Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A digression: publishing a book

For a number of years I've been shopping a book-length work of fiction, The Annunciation of Jack, to publishers (very few since most don't take on unsolicited queries) and agents. I've got a smidgen of positive feedback, but mostly boilerplate "Dear John" letters telling me that they would not publish/represent me.

Every summer, when I have a little time to breathe from teaching, I'll send out another scad of queries to agents, and was planning to this summer. However, I soon realized how tired I was of searching for an agent. I either had to devote more time to it (which I am not willing to do), or go another route.

Over the last couple years, self-published ebooks have exploded onto the scene. As this article in the NY Times notes, Amazon is selling more ebooks than print. Now, many of these are from traditional publishing houses. But Amazon also offers any writer to publish his or her manuscript for sale. I've always avoided self publishing for two reasons--writers had to pay for the books being created, and it was often just a vanity publishing event. Only those who weren't good enough to snag an agent/publisher self published.

But two things happened in the last couple years that suggested I needed to consider self publishing through Amazon (and Barnes & Noble). First off, I read Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. It had been a favorite of several in my writing the novel classes, and it was very popular, so I decided to read it. I was horrified. It was the most poorly written book I had ever read (even worse than Danielle Steele's The Promise, which I could not finish for an Adolescent Lit class at CSU, Stanislaus!). Having studied fiction writing and worked with new writers in my classes for many years, I could recognize that Meyer had no clue what she was doing when starting the novel, but by 3/4s of the way through began to get an inkling of characterization, plotting, pacing and such. Not unusual for a new writer. A good editor would have said, take the first 376 pages (377 being the first page where something interesting actually happens), boil them down to 40-50, and then move on. Instead, they published as is, and I could imagine the cynicism dripping from the publishers--the audience consists of preteen girls. They won't know any better.

The second thing that happened is that earlier this summer I read a blog post by Jessica Park, "How Amazon Saved My Life." In it, she describes the process of trying to get her novel published traditionally, and realizing how poorly the current state of traditional publishing treats writers, so she launched out with releasing her book through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

OK, a third thing. Unlike a vanity press, a writer does not have to pay to publish through epublishers like Kindle Direct Publishing, or through B&N's PubIt. It's free to upload and offer the book for sale. And the writer gets most of the profit from any sales (70% from Kindle, 65% from PubIt). Yes, any promotion needs to be done by the writer, but that's become more and more the case with traditional publishers unless you're a big name.

I knew that my book The Annunciation of Jack would be a hard sell. It's not technically a novel; more a collection of stories, novellas, and a short novel, all interlinked: hence I call it a "story cycle." Some agents who've looked at the query and sample chapters consider it a young adult novel, and yet significant sections of the book are focused on adults--parents, a middle-aged broker, and a senior citizen. The book mixes the realism of illness with the innocence of Norman Rockwell and Frank Capra, the seriousness of cancer with the humor of a bumbling real estate broker and a sarcastic teenager. And it mixes the magical realism of Marquez with the epic fantasy of Tolkien. Finally, it draws on Christian imagery, yet also plays with imaginary situations that some fundamentalists/evangelicals would cringe at (or as Pastor Walters would say, "That's theologically preposterous!"), not to mention Native American religious imagery (though more imagined and rigorously researched). And horrors, it includes a smattering of bad language (face it, how else would a fallen angel talk?)

But I also know that many readers will have a rip-roaring time following the lives/adventures of ordinary characters living in a Northern California town (an amalgam of Concord, Martinez and Pittsburg) of the early seventies who struggle with major life issues both in our realm, and in other parallel realms with Christmas, angels (Marasim and a cherub), demons, evil hags, beautiful and treacherous harpists, a maniacal evangelist, a bear god, the Raurjan, sea serpents (kraken), Spider Woman, 300-year old monks, Wolwoni Native Americans, ghosts, Thunder People, the Oakland Auditorium, toads, carnival attractions (especially ones with mirrors!), reed boats, an amphibious '54 Chevy Bel Air, the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island, Tamalpais,  elves (Morlienya), Faerian drama, ocean, beach, snow; oh, and some pizza and beer. There's even a kitchen sink (a very dirty one!).

So, I've made The Annunciation of Jack available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble as ebooks, which can be read on the Kindle or Nook (or any ereader that will take on the ePub format from Nook), iPad, iPhone, iPod, Android phones, or any computer. I will also make the book available for on-demand printing through Amazon's CreateSpace should you want it in a more traditional format (the file/cover are under review).

I'm not planning on doing a ton of marketing/promotion. I don't have the time for such. But I do want to make the book available for those who would like to have as much fun with these characters and situations as I've had for a good number of years!

7/19/2012 update: here's the link to the print on demand version of the book: