why you didn’t submit. I’d appreciate the feedback. All I got back then was silence.)
Another reason is that I didn’t anticipate potential resistance from the literary community (at least as it was 3 years ago when social media wasn’t making the inroads it is today). Suffice it to say that I found the literary magazine community resistant to change, ambivalent to newcomers who didn’t jump through the same hoops as they did, and outright hostile to anyone who might encroach on their (diminishing) audience. I might be wrong on this point – it is just my perception – but I don’t think so.
What this magazine could be to you. I think everybody out there would get a kick out of at least one of the 7 stories contained in it. The variety of content is high, mostly because of the diversity among the members of the group I published – the variety in tastes, styles, and world outlooks translated into a lot of different stories and voices. Some will no doubt appeal to you, and some won’t.
Also, the artwork is sublime, the magazine is well put together, and regardless of the success or failure of it, I still think the premise - the idea behind it - is pretty fucking cool.
So, all that said at last, I’d like to sell you a copy of the magazine.
Here’s how we’ll go about it: you set the price you want to pay, and I’ll send you an issue. You have to pay the minimum shipping, which is $1.65, but beyond that, I don’t care. You pay a penny + shipping, you get an issue. You pay full cover ($14.95) + shipping, you get an issue. You pay anything in between (or above, heh heh), you get an issue.
Just send the amount you’re willing to spend to my Paypal account at email@example.com or in the mail to:
P.O. Box 904
Fort Gaines, GA 39851
and I’ll send you an issue.
Hell, it worked for Radiohead. It probably won’t work as well as for me, but even if it works a little, I can start moving this project over from the failure category to the success category.
In return, you’ll get a pretty decent magazine that’ll entertain you, even if just a little. You get to see a little bit more of what I’m all about. And who knows? The magazine might be an inspiration to a writer or literary magazine that YOU know, to show them what is possible.
It’s been since before the holidays that I posted a podcast of the novel I’m podcasting. But don’t worry - I haven’t forgotten it, just neglected it! Still, here’s a new installation, which will be followed later this week by another installation. In this one, we return to Nate Wells, now after the closing of his magazine. Here Nate meets a mysterious stranger, and hopefully you’ll soon be wondering the same thing Nate is….
A War Between States Part 18:
Chapter 10, Part One: Campaign: Nate
August 20, 2003
Deanna was the last one to leave. She walked across the tiled floors of the office with a cardboard box cradled in her arms. From its top protruded the peak of the goofy alarm clock/art piece she’d bought at the Lakewood Antique show — the goofy alarm clock/art piece her girlfriend wouldn’t let her keep in their apartment. It looked like a flamingo, with long yellow legs holding up a blue cuckoo clock house from which the flamingo’s elongated pink neck thrust, and from which an orange pendulum hung like a silly neck tie.
The peak of the blue house caught Nate’s eye as Deanna bustled by. She’d already said good-bye, so she didn’t say anything else to him as she left, only stared straight ahead, jaw clenched and blue eyes shiny with tears. Nate didn’t blame her — they’d both nearly burst into crying when they’d met in his office three hours ago to exchange future contact information and say farewell. Deanna wanted to hang around and help Nate finalize his plans for the business, but the bankruptcy lawyers and accountants insisted that they needed no help.
Nate watched her open the front door with extended fingers, watched her thrust her foot in to open it further, and watched her bump through the opening with her hips. Sunshine outlined her briefly and then she was gone. The door closed behind her.
Nate sat at a desk in the rear of the main office and gazed out across the room. He realized that, without its tell-tale decorations and desktop knick-knacks, he couldn’t remember whose desk this had been. All of the desks were void of computers. Nate had already purged their memories, downloaded all the stored articles and copies of the Scribe to CD. He’d already sold them all to subsidize the final paychecks for his former employees — a move the bankruptcy lawyers had balked at when they found out he’d done it. Still, Nate stood by his decision.
“They stuck with me through it all,” he told the stern-faced lawyers — one bald, droopy-cheeked man, the other a younger, swarthy-looking man who blatantly ignored Brylcreem’s insistence that ‘a little dab’ll do ya.’ “I can’t give them a decent severance package. The least I can do is give them the money I owe them for putting out our last issue.”
The computers were gone, and with Deanna’s departure, all the decorations — the posters, the toys, the shelves of books — were gone as well. Nate’s own Lego robot and his North By Northwest poster were in the back of his Blazer, which was itself newly restored and still not paid for.
