Publish or perish

Par Ray Doucet le 7 août 2008

Most people I know want to write a book, and almost every one never gets around to it, unable to even write down the opening sentence, constrained by time, work and the brick walls set up by the publishing industry—a self-contained commercial sector that does not abide outsiders or the uninvited.

However, with the advance of modern techniques, there is a slightly bumpy road to publication that is fast, painless and free, or almost.

The now booming industry of Self-Publishing has been growing so fast over the last few years that the staid, old publishing houses are beginning to panic as writers from all sorts of fields—poets, novelists, self-help advice, family historians—are coming out of the woodwork. So tightly knit are the publishing houses and the mainstream media that reviewers at our local newspapers and radio/TV stations who almost all have a finger in the book publishing industry, refuse to even look at a self—published book, and even annual award committees refuse to consider such low-class endeavours, and that includes the so-called prestigious Governor-general’s Award and the Giller Prize.

Self-publishing is a guarantee to get your manuscript in book form, a sort of prize for your coffee table and a chance to do a bit of bragging among family and friends. But getting it to the market place where book stores are also in the hands of corporate media moguls is a tough task. Self-publishing becomes somewhat of self-flagellation, or worse, an exercise in intellectual masturbation and it is akin to your home-made wine—family and friends will drink it and those who like it tell, and those who don’t make no comment and may even stop visiting.

There are more rejection slips from publishing houses than there are pebbles on a beach, with such notable “rejects” as Ernest Hemmingway, J. K. Rowling whose well-marketed Harry Potter work was rejected on nine occasions, and among many more our own Mordecai Richler whose first attempt sat on a shelf for two years before it finally broke through the marketplace and even Ian Fleming of the James Bond series who wrote three novels with little success then hit the big time with a screenplay on Casino Royal.

Putative writers are like any other league of struggling professionals, whether baseball, soccer or hockey players, or musicians who struggle in the family garage, or painters and poets who live in anonymity—they are subject to chance and great marketing. Many are culled, few chosen.

I am one of those who became fed up with the rejection slips from publishing houses, and worse the non-responses from s0-called respectable and respected publishing firm, most grant recipients from the public trough.

“We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts,” is their favourite line, and the writer asks: “How in heck can I be solicited if no one ever gets to know who I am?”

So, three years ago I took a desperate step and decided to test self-publishing houses.

It seemed that the toughest part was getting the manuscript started and then pushed to the finish line. But, it turns out that finding a publisher—one who would even give you the time of day—was the greatest hurdle of all.

I accidentally hit on Publish America, a self-publishing firm from the Baltimore region in the good old U.S of A. I sent in a manuscript for a novel entitled BULLY BOY, a 210-page yarn about a bully born in Little Burgundy during the Second World War who literally terrorized family, friends, co-workers and anyone else who got in his way for the next seventy years, his rants affecting not only those in his direct line of fire, but others who then came in touch with those he had vilified, like the ripples caused by a stone cast over a calm lake.

Publication costs were nil and the novel available through Amazon.com.

However, once I purchased some twenty copies for myself, the entire marketing strategy was left to me, meaning all book signings, air fares, hotels, etc. where on my personal tab. Yikes! Too expensive and the book sold less than four hundred copies. I now was among the world of publication paupers. I had also made a beginner’s sin. I let the family read the book too early and was chastised for writing about facts “too close to home.” Almost all figments of my imagination—but apparently just too darn realistic for the family who saw themselves in every darkened doorway of the novel.

My next attempt was to get a published version of a political fiction, USEFUL LIES, a 381-page novel about political deceit, intrigue and murder centered on the intrigues between Canada and the United States over control of Canadian power resources, particularly nuclear and hydro-electric. I went to Outskirts Press, of Denver, Colorado, since my first publisher was unimpressed with my feeble marketing attempts with BULLY BOY.

The result was publication of a rather attractive book and one I could proudly show off to any person or promoter with a certain degree of confidence. This self-publishing firm required payments along the way, from selecting a cover to final printing. My total costs were about $800. That book has also sold less than five hundred copies due to a lack of marketing, although there is a Marketing Coach provided who helps authors navigate through the open market via the Internet, with the book also available, along with tons of others, at Amazon.com. I did not recuperate my initial investment, but I can show off a darn nice product.

I then spent three years working in the High Arctic as an Airport Radio Guidance Operator (ARGO) and once back to Montreal, wrote a manuscript entitled KABLOONA, Betrayal In The High Arctic, a 320-page documentary/fictional tale of murder, sex, and political intrigue as several countries compete over sovereignty rights while seeking unfettered access to The Northwest Passage, as the Inuit themselves attempt to comprehend disconcerting warming weather patterns.

I offered that manuscript to  I-PROCLAIM PRESS of Pittsburgh, PA, where no money was asked, but the writer must basically format most of the computer machinations. With the help of my computer-savvy son Danny, we managed to get all the writing and photographs in order, pressed the “Publish” button, ordered a dozen copies (at a mere $12 each) and within two weeks had a beautiful book in hand.

It was easy, but again the final and seemingly most crucial step was the marketing.

In the meantime, I had the unmitigated gall to send copies to Montreal-area media and no one took a second to read any of the books, and I went further and sought applications to various book prizes, but there is a line in each of the application forms—self-published books are not eligible for membership in this exclusive, self-absorbed club.

So much for fame and fortune, but my folks still like me.

There is an ancient adage that says: If you want success, increase your failures.

How many more novels must I write to get some action?

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