David David Katzman's Blog: Of Doom - Posts Tagged "publishing"

Dear friends,

As I approach the end of my second novel, I’ve decided to begin a blog. Many authors blog about politics and art, culture and books, philosophy and genitalia, and whatnot. As Carl Sagan would say, there are beelions and beelions of blogs out there in the world—what are the odds that one of those blogs will contain life? Errh, forget that metaphor. What I mean to ask is—why should you waste precious minutes of your life reading my blog when you hate blogs or/and read too many blogs already? Email me if you have an answer to that.

Oh, here’s one possible reason: I’ve chosen a singular topic that may interest a few Goodreaders. I’m going to write about the process I follow to publish my novel. The ins & outs, ups & down, and side to sides. My successes & failures. You’ll get the unvarnished experience as it happens. Gradually. It will be the exquisite pleasure of watching paint dry.

I will place some hope in the theory that unpublished authors, self-published authors, those who might want to publish in the future, and those who are intrigued by the publishing process might find some value in the exposition. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but perhaps even my stumbles will be useful. If this sounds interesting, please go to my profile and set your profile to "Follow" my reviews, and you should receive an email every time I post a new entry (along with any other author’s blogs you follow).

I promise—I will keep my posts fairly infrequent and rather concise. At least for me. Along the way, if you have any questions or suggestions, by all means, fire away.

Next up: My strategy

Ps. The word blog kind of makes me nauseas. Seriously.
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Published on November 01, 2009 21:02 • 435 views • Tags: fiction, how-to, novel, publish, publishing, writing
And that’s being conservative. I have heard literary agents receive thirty to fifty query letters per day while some publishers receive up to one hundred query letters a day. (Wondering what a query letter is? More to come on that front in future posts.)

These numbers represent my competition in a year. The odds are frankly not in my favor as an “unpublished” author. Yes, there is more respect for self-publishing today than there used to be—and I have read that publishers are scouting self-published work—but they will still consider me “unpublished” because I do not have a name publisher. I’m just one peon in the slush pile no matter how good my book is.

Is it hopeless? No. Do I have great odds? No.

Another sad note is that when pursuing a literary agent or publisher from scratch, it can take years to strike gold. You send out letters; wait to hear back. Send out letters; wait to hear back. They request a chapter; you wait. Rejected again. Some of them steam the stamps off your SASE and reuse them. Finally, someone picks it up! Oh, I’m on the docket another year down the road? How many years am I willing to wait to see print? I suppose that trenchant social commentary about Michael Jackson’s death isn’t so relevant any more.

So, what is my overall strategy?

I will pursue literary agents and publishers (both large and small) while simultaneously moving down the self-publishing path. That way, whenever I am ready to give up on finding an agent or publisher (that is, when I’m sick of looking and too frustrated to continue), I will be prepared to immediately pull the trigger and publish the book myself, using the same publishing company I established for Death by Zamboni (Bedhead Books).

Because I will be designing my book meticulously and planning the self-publishing process out thoroughly, it will likely take me about that long to start shipping books anyway. If I waited to start the self-publishing process until after I gave up on the publishers then it would likely take me an additional year before the book saw print, which defeats the purpose. Another benefit of starting the self-publishing process is that if I do land a publisher, I will be able to hand off the book designed exactly as I want it to be. So my vision will be developed more precisely, and it will also be ready for printing sooner.

That’s the high-level approach I’m going to take.

Next up: the pros & cons of self-publishing versus landing a publisher. (And there are quite a few.)
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Published on November 08, 2009 18:38 • 146 views • Tags: agents, letters, literary, publishers, publishing, query, self-publishing, strategy
Publishers are not charities. Publishing is a business. Yes, we all here (and by “we” I mean “me”) are artsy-fartsy artist types who don’t like to dirty our hands with commerce. But even anarchist-primitivists like John Zerzan had to print books, or no one would read them.

If an author writes a book in the woods that never gets published, does anyone hear it scream?

Everyone wants a big-name publisher. Here’s why:

1) Prestige
2) Little work beyond the writing
3) Could lead to a career of subsequent books being published
4) Prestige

What about a mid- to small-size publisher? They do take care of design, printing and distribution. Might be less likely to lead to a career, but it can help. Not as much prestige, but again, you can say, “I’m a published author” over cocktail weenies.

Cons of finding a publisher:

1) #2 above is not completely accurate. Believe it or not, publishers do NOT necessarily do a great job, or even a good job, at promoting your book. You will have to do a lot of your own promoting to get the word out.
2) Your book will disappear if it doesn’t do well quickly. (No reprints because you don’t own the rights—the publisher does.)
3) You may not control quite a few aspects of the design, such as the cover.
4) You may wait a year and a half after the book is picked up for it to be available.
5) Chances are, you won’t make much money. $.50 - $1.50 per book.

The pros of self-publishing:

1) You will make significantly more money ($5 - $10 per book and full cover price when you sell directly).
2) If you find a publisher, you will have to do most of your own marketing anyway.
3) You own all rights and control every detail.
4) You can keep it available via Amazon, your own website, and other venues indefinitely.
5) You can get it out in the world quickly.
6) If it does decently, a publisher might pick you up later.
7) You dance indie, DIY, non-corporate style.

Cons of self-publishing:

1) More effective for non-fiction.
2) You are responsible for every detail.
3) You have to invest money upfront on design, printing, distribution and more.
4) You need to work to get bookstores and libraries to carry it.
5) You have to teach yourself the basics of publishing and promoting books.
6) Still does not get a lot of respect.

Next up: Where I am right now.
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Published on November 17, 2009 20:44 • 152 views • Tags: cons, pros, publishing, self-publishing
I am write, my friends. I am write.

1) I’ve completed my first final draft! ?!?! (See 3 below)

2) I am waiting on my illustrator. One scene in my book is fully illustrated (without text), and I’ve reviewed about 90% of the sketches so far and received about 2/3 of the final ink drawings.*

3) I will be soliciting some feedback (as well as submitting it to a professional proofreader to help catch any typos--it’s so easy to read your own material a hundred times and miss something because what it’s supposed to say is actually more in your head than on paper) and then making revisions as I see fit. After feedback revisions, I will have my second (and hopefully final) final draft. I like to name these drafts because when a process takes six years to complete (as this one has), counting drafts has allowed me to feel like I’ve made some progress. It’s an affirmation. After a few years of writing story material without needing to shape it, I went through eleven drafts to get where I am

I believe it’s important to solicit feedback, especially as a self-published author. I’m quite happy with the book as it is … actually I love it … but I would like to get reactions from a handful of other writers and friends before I start sending out query letters to publishers. I will consider all feedback (What is confusing? What did they love? How did they interpret/misinterpret some parts of it? etc.) and decide what, if anything, I want to change from there. I am comfortable with quite a level of misinterpretation of my themes and visions, but there may be certain things (wait…I didn’t want anyone to think that) that I want to revise. This feedback will be limited but useful as a sounding board.

4) I am waiting for a friend of mine to build a single-page mini-website for me (based on my design) that will function to play a song that I composed with a sound engineer and three musicians. This is the last piece of my book puzzle. There is a scene in my book where several characters play instruments together ... a web address is mentioned indirectly, and if you visit the website, you will hear the music that the characters are performing.

5) After completing the next draft, and adding the illustrations and posting the song, I will write query letters to publishers and literary agent and pursue the self-publishing process simultaneously. Onward, ho! (And stop calling me a ho.)

* I essentially worked with the illustrator as a writer of a comic book might: I wrote a description of every image in detail and even took photographs of friends posing in every position I wanted represented. Then I worked with the illustrator for about a month to get the character sketches to a place that captured my vision. She has sent me pencil sketches of each frame, and I commented on them before she did the final ink drawers. They have actually come out quite beautifully!
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Published on December 06, 2009 22:09 • 204 views • Tags: author, novel, process, publishing, status, writing
I’m reading (and reviewing)
• Four books on self-publishing The Well-Fed Self-Publisher, Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual 16th Edition, The Self-Publishing Manual Volume 2 and Indie Publishing: How to Design and Publish Your Own Book
• Two books on finding publishers or literary agents Give ‘Em What They Want and The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit

I’m tracking
• Steps I need to take to self-publish by creating to-do lists, short and long term (3 pages so far)
• Authors who might like my book—from whom I will request promotional blurbs if i can reach them
• Publishers of surrealist, experimental fiction and literary speculative fiction
• Artists for cover art
• Expenses (anything writing- or publishing-related is tax-deductible)

I’m scribbling
• Hooks…the first sentence of my query letter.*

I’m surfing
• Research sites for writers and self-publishers. Some great ones include: SelfPublishingReview.com (tips and advice), duotrope.com (for identifying smaller publishers), Poets & Writers (pw.org), writersmarket.com (for identifying publishers, but does require membership fee - $39.99/year)
• Publisher submission policies on publisher sites
• Joining online small press organizations (Independent Book Publishing Association at ibpa-online.org and Self-Publishers Association of North America at spannet.org)
• Publishing blogs and self-publisher message boards (such as the Yahoo Self-Publishing Group, which seems to have much more activity than any google publishing group I can find at http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group...)

