Publishing: Conventional v. Indie (And a Cool Book Group!)

“Asking a writer about his work is like asking a cancer patient the status of his disease.”
– Jay McInerney

I’m kind of a snob. Not about clothes, or about money, but about weird things, like intelligence or whether you use bottled tomato  gravy (that’s usually labeled “sauce”). And, until the past year or so, self-publishing.

When I worked at Barnes & Noble – which was not actually all that long ago – we didn’t carry self-published books. Period. Why? Because they were something called POD, which stood for “print on demand”, which meant we couldn’t return unsold copies. If a customer came in and wanted a self-published book, we’d only order as many copies as they would purchase in advance.

Back then, if you had read – or tried to read – a self-published book, you quickly realized many – MANY – of the self-published books suffered from arrogance. Arrogance that the writer didn’t need beta readers, or an editor, or (I swear) to re-read what they wrote before shipping it off. Self-published books, it seemed, were just crap: A shortcut for shitty writers to get “published”.

That was 2007. Today, the game has changed. My feelings about the self publishing industry have changed, in part because I wrote a travel narrative and have a publishing contract with (what I would have called) a “real” publisher a few years ago. Sound weird? Stay with me.

As excited as I am (which is over the moon excited), the realities of it are not quite what you might think. Publishing a book through conventional methods takes time. A LOT of time. As in, I submitted my manuscript proposal in July of 2013 and we’re still a good year away from something people can hold in their hands (or read on the iPads).

I don’t fault the process. I’m thrilled to have the editor I do, I’m fortunate to have others in my industry (Florida) read the book and offer pre-publication insight, and I am wholly and completely overwhelmed with gratitude that in a day when publishing houses grow more and more restrictive in who and what they published, one of them has chosen my words as something worth their investment.

Because make no mistake about it: I (or, rather, my book) is a commodity to my publisher. They’re gambling (much like the stock market or blackjack), and the gamble is that if they invest money in editing, publishing, and marketing my words, they’ll get back more money than they put in to the effort. Because I worked as a freelance writer for many years, I’m OK with this and I’m happy to make whatever concessions they ask to make sure they get a good return on their investment (because that means I get more money, too).

Nevertheless, I am about halfway through the rough drafts of three serial romance mystery books that I intend to self-publish. Why? Several reason. One, the book at my publisher is pretty unique, whereas romance/mystery is not exactly a barren playing field. I’m a realist; I have a better chance of getting that book in front of more eyeballs on Amazon than I do shopping it to agents and publishers and then – if I’m lucky enough to get a contract – competing for shelf space in bookstores. A Florida travel narrative will absolutely benefit from a conventional publishing house that specializes in Florida; romance novels about a mythical Florida town where murders sometimes happen? I believe they’re likely to do just as well – if not better – on Amazon.

It helps, too, that the rules of self-publishing have changed. Writers who want to make a career off their self-published (let’s call today’s process indie publishing to separate it from the horrors of 10 years ago) work use beta readers, hire editors, pay for cover designs, and generally treat their work like as much of an investment as conventional publishing houses do. That’s not to say the crap doesn’t still get published; it does, but thanks to Amazon’s review system, things like that get revealed as such in short order, and the good stuff stands a chance of getting noticed.

My friend and colleague Jon Kile is proof; he wrote and indie-published The Grandfather Clock, and he’s working on the sequel this summer. Next month book is fodder for a new book club that focuses only on Florida writers. It’s called “Critical Drinking” and it’s sponsored by Wordier Than Thou, a literary group that’s not nearly as “Literature with a capital ‘L'” as it sounds.

I’ll let Jon tell you more about that in his blog post. If you live in Pinellas or the Tampa Bay Area, please consider joining us for the book club. Until then, read this “amusing in way that makes me sad because it’s true” blog post about things you should never, ever ask writers.



2015: My Non-Plan

The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Fake Buddha Quote

Resolutions seem like a bad idea to me, as do plans, because they map a linear direction and so often in my life the best paths have twisted me along in a decidedly non-linear fashion.

However – and I really want to say this without sounding too “authentic” because even the notion of that word and its current meaning make me want to throw up a little in my mouth – I have found that verbalizing my intentions helps me make them happen. The biggest case in point? My book. An honest-to-God, printed and bound, a-publisher-will-pay-to-print-this, I-have-a-contract, book. It doesn’t have a title yet, but I’ve written it, edited it per my editor’s specs, and I suspect by the end of this year, I’ll have a hard copy in my hands (as should all of you, of course!). That book happened because I said, “I want to get my master’s degree in Florida Studies and write a book about Florida and get a book deal” and even though it wasn’t a plan or a resolution, saying it (to other people) helped reinforce my drive, and every step I took pushed me down the path that led to me sobbing with agony over revisions my editor wanted working with a bricks-and-mortar publishing house and getting a contract for my travel narrative about Florida.

