Tuesday, January 29, 2013

One Writer’s Journey: Adventures in Publishing

This sounds strange to most people when I talk about it, but I have never pursued a traditional book deal. I mean that. Never in my life. I sent my first novel, The Lost Village, (along with four-hundred dollars) to the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in New York in about 2001. A nice editor got back to me and commended me on the ambitiousness of my novel, said I was a promising writer and that The Lost Village was actually a great book, but, no one would publish it because it was too long. 258,000 words. He told me there wasn't a publisher in the land that would touch a first time author with a book of that length. He qualified that and said that if I was a celebrity author like King or Patterson it would be fine, no problem, I could publish my laundry list and it would sell. But I wasn’t King or Patterson, I was an unknown. And publishers wanted nice tidy little eighty to one-hundred-thousand word books from unknown authors. Please send something else along that's at a more appropriate length, (along with another four-hundred bucks, by the way).
Well, that was that, thank you very much. I never sent another thing to that agency or any other agency for that matter. Maybe I’ve got a thin skin, but I was no longer interested in what literary agents had to say. I was keenly aware of the statistics, of how many manuscripts ever made it to an editor's desk. One writer friend of mine had been rejected so many times he was on the verge of suicide.
So, I did the unthinkable. Way back in the dark ages before kindle and nook and all those other reading devices we now take for granted were invented, I decided to self-publish my magnum opus. This was before Amazon or any of the other booksellers were selling e-books. If you wanted to self-publish a book you needed to go through one of those “vanity” presses that charged for services. So that’s what I did. I brought The Lost Village out in hardcover and trade paperback and sold downloadable copies from my website to those who were willing to read an enormous book on their computer screens. The book actually came out pretty well. It was formatted nicely, had a good cover. I signed up with the New England Horror Writers, did some group signings, made some friends, and, to my amazement, the book began to sell. Before long I was receiving some nice reviews from fellow authors as well as readers, and low and behold I found out that several ‘respectable’ authors with ‘real’ published books had recommended to the HWA (the Horror Writer’s Association) that The Lost Village be nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.
But of course it wasn’t nominated. Back then, and even now, the HWA has a very hard time recognizing anything self-published. They love their legacy publishers, and if your work isn’t sanctioned by one of them, well. They claim they consider all published works, and I believe they do, but it’s been my experience that very few independent books ever get much consideration. No matter, they are for the most part, a good and beneficial organization. But I believe in my heart (and this is just my opinion) that if they continue on their present course they will soon become as irrelevant as bookstores and legacy publishers.
The Lost Village sold well without the benefit of being sanctioned by a legacy publisher, or being recognized by the Horror Writers Association.
In the meantime I wrote several other books and was doing okay publishing short stories in various magazines and anthologies.
Then, a little more than three years ago, on invitation, I sent my novella, The Haunting of Sam Cabot to a brand new small press publisher, Damnation Books. Now this is the important part. Are you listening? It was the first time in my writing life that I had ever sent a manuscript to a book publisher. You heard me right. The very first time. At the time, Kindle was a brand new concept and I had never heard of it. Damn my error. Well, I heard right back from Damnation Books that they wanted to publish my book. Wow! First time. Couldn't believe it. They subsequently published two more of my books including The Lost Village. I signed five year contracts with each of those books. I wish I never had. It was just about the time Kindle exploded on the scene and I was suddenly tied down to a publisher who priced my books much too high to sell well on Kindle. And oh my lord, the formatting! It was atrocious. To their credit, some of the formatting issues have recently been straightened out, but if you check sample versions of both The Lost Village and The Holocaust Opera you will see that the text of both books is entirely in italics. E-gads! And, to my utter chagrin they priced the Kindle version of The Lost Village at $9.95. Celebrity authors can get away with selling e-books at that price, unfortunately nobody else can. Try telling that to my publisher. I know in my heart that if it had been priced at $2.99 or even $3.99, where it should be, it would have been a Kindle bestseller by now. I begged and pleaded with my publisher to just try it but they wouldn't budge. Too bad for them because they have lost me as an author. I am presently in the process of obtaining the rights back to The Haunting of Sam Cabot. The other two will be next. It's going to take some legal wrangling, but it will happen. Not that they should care, They have what seems to be a massive stable of authors now, most of which seem quite satisfied to earn 17.5% of the list price instead of the 70% they could earn as independents. Go figure. I guess for some the prestige of having a REAL publisher outweighs everything else including earnings.
Since then I have self-published a collection of shorts for kindle Servants of Darkness that’s been doing very well for a collection (Collections aren’t supposed to be good sellers) and I've published a new novel, Apocalypse Island  as well as several other novellas, and a bunch of short stories. Apocalypse Island is doing quite well, and I have a new novel, Soul Thief due out this spring.
So, here I am, right back to square one. I have always been a strong advocate of self-publishing. I fell down once and signed with a "publisher," but unless I’m offered a huge amount of money and great e-book terms I will never ever do it again. I'm having too much fun on my own.
As I said in a previous post, this is just me. Each writer has to find his or her own path. But if you do choose a publisher, please choose carefully. I feel that my own writing journey is just beginning. The time has never been better for the independent author. Any way you do it takes time and patience. If you decide to self-publish, make sure you have a good book, a good cover and a great description. Hire a good editor and listen to what that person has to say. Once all that is done, make sure the book is formatted correctly for digital publication. You can hire that done at fairly reasonable cost. I've learned to do it myself. I've learned to do most everything myself, including some of my own cover art. Once it's ready, put your book out there and promote it until you’re exhausted. With all of those things and a little luck maybe you will become the next Kindle bestseller.

Mark Edward Hall

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