Thursday, June 28, 2012

Anatomy of a Book Deal

My goodness.  The announcement of my book contract certainly grabbed more attention than I thought it would.  I am humbled—and appreciative to everyone who sent their congratulations—and just a bit chagrined.

I know I don’t have to explain this to the writers among you (and seeing as how you’re reading this blog, I expect you are one) but there may be a novice or a non-writer out there so I would like to set the record straight:

The average person, when they hear “book deal” thinks “Macmillan Press!  500k advance!  Book tours!”  The reality is not quite so grand; they’re thinking New York City when they should be thinking, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  And I mean that in the most sincere sense: there is nothing wrong with Stockbridge, it is a perfectly adequate place—affable, approachable, amenable—it’s just not as big as NYC, nor as lucrative.

So here’s the deal:
  • No advance, but that is quite common these days, especially among small publishers.
  • Marketing/publicity guided by them but the grunt work is up to me, which is also becoming an industry standard.
  • My novel will be released as an ebook
That final item was a sticking point with me; I’m old school, and to me a book isn’t published unless the publishing of it results in something you can hold in your hand that doesn’t require batteries.  But I suppose—old dog though I am—I need to move with the times; ebooks are the future and they make it possible for worthy books, that otherwise would not have had the opportunity, to reach readers.  (I read that somewhere.) 

There is also the possibility, albeit a slim one, that my little book may someday grow up to be a real boy, but that’s not anything I have to worry about at the moment.

The bottom line is, I looked at the codicil about my novel being released as an ebook, and then at the long list of agents and publishers I would have to prepare and send submission packages to if I didn’t accept the offer (believe it or not, this was only the second publisher I sent the manuscript to).  So, after considering all the time, effort and expense getting back into submissions-mode would entail (and taking into account my terminal slackerliness), I thought “bird-hand-bush” and signed the contract.

"Sign ze papers, old man" (bonus points if you recognize where that is from).

I suppose, if I wanted to come at this from a glass-half-full angle, I might consider this a sort of consolation prize, or an “almost but not quite” publishing contract, but in truth I feel pleased and privileged; last week I was a guy (one of many, many thousands) with a finished manuscript looking for a home, and this week I am a guy who is about to have his book published by a publisher, which puts me in rarer company and, as noted in my previous post, propels me a bit further along this journey called “writer.”

Add to that the fact that my Postcard books are currently being herded into the publisher’s corral and you will find that I am quite happy, indeed.

So I am now looking forward to being very busy over the coming months—prepping my novel, re-jigging my Postcards books, working on my next WIP—and, of course, telling you all about it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Victory Cigar

Fancy that; I just signed a book contract for my latest manuscript.

Now, I’ve been hanging on to my last Cuban cigar for just this occasion, but when the opportunity to go out on the balcony with a beverage presented itself, I picked up a broken el Cheapo cigar that I had repaired some days ago.

For those of you who do not know, I’m a cigar aficionado.  Or, at least, I used to be.  The days of cigar gatherings, collecting, trading and sampling exotic brands are long gone; these days I just smoke what I can get and try to enjoy myself by myself.  There are many reasons for this—the anti-smoking laws, the fact that I am in a new country with few acquaintances, not as much money to burn, etc.—but the biggest one is, I just can’t be arsed any more.

I keep a reasonable collection of mid-priced cigars on hand, and I try to make them last.  One of the ways to do this is to repair unfortunate stogies that have had poor cutting experiences.  Like the one I just smoked.  I had prepared it for smoking last week, but when I cut it, the cigar wrapper split and, as any cigar-knowledgeable person can tell you, that makes the cigar unsmokeable.  Unless you know how to fix it.

When I was deep in my fixation, I always kept a small jar of pectin for just such emergencies.  These days, I have no pectin, but I do have strawberry jam and, as you know (or should if you paid attention in nutrition class) pectin is the binding agent in jam.  So I smeared a dollop of strawberry jam on the crack and put the cigar back in the humidor to dry.  And it just happened to be the one I picked out today.

Emergency Cigar Repair Kit

The thing is, once I realized what I had done, I didn’t mind.  I had always expected that signing a book contract could be a hallelujah moment, one that would alter the course of my life, but it was more of an “Okay, that’s great…next” sort of moment.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch (or as much as punch can be pleased) but it seemed like the next logical step rather than a bolt out of the blue.