And so the white-washed walls appeared starkly white-washed, except for the tiny tack holes which the building management’s work crew would start to spackle that week. The tiled floor seemed so much brighter now under the flourescents, even with the office furniture still intact. There was a slight echo throughout the few rooms.
“It looks so empty,” he said out loud to test the echo again, and wondered how empty it would look when the office furniture rental guys came and took all the desks and filing cabinets away.
He sighed and stood, went to his office for one last look — one final check to make sure that he’d gotten everything.
He stared at the empty, dusty corners of his tiny office and sighed again. For six years, ever since he’d started the Scribe, he’d happily come to this office and did what he was most passionate about: he’d bathed in information, in facts and conjectures, in opinions and statistics.
Every day, immersed in words.
“All struck a finishing blow by one ignorant man’s whimsy,” he said to the dust.
The dust gave no reply.
So Nate spun on his loafered heel and headed the way Deanna had gone — out the front door. He switched off the flourescents, stood in the dark a moment, then opened the front door and stepped into the morning sunlight.
Outside, the street was mostly empty. Deanna’s Civic was gone, and someone in a pickup truck was pulling into her spot in front of the building. A man in Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt was walking toward him on the sidewalk. A line of people in vehicles waited to use the automated teller at the bank across the street. The air around all of them was hot and oppressive — the sun too bright, the Atlanta smog noticeably thick. The atmosphere reminded him of Marionville.
Then he heard a bird chirp in the maple tree to his left and he smiled. It was so hot in Marionville during August, even the birds didn’t chirp.
“Well, hell,” he said, “at least I’m not there.”
“Not where?” a voice asked in reply, and Nate started.
He whipped his head around to see that the man who’d been approaching on the sidewalk was standing beside him, smiling, a pencil-thin mustache perched under his small, sharp nose.
“Oh, nowhere,” he said to the man and smiled automatically — a friendly I-don’t-know-you-but-how-are-you-have-a-nice-day smile.
The man smiled back. He was a good head shorter than Nate and he beamed up at him with genuine — could it have been? — affection. Nate was tall, but the man was diminutive, only coming up to the bottom of Nate’s chest.
“Marionville,” the man said through his smile. His uneven but ultra white teeth flashed in the sun.
Nate turned to face the man full on. He gaped down, even as the man gazed up. The man rocked back on his penny loafers and chuckled softly.
“How did you know that?” Nate asked.
The man licked his thin, pale lips. “You’re Nathan Wells, the editor and publisher of the Atlanta Scribe. I recognize you from your headshot in the paper.”
Nate nodded, a little flattered but unsurprised. He wasn’t famous really, but people recognized him now and then. That still didn’t explain how the man knew he was thinking about Marionville just then.
“I remember a little editorial you wrote about how you grew up,” the small, smiling man continued. “First in Marionville, Georgia, then in Opelika, Alabama. Although the piece was a bit nostalgic, you didn’t paint the prettiest picture of Marionville. So, I figured if you were glad you weren’t somewhere, there was a fair chance that there was Marionville.”
Nate frowned and furrowed his eyebrows at the man. “Good guess,” he said.
Now the man laughed out loud. “Actually, it was an educated guess, and I should hope it was good — making good, educated guesses is what I do for a living.” The man shuffled back a step so that he could offer his hand to Nate and perform a little bow. “My name is Raymond Bernhardt. And now you’re wondering why I’m educated — even in the slightest — about Nathan Wells and his recently, dearly departed Atlanta Scribe.”
- Nate Wells - Jay Elgin
- Raymond Bernhardt - Jeff Jarvis
- Narrator - Will Kenyon
At this point, I consider myself a qualified success.
I make money by writing. I write every day. I’ve published short stories, poems, articles, and complete fodder in a number of national and international magazines. I maintain this blog, which is growing slightly in popularity every week. Toot, toot, toot my own horn.
I’ve never published a novel, which would probably be the largest achievement I could hope to muster at this point in my career. And it’s not that I haven’t WRITTEN any novels - I have, as you’ll soon learn - I just haven’t PUBLISHED one. And who knows IF I’ll publish one. All I know is that either later this week or early next, I will finish another one, and I think this one is the most publishable one I’ve written yet.