If it worked once, it can work again, right? After all, it has worked better than anything else ever has, including the carefully-laid plans of my twenties. So, in that spirit, here’s a list of things that I will do. Not necessarily in the coming year, but – you know what? Yes, in the coming year. Why leave myself an out? So, because if y’all know what I’m doing, it will motivate me (because I’m apparently lazy on the inside but also big on doing what I say I will do), here’s my “This Will Happen” list for 2015:

Finish, edit, and self-publish one of my three mostly-completed novels

Every year I participate in National Novel Writing Month, which means every November I attempt to write a 50,000-word novel. So far, I have written three novels you could call “90% done” (exclusive of the editing, of course.) Inspired by my friend, fellow Florida Studies classmate, and published author Jon Kile, I have decided to self-publish those three books. I don’t know until I dive into editing the first novel how much time I’ll spend editing it, so I hesitate to say “I can self-publish three books this year!” but I can say I will publish one of them. (How well it sells is all on you, people!)

Publish my grandmother’s recipes

Grandma Rae loved to cook and people loved to eat her food. I had the good fortune to learn from her while her mind was still sharp (she and my grandfather came to live with us when I was 17, so I had plenty of practice by her side). Because my dad was the only one of her children who lived near her (everyone else lived in New York), and also because no one else seemed to care at the time (most of my cousins are younger than I am, which meant I was the only one cooking for anyone on the reg at the time), I took possession of her recipes after Alzheimers made life in a nursing home a necessity. My cousins never had that time with her, and when my cousin Sue asked me last year if she could have copies of grandma’s recipes, I said yes. When I started combing through them, though, I realized I had so much more of grandma than ingredients and directions. I have great stories about her and her cooking, about the dreaded Grandma Mary’s Cake (a/k/a “the cursed cake” that stopped working after my grandmother died), about her recipe for chicken (as dictated to my dad, who interpreted what I can only assume were instructions to rinse the chicken as “bathe chick”), about the way her home smelled at Christmas – these are all things a recipe cannot convey. I inherited her passion for cooking, and to her cadre of recipes I have added my own. I will publish bound copies for my cousins, and I figure it can’t hurt to make the cookbook available as an ebook as well. I already have a Facebook page and a blog I co-author with fellow Italian foodie and friend Tiffany Anderson-Taylor (although she’s way better at posting, which I will improve as work through these recipes).

Publish my Florida  travel narrative

I realize this one’s almost a gimme because I’ve done the heavy lifting and secured a publishing contract, but it ain’t over yet – I feel confident I have more revisions coming down the pike. Because this matters so much to me, I count it, because I do intend to do whatever I can to make sure I have this book on bookshelves by this time next year. Oh, yeah, we still need a title, so feel free to leave one in the comments.

Write more for money

I love writing for the Gabber, and I intend to keep doing so. That said, I’ve used the paper as a crutch, held it up as a reason I don’t do much other writing. When I think about it, I must admit: I have no desire to cover the lawsuits on St. Pete Beach when I’m 60 (and trust me, there’s a fair-to-midland chance St. Pete Beach will still be appealing these same lawsuits when I’m 60). The best way to not have that happen is to shore up my other writing and start, as they say in the business world, developing other revenue streams. If that happens because of my self-published books (see how this helps? I already think of them as real things), or because of my published book (which is not really feasible; I don’t know how many of you realize this, but since I haven’t written Fifty Shades of Gray I have a more common publishing deal, which means my publisher doesn’t plan to publish enough copies of my book for me to earn royalties that would allow me to quit my day job) then great. If not, I still have options. I’m getting good at this writing thing, after all…

This is not me saying I want to leave the paper; this is me saying I would like very much to concentrate on the news stories, my column, and my Detours & Diversions, then pick and choose the rest, rather than take a picture – for the 12th year running – of people standing in line to vote on election day.

Get a second book contract

Yup, there’s a lot of emphasis in 2015 on writing. I already have an idea for a second book, and a third, so as soon as the first book is to bed, I will start on a proposal for number two.

Turn my Nikon into an ATM

I already take a LOT of photos (seriously, an average day for me at a street festival is 1,000 photos) and make a small – very small – amount of money taking pictures for people who want their events remembered but not in the “expensive wedding package photographer” type of way. I also teach photography in several locations, but odds are, you didn’t know that because how would you? Which brings me to…

Fix my damn web site

This site is awful; my blog is the only useful thing on it. So I’m going to fix it. Somehow. Because writers, apparently, need web sites, especially if they’re about to have a book or two to sell. You know who else needs a web site? People trying to sell their services as a photographer, or people who think it might be important for their photography students (or prospective students) to access a calendar to see where they’re teaching next.

There are other more personal things I want to accomplish, but I intend to keep them more private. Plus, you don’t care if I manage to knit my cousin’s as-of-yet-unborn baby a baby blanket in time for his birth (the odds are against me on this one), or if I can reasonably increase my protein intake and strengthen my lower back (the odds there improve a bit.)

Want to help me? Right now, other than buying me lots of coffee, there’s not much you can do, except like my public Facebook page and insist everyone you know do the same thing. And don’t forget to like Aphrodite’s Hearth while you’re at it. You can follow me on Twitter and pay attention to what I do on Flickr, and interact with me on all those things and remind me you’re waiting for me to make all these wonderful things happen. Oh, and when I post here that I (finally) have a book you can buy, buy it. If I’m really pushing the wire, think of it as a way to get all your 2016 Christmas shopping done in one fell swoop.

Happy New Year!