The quest continues.

Coming soon: The Query Letter in detail

*For those who are unfamiliar, a query letter is a one-page letter typically sent to literary agents and/or publishers to land representation. They are intended to grab their attention, convince them your book is worthy of consideration, introduce your credentials, and gain a request for your manuscript.
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Published on January 03, 2010 14:45 • 194 views • Tags: how-to, preparation, process, publishing, self-publishing, tips, websites
My latest blog entry has been a bit delayed because I’m still waiting on the final illustrations for my book. But finally! I’ll be receiving the last two pencil drawings tonight, providing feedback, and then getting the inked version later this week. I’ll have all the images I need to add to the book so I can finally share it with a small number of readers/writers to get feedback.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on my query letter. For those who don’t know, a query letter is the preferred method of approaching publishers. It’s intended to be a single page cover letter that serves to introduce your book. It follows a basic structure. Deviate from the format at your peril … publishers and literary agents have little time for shenanigans. Any mailing that tries too hard will likely head straight for the recycling cabana.

The anatomy of a query letter:
Introduction
Synopsis
Biography and closing

That’s it. Deceptively simple. Yet quite difficult in its own way.

The introduction should include a few key elements. It absolutely should include the title, page count, and genre. Even if your genre is ambiguous, you should at least classify it as “literary,” or “literary fantasy,” “alien romance police procedural,” “cook-book horror novel,” whatever you can do to help the editor or agent understand what type of book it is. Beyond that, there are a couple other elements you might consider:

Comparisons to other existing books or authors (as long as you’re careful not to come across as too presumptuous: “My novel, Dumby Spanks the Monk, combines the poetic artistry of Baudelaire with the wit of Oscar Wilde.”)

Discussion of the period or setting. Showing your knowledge of the milieux will help give you cred.

Description of a key theme. This is a more sophisticated approach and shows your book may not be mediocre.

A dramatic leap into the story. This is a risky choice. Bold, but it must be done right or it will flop.

Awards received and significant author credentials such as previously published works.

The synopsis is probably the hardest part. You need to boil your story down to roughly two or three short paragraphs. If you think your synopsis is too long, it is. If your book features a main character, then let the evolution of that character drive the synopsis more than a plot blow-by-blow.

Biography and closing is where you provide relevant information about your writing experience and any details that help qualify you for writing your book. For example, if you were once tortured by an accupuncturist, then it might be appropriate to mention that if your book is set in a political convention.

The last thing I’ll note is that as much as you should get outside feedback on your novel, you should get outside feedback on your query letter. I took a $70 webinar from Writer’s Digest here, which was a nice overview of the query letter structure, and the editor personally critiqued every single query letter submitted. She emailed me a pdf with comments and editorial suggestions. It was primarily helpful to me for the synopsis portion where it’s easy to describe too much. You need to get to the heart of the story in the synopsis.

And that is the heart of the query.
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Published on February 15, 2010 16:32 • 225 views • Tags: agents, critiques, novel, publishers, publishing, queries, query-letters
Book ‘im, Danno. Book that guy because his book isn’t going anywhere. But before you do, tell me what the heck kind of name is Danno, anyway? Is that really a name for a grownup? Let’s not dwell on it. And also, don’t dwell on your novel when you are playing The Waiting Game. (It’s like The Crying Game except with more crying.) I’m being obtuse so permit me to be a(bit)cute instead.

My second novel is at a standstill because I’ve handed it off to two of my friends to read. Cheers to friends! As I’ve said in several previous posts, whether you’re trying to land a publisher or you’re self-publishing, getting outside feedback before you submit is essential. I spent six years in my own head—-now I want to see how my head bounces off some other folks in case it bounces a little wonky here or there. Is that metaphor strained? So is my neck. Several bits may have been left in my brainstem instead of on the page.