I finished my “first” novel in 2000. Some of you have read it. It was called The King of Karma, and it had a great premise and some moments of potential genius that I intend to recycle (Cat’s on fire…, the shit dream.) but I’ve looked at it with the jaded eyes of ten additional years of experience and I don’t think it’s ready for the world. It MIGHT be salvageable, but that would take a lot of work - work I’m not willing to give it right now. And frankly, I’m kind of sick of it. I edited the shit out of it for years and I don’t want to edit it anymore.
I chalk it up now to experience: writing Karma taught me how to write a novel, how to carry a narrative over 70,000 words, over 30 chapters, over 400 pages.
My “second” novel, The Survivor of San Guillermo (Get it? Saint William?) has just gotten out of hand. At first it was a shortish book - 55,000 words tops. But it’s a time travel novel, and different aspects of my version of time travel - the what ifs and why nots - planted seeds that made the novel start growing. At this point it’s 60,000 words + and has spilled into another book. I think it MIGHT become a trilogy or more - and I just don’t want it to dominate my life at this point. Publishing a trilogy is attractive, though, and the novel’s pretty good, so I won’t abandon it. But for now, there’s other fish to fry.
For instance, my “third” novel, the first quarter of which many of you have already read or listened to: A War Between States. This novel isn’t even finished - it’s a little over half done - but since I’m podcasting it, I feel compelled to finish it in the future. It looms large on the horizon. (BTW, expect a new podcast next week, after I get my buddy Jeff over to read the part of the leprechaun.)
Yes. I said leprechaun.
Anyway, all of this is just lead-in to what the main point of this post is: that I’m one chapter, two or three sittings, a handful of days away from finishing my ultimate achievement. My “fourth” novel idea, my third completed novel. And like I implied earlier - I am waaaaay enthusiastic at the prospects of this book.
On the phone with my friend Stephanie, and to my wife and mother, I have confessed something that I am certain was true: if I didn’t finish this book, tentatively titled Hood, I don’t think I would have ever attempted a novel again. This one has been a hard road, one I started in 2004, and unless I succeeded on finding the end of that road, I don’t think I’d have had the wherewithal to start the trek another time. But HEY!!! One more chapter and it’s done!
Already, I’ve started thinking about the query letter for the book - that’s how confident I am about finishing it (blogging about it this morning instead of working on it might also be an indication of my hubris). You should know that query letters are fucking hard to write - they have to be perfect, and it’s soooo hard to be perfect. But I’m actually looking forward to writing this one, because I know EXACTLY what I’m gonna say.
And now you’re wondering what this book’s about. Or at least I hope you are.
MAYBE I’ll publish the query letter here once I finish it. We’ll see. For now, here’s a quick soundbite:
The novel tentatively titled Hood tells the story of a group of graffiti artists in south Atlanta, one of whom discovers that his murals, drawings, and tags are coming to life - and that he’s part of a small group of people in the world who have similar abilities and who can travel “between worlds.”
Enough. I’m done. It’s 9 in the morning and I have to take my son to school. When I get back, I’ll put pen to paper and get a little closer to finishing….
The other day I got back what more or less amounts to a rejection letter from a prominent literary magazine. What it WAS, was a list of winners in the magazine’s annual fiction and poetry contests. I entered the contests this year and…
I wasn’t on the list. Sad.
I did, however, recognize a couple of the names on the list of poetry “winners” as people with whom I have personal and/or professional relationships. Ironically, though they won recognition for their poetry, they did not in fact manage to get their poems published. You see, traditional publishing - especially for magazines which are generally considered literary and therefore have much lower circulations that dimestore rags and tabloids - is very expensive. Paper costs a lot of money, so while the magazine in question can afford to make room to mention that so and so won Honorable Mention in the annual contest, the magazine can’t really afford to publish all that wonderful poetry. So my friends/acquaintances know that the magazine has given them a nod, but… no publication.
It reminded me of the year I actually won Honorable Mention at the magazine in question. I, too, had my name and the title of one of my poems mentioned in the back pages of the magazine, but the poems in question have remained unpublished.
So I figured, hey, why not? I’ll give my readers a sample of what one particular magazine saw fit to give an auspicious nod to, but could not make room for. Here it is, heretofore unpublished, but apparently good enough to warrant Honorable Mention in Nimrod: The Martyr.
Watch the growing lethargy of the bee
See it before you on the shiny glass surface
Observe as its insides ooze from its back
The wings flutter useless
The buzz it made has become innocuous
The industry of its purpose is dim
Even in your vastly more sensitive perception
In your vastly more persistent recollection
Even the anger of that one fated instant
That fatal flash of stinger and skin
The drawing of blood
Infusion of poison
And the reasons behind it all
Are forgotten, oozing out of time and meaning
Like innards out of a broken thorax
And soon weariness will overtake it
And the flighted, rapid yellow and black
Will fade to stillness and gray
“If any industry deserves to go under, it’s the publishing industry.”
- Andrew Sullivan, award-winning blogger and journalist
THAT, ladies in gentlemen, is the kind of incendiary, I-may-not-have-all-the-facts-straight-but-what-the-fuck-here-goes shit that I WISH I had the balls to write.
Alas, though, Andrew Sullivan has won an award for his blogging, and I have not. He, and not I, can get away with saying stuff like that (OK, not quite – he’s been called to the carpet a couple of times for it).
What he said, though – what a LOT of people have been saying – and some of the things I’ve personally been feeling lately about the publishing industry prompted me to try and write about it all. So I started doing research about the shortcomings in said industry, especially against the backdrop of our growing recession. And you know what I found out?
I found out that there are a lot of conflicting views regarding publishing. Some – many of them disgruntled writers and the like – think that publishing is doomed should it continue on its current track. Others – mostly industry insiders – think it’s doing just fine, even if traditional bookstores are closing and the acceptance of innovations like E-books and Print-On-Demand has been slow in catching on.
I read so much conflicting information that I almost – ALMOST – gave up on this post. Fuck it – I still have Netflix DVDs to watch, and there’s beer in the fridge.
But then I thought, hang on a sec, Will: the original impetus behind wanting to write this post was to take a look at how the “little man” i.e. YOU, fits in to the changing world of publishing.
So how do I fit in? How does any of us? And if for some Godforsaken reason Stephen King or Dan Brown are reading this blog post, then you gotta know that I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the grad student with the next Grapes of Wrath already written who isn’t going to get it published because no one in Hollywood can figure out how to make a movie out of his book. I’m talking about the unpublished or little-published writers out there.
It would be easy for us to sit back and lament about how hard things are, how unfortunate we are to be the ones trying to disseminate our writing into the world in an era when everyone’s looking to score the next Harry Potter or DaVinci Code , an era when 95% of books actually LOSE money. That, BTW, is one of the few factoids I found several people agreeing on – although it scares the shit out of me to believe it, it DOES help make my point.
It would be easy to lament because the old school model of publishing, at least to the common writer, is a lot like playing the lottery.
It would be easy except for one thing – the thing you’re looking at right now, the thing which has changed all the rules for just about every artistic medium imaginable, the thing which I believe scares the EVERLOVING shit out of the people who are or formerly were in control of those mediums:
Years ago, I resisted the idea of publishing online. I felt, and rightly so I think, that because of the ease and immediacy of online publishing, there was a lack of legitimacy – a problem a lot of people expressed. With no safeguard to keep shitty writers from pitching their wares, how were we to know what’s good and what’s utter garbage? I felt that by publishing the old-fashioned way, I added legitimacy to my work.
But you know what? The safeguards have failed us. There’s a lot of utter garbage hitting the shelves anyway, for a variety of reasons: 1) we as Americans haven’t stopped reading, but we’ve become less discriminating readers 2) with the right marketing, certain writers could poop on a piece of paper and sell a million copies and 3) there’s always the possibility of said garbage getting optioned for a screenplay, so it gets by.
Also, I realized that there IS a form of legitimization to writing online. If you’re good, people will return to you time and again. If you suck, they won’t. Simple as that.
On the Internet, it is almost invariably true that the cream rises and the shit sinks, which is not the case with traditional publishing. It took a while, in fact, but even the antiquated publishing industry is catching on to the concept: I hear more and more stories of authors making it big (or at least somewhat big) by starting out online and gaining momentum. They market themselves well, and/or they write well, and what they’re doing grows and grows until somebody with some bucks takes notice and BAM!!!
So now I still feel uneasy about the state of publishing, and I think that anyone would be a fool to deny that it is indeed in a state of flux, mostly brought on by errors in judgment and the advent of the Internet.
But I’m also excited and encouraged. I read these success stories more and more, and I believe I’m seeing one take place before my very eyes (see my previous post). That excitement is a significant reason behind me “jumpstarting” this web site after letting it lie dormant for over a year.
Now, if you’ve read this far, enjoyed yourself, and maybe gained some insight, look out: you’re legitimizing me.
And I thank you for it.