Like all writers, I’ve dreamed of this moment since I first put words to paper (for me, that was back in 1967) but over the years, as I have slowly progressed up the writing ladder, I’ve come to see it, not as the holy grail or the lost plateau, but as another rung to be climbed onto so I can reach the next one.

This contract—for a modest (if I say so myself) book with a small publishing company—is not the end all; it’s another step on the journey that is being a writer.  A journey that has no end.

I’ll make the best of this, you can bet on that, but what I am looking forward to now is the production of the book, the release, the (gulp) marketing and seeing how far I can take this so that my next book will go even further.

That’s what being a writer is all about; not arriving somewhere, but being the best you can be and always striving to become better.

No doubt you’ll be hearing more about this journey in the weeks to come—including other, peripheral details such as the name of my book and the publisher—but for now I am content to ruminate on the small step I have taken on this long, long journey called “writing.”  A step that, perhaps, is not worth a Cuban cigar, but certainly worth one smeared with strawberry jam.

Not how I look, but certainly how I feel.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Seeking Its Own Level

While poking around in my archives yesterday, I ran across a very old post (very old in Internet terms, that is). It was about websites (remember those) versus blogs, and it echoed my feelings about self-publishing and where it might be headed.

For some time I have been thinking of posting my prognostications about the future of self-publishing, but realizing I once had to trash a large collection of 8-track tapes and that I still have a memo I wrote to my boss many years ago explaining that there was no future in Microsoft Windows (though, to be fair, if you had seen Microsoft Windows version 2.0, you’d probably have come away with the same opinion) I don’t really have a lot of faith in my business acumen. But reading that old post about blogs and their development arc confirmed that I am not “always” wrong; merely “almost always.” So pull up a chair; I have a story to tell.

Back in the old days, sonny, when the Internet was still the wild frontier, if you wanted to get your words out there, you needed a web site. This required mastery of HTML code, knowledge of file transfer protocols and the money to purchase some Internet real estate (ISPs weren’t free in those days, Bucko). In short, there were hurdles to clear; if you wanted to see your words on the web, you had to earn that privilege.

Then came these abominations called “blogs,” offering a simple (and free) way of posting content to the web that even your aunt Tilly could comprehend. With no hurdles to clear, the web was suddenly awash in the angst-ridden meanderings of 12-year old girls, the sad attempts of 13-year old boys pretending to be 24 year old nymphomaniacs and the rambling of middle-aged spinsters posting articles pretending to be from their cat.

It was chaos; a cacophony of poorly edited drivel drowning out our cultured voices. But we web-devotees didn’t mind. We knew that blogs were just a passing fad, a shiny toy people would soon tire of, so we sat in our caves scratching on the walls with burn sticks while the world moved on.

Sound familiar?

I’m not going to stretch the analogy further than that; I’m simply going to point out what happened to blogs. The websites had the advantage over blogs because they could link various pages of content together with a menu, as well has host an entry page of changing content. This became the default design because it was the most logical and no one, as ye, has discovered a better one. But blogs soon emulated this design, until they are now functionally indistinguishable from the websites they replaced.

In short, the status quo returned, and I expect the same thing to happen with self publishing.

The gold-rush is over; the early prospectors have hit it rich or gone home with their tails between their legs. We’re into the second wave now, where a more orderly route to setting up a claim has been established, and support businesses are starting to pop up. Just like in the real gold-rush, people have arrived and now they need services, but instead of setting up rooming houses, bars and brothels, the new support businesses offer editing services, cover design and the like. And also like the real gold-rush, there are shysters hanging out their shingles along with the reputable businesses.

In my opinion, this is where we are now; the towns are beginning to be built, it’s not so much of a frontier any longer and phase three—regulations—are just around the corner.

Keeping in mind that I am a crap prognosticator, and that I am not saying any of this might be good or bad, allow me to make my predictions:

Some sort of confederation of self-published authors will be formed. Its aim will be to raise and preserve the quality of self-published books. If I self-publish a book, I will have the option of submitting my manuscript to this confederation for review. If the writing is deemed to be of sufficient quality, then I will earn the right to display some sort of notification that my book has been vetted, signaling potential buyers that it is not a poorly written, error-riddled pile of pooh.

How this will come about and what it will look like once it arrives I cannot say, but I know that every movement seeks to return to some sort of status quo, and that regulation is inevitable. So I see some sort of peer review/quality check in self-publishing’s future. I think it is inevitable

But then, I bought a Betamax.