I will probably have all notes back from my wrecking--I mean writing--crew by the end of May. So far, the one I’ll call my first friend merely because it’s convenient to number him as first (who is a writer and literary critic) has provided me fifty pages, and he’s got another fifty or so waiting for me to snatch and grab. My second friend (who is a writer and editor) read the entire book through without making notes and is now going back a second time. He sent me a wonderful email as follows:

I didn't get as much done while in Iowa as I'd planned, but I did get the whole thing read through once. It's REALLY great--I like it a LOT. Just some really beautiful stuff in there. So now I need to go through it and mark my thoughts, reactions, editing stuff… But first reaction is WELL DONE!

So, yay to that! What am I doing in the meantime? How should one fill up the Waiting Room of Eternal Writerly Frustration? Here’s the advice: don’t let the dust settle, work on your next book. Whether you have submitted 20 query letters and have to wait six months for a reply, or you have your book with a proofreader for two weeks…wherever it is in limbo-land, don’t stop writing. Move on to your next piece, which might be even better than the one you just completed. I’m currently working on a children's book with two collaborators—an art director and an animator. And I’m nearly done writing it, too, while waiting. It’s actually going to be an interactive children's book. We’re going to build a demo of a couple sections of it and then pitch it to publishers. My advice, keep writing. I’m always pullin’ shapes, you dig?
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Published on May 10, 2010 20:43 • 272 views • Tags: critiques, process, progress, publishing, tips, writing
I finished my novel about two weeks ago.



After receiving feedback from my two writer friends, I made a pass of revisions. Then I read the book one last time and made a final round of touchups. We’ll call it fourteen drafts. I believe this is more than many authors go through, but my process is iterative not a plot-it-out-in-advance method. That’s just how my jib is cut. And, wow, my jib is more cut than Taylor Lautner’s abs.

So what next? Many months ago I started a list of potential presses. And I’ve picked up my research—I have a list of thirteen potential publishers right now that might be a good fit. I was disappointed to learn that my top two picks (Akashic Books, publisher of Joe Meno, and Serpent’s Tail out the U.K.) no longer accept query letters from un-agented writers. C’est la vie, they’re crossed off. I have also begun customizing my query letters so that they are more specific to each of these presses. I found publishers from novels I’ve read that were compatible to my own as well as through online research.

At the same time, I sent a shout out to everyone in my Linked-In network. I’m not a Facebooker, but if I were, I would’ve sent one out there, too. I sent a very specific email explaining that I had finished my second novel and was looking for someone with a friend at a publishing company. All I requested was an introduction so that my query letter would be read promptly. Of course, I won’t say no if it also allows me to skip the query letter and send the manuscript right off the bat, but that’s asking for a lot.

The result: three of my connections responded that they were connected to literary agents. One childhood friend’s former co-worker is now an agent in NY. He connected us, and I’ve forwarded my query letter to her already. A former co-worker of mine informed me that his wife knows a literary agent. I asked him to see if he can find out what she reps (because if it’s an irrelevant genre like romance or kids’ lit, then it would be pointless to reach out to her), but so far, I have not heard back. And finally, it turns out that another former colleague of mine used to work in publishing and knows a fairly big-time agent who had once represented Philip K. Dick! (Shocking. That’s actually a really good fit for my book. Who knew? Uch, Schindler did, and that’s why he saved the Jews.) I’m still waiting on this former co-worker to advise me on the best way to reach out to this promising agent, so I’m on pins-and-needles. But not getting my hopes up too much. I hadn't expected connections to agents, and I still think they are a long shot. My book is “literary” but it’s not very commercial. So it will only appeal to a truly arts-focused agent. But it’s certainly worth a try.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue researching potential small to medium size presses. Here is a great site for that type of research: duotrope.com.

Wish me luck!
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Published on September 03, 2010 18:48 • 302 views • Tags: agents, literary-agents, publishers, publishing, writing
I’m in the waiting room of Operation: Get a Publisher. I sent out twenty query letters to small-to-medium-size presses and emailed four literary agents. All were contacted on September 17. Two months later, where do I stand?

2 literary agents said, “Thank you, it’s not my genre.”
1 literary agent never replied (I just emailed a follow up.)
1 literary said, “Sounds interesting, send me the first 10 pages.” That was on. 10/6. Nothing since. (I just emailed a follow up.)

12 presses sent me no response whatsoever. Not a word. Nada. Bupkis. Zip. Silent treatment. Cold shoulder. I’ll just shut up now. (Like them.)

2 presses sent me a polite, “Thank you, this does not fit our interests at this time.”

2 press sent me a polite, “Thank you for submitting, we’ll get back to you.”

1 press (Soft Skull Press) sent me an email on 10/15 saying, “Thanks for submitting. We changed our policy (and closed our New York office). We no longer accept un-agented submissions.” Skull-fuck you, Soft Skull. Just kidding.

