Friday, June 18, 2010

Do the Right Thing for Your Write Thing

**Disclaimer:  What is the right thing for me to do is not the right thing for everyone.  It very probably could be said it is not the right thing for most people.  It is right for me, however, and I feel the need to share these thoughts before I hear too much more snootiness or pity directed at me.  Thank you for understanding.

Now for some industry-related thoughts.  It's come time, I think.

I am not represented by a literary agent.  That route did not work for me.  It wasn't lack of trying.  I queried dozens of great agents for my first, ill-conceived novel (whose name shall not be shared), and over a hundred for my darling Corona.  I received some interest, and even got semi-serious with an agent I would have been delighted to work with.  In the end, I was not able to change my manuscript enough to suit her needs, and we parted amicably.

I also was possessed of an idea for getting my book out that I needed to move on, and fast.  I want to make sure it's clear, here and now, however: I have nothing against agents, and I do feel that if I had been patient and willing to go through a few more rounds of queries, I could have found the right person for me.  I am not a disenfranchised, whiny writer who thinks that they're entitled to an easy victory, and the fight isn't worth fighting if I can't have what I want.  I'm not a sell-out defeatist.  To all my writer friends still in the hunt, I wish you the triumph and match-made-in-heaven you seek.

I decided, instead, to go direct-to-publisher and have had the joy of seeing my first novel published with Canonbridge, LLC.  Canonbridge is what is referred to in snooty, insufferable writer-elite circles as a "small press POD."  And what does that mean?  Let me explain.

Small press:  There is a horrid misconception, apparently, that only the bottom of the barrel of writers are willing to stoop to being published by a small press.  Small presses have integrity.  They won't publish garbage.  They are, however, harried and put in far more hours than most of the staff at the big publishers.  They do more with less, and the reason why is they want to produce the best product they can, both for themselves and for their writers.  And, of course, the reason for that is so their writers can realize their dreams of being published, and can realize maximum return.  The contracts from small presses are beyond generous, by industry standards.  No advance?  No problem -- advances are speculative, anyway.  I'd rather know that I've EARNED every dollar I receive in mailbox-money.

POD:  And what exactly is the BFD with this, anyway?  Is this not the environmentally-sound way to handle the problem plaguing the big publishers?  Why should they have warehouses filled with books they can't sell?  I am just as much trapped by the über-clearance section at the bookstore, but I know what those books really are: They're the overstock of books that couldn't sell at full retail price, and they have to be moved NOW to allow for fresher titles.  Churn and burn, baby, that's the name of the game, and in the meantime, that's a lot of paper being churned.  Every book sold by my "small press" is destined for a loving home and a history of being read by friends.  If it's passed on, great.  But I don't like the thought of waste at all.  I'm not a slavish tree-hugger, but the more I know about the industry, the more I understand about the practice of print runs, and the less I like it.

Besides, it seems to me this practice of advances and large print runs may be one of the reasons the cherished big publishing houses find themselves in a period of upheaval.  It's not such a practical methodology anymore, not with the advent of numerous environmentally-responsible e-readers and audiobooks available.  Their ledgers are full of advances paid out and not fulfilled.  I know the concept of the advance made me drool when I started seriously persuing writing, because it releases a writer to do just that -- write, concentrate, and produce ever-better works.  But -- then again -- there's something to be said about the beautiful things writers create when they're under pressure, with a full-time job and a full-time family and a dream all running the lab in their minds.

Finally, let's talk about bookstores.  I don't know a writer who doesn't profess to the fantasy of seeing their book in print on a bookstore shelf.  It is, honestly, one of the most intoxicating dreams I have.  But I have to say this, and in no uncertain terms: Unless you have given an editor at a big publishing house a literary joygasm, you will not be guaranteed any bookstore time.  They have to see the buying trends of the public (is your book filled with sparkly vampires?).  They also have to weigh the season (does your 700 page philosophical coming-of-age tale work with beach-reading season?).  Finally, the publisher produces catalogs that are sent to bookstores, and the booksellers make the decision.  Granted, most of them are going to go with the joygasm-producing books, but -- they won't take ALL of the publishers' recommendations.  Since there's not guarantee at all that going through all of the motions of agent + big publisher = integrity-backed bookstore presence, I dropped out of the dogfight.

That doesn't make me a dropout.  It just makes me less a dog.


  1. Thank you for this, MJ. You've explained it very clearly from an author's point of view, and you have been right every step of the way. I'm passing this along.

  2. DAMN TOOTING! The idea of an advance is a wonderful thing, but then again I don't think I could work under that kind of pressure knowing that I already owed the company even before my book was on shelves somewhere.

    To me that doesn't make me a sucess. That makes me a very big liability. I would then feel like a failure if I didn't manage to reach the expectations of the company.

    I think the way you have it is perfect. I would feel like a success knowing that the books that were printed weren't going to be sitting on a dusty shelf for a year only to get slashed to half price to make way for more sparkly vampires.

    I would feel like a success if I knew that I earned every single penny in my bank account. I could walk down the street head held high knowing that it was from the sweat of my brow and the strength of my back that I was well into the black. And that would make the experience even sweeter.


  3. And this is the reason why we love you and Canonbridge in equal measure. This is a well articulated article as well as a kick in the teeth for the snooty elite.