1 press said, “We’re sorry, we’re not considering new books until 2013.”

1 press said, “We’ll take a look, but just so you know, we’re now looking at books for 2012.”

And 1 press responded on 9/22, “Thank you for your interest in XXXXXX Press. We'd like to take a further look at your manuscript. I love fairytales, and psychedelic ones are even more exciting." I’m censoring the name because I don’t think it would appropriate to publicize it here, but…yeehaw!!! I consider this quite a victory. Even if they don’t publish it, I’m still quite pleased that I got past the query letter with one of the presses. They indicated that they take about six months to evaluate a book so I won’t hear back until March.

In the meantime, I’m living up to my recommendation that a writer should never sit on her heels while waiting to hear from a publisher. I haven’t started my next book, but I am following the self-publishing path just in case I don’t land a publisher. I’ve managed to come to an agreement with a designer to design my novel for publication. He’s a friend who also designed my website (daviddavid.net). I got a friend discount, but at the same time, my book will be quite complicated to design because there are multiple fonts, visual text poetry, images, and a couple scenes where several conversations are occurring simultaneously. So it will be a bear to design. But if you’re wondering how much it costs to hire a talented designer, I’m paying $1500 in three installments—each time we’re done with 1/3 of the book, he gets $500. My book will be roughly 300 pages long, but I would assume for most authors interested in self-publishing, they could probably get a cheaper rate if they don’t have fancy formatting.

My goal is to have the book ready to send to the printers by May. If I haven’t gotten a solid bite from a publisher by then, I’ll be ready to pull the trigger and my book will be out by the summer. A great beach read. If you like to trip balls at the beach, that is.
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Published on November 27, 2010 18:11 • 385 views • Tags: book-design, how-to, process, publishing, query-letters, self-publishing, tips, writing
Dear David,
Thank you again for the opportunity to consider A Greater Monster and for your interest in [PRESS]. I apologize a thousand times for the time it has taken for us to respond to your query. We received more than the usual number of manuscripts during this period, had less than the usual amount of publication slots available, and our team of volunteer readers decreased due to personal problems; therefore, we have been incredibly behind in our reading, and, again, I apologize.

At this moment, we are going to pass on further consideration of your manuscript; your project was among the last few we were holding onto from the open submission period, and that is because it is a great fit for [PRESS]. Our readers praised it for gorgeous graphics, material resistance and interplay with the plot, its questioning of the human as master/center of time, space, reason, and language, and its exquisiteness and brutality at the level of the sentence. Incredible sentences verging on poetry. Existence at the realm of the nano, the infinitesimal, the letter, the typographic shift-. We passed on it because of our current lack of publication slots, but please send us more material, either during our next open submission period or during one of our blind-judged contests. Thank you again, and I hope you find a publisher quickly for this extraordinary work.

Sincerely,
[NAME]
Acquisitions Editor
[PRESS]
The above email arrived in my inbox Friday. What a wonderful rejection! The editor also kindly offered, in a subsequent email, to provide me with a more eloquent promotional quote (such as for the back cover or the interior), when my book is published. And she also recommended a couple presses I could contact and use her name as a reference. However…I’m back to my old conundrum: Is it worth it? What will these small presses do for me that I can’t do for myself? And if I self-publish, I will always maintain the rights to my own writing. Of the three presses she recommended, only one of them seems to have their act together online. And when I check their books on Amazon…only a few reviews for each one. The author still has to hustle for professional reviews, press coverage, distribution (getting it carried), marketing, etc. And the reward is 10% per book of the cover price…as opposed to 40% - 100% depending on whether you sell it directly, online or through a bookstore. If I’m going to work my butt off, shouldn’t it be for myself?

The other big minus, of course, is more waiting. Even if I get lucky quickly, my book would likely not be available until late 2012. Depends on how long their queue is. If I self-publish, I can release the book later this year, hopefully late summer. I’ve had a long enough gestation period; I want this thing out of me!

The biggest plus of finding a publisher, of course is that I get more credibility and reputation being published by someone else. So, theoretically, that means I can get publishers to take a more serious look at future query letters. But is it really worth it?

Right now, I’m leaning toward no.
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Published on April 30, 2011 13:41 • 247 views • Tags: publishing, queries, query, rejection, self-publishing, small-press

Of Doom

David David Katzman
Author David David Katzman blogs about the process of completing and publishing his second novel.
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