Friday, December 5, 2008

My Life in Publishing Hell, Part V

The Legendary Barons
Let the Autobiography Begin!

TLB - based on the exploits of my long-time softball team - was noteworthy (in a publishing context) for its cover, done by a guy who formerly designed a Nine Inch Nails album cover - and for the inclusion in its story line of the book tour for my first novel, Frozen Music. Called by a friend "The I-Told-You-So Tour," my cross-country traveling crew included a friend who had recently lost her mother - and who decided to indulge in a full-scale alcoholic adventure during the trip.

Barons was the first of an autobiographical trilogy that would prove to be quite a struggle for me. The effort was to balance real-life events - which rarely follow the perfect arcs of classic storytelling - with the requirements of fiction. Although I am happy with the work I did in this gray area, I have come to realize that my best work - as in Frosted Glass and Gabriella's Voice - comes from material that may be drawn from real life details, settings and characters, but follows storylines that are not tied down to the rigors of memoir.

After the great success of Frosted Glass, Dead End Street was firmly behind me. In fact, after the editing boot-camp conducted on FG by myself and publisher John Rutledge, DES hired me as an editor for Michael Kelleher's true-crime novel Suspect Zero and Jacqueline Druga-Marchetti's apocalyptic sci-fi book The Shroud. Barons was the first application of this new editing rigor to my own work, and it showed in the final editing process, which did not require much work on John's part.

After a successful release party at the San Jose Barnes & Noble, I sought to book some appearances in outlying regions of Northern California, and began to run into the roadblocks that would continue to plague my DES efforts in years to come. Even with print-on-demand firmly established as a publishing technology, the bookstore distribution systems refused to adapt to the new realities. The system was clearly set up to accommodate books with thousands of copies at the warehouse, and even when we sent the required minimum to those warehouses, the Ingram readouts refused to list their availability.

The other issue was returnability. Distributors refused to offer full returnability on copies that didn't sell in the bookstores, and even after DES offered full guaranteed returnability direct to the publisher, the bookstore managers refused to go for it. What's more, POD had begun to open the floodgates for poorly designed, poorly edited, poorly written titles, and bookstores refused to believe that DES was actually producing professionally designed, edited and written books. The stores began to ghettoize POD titles into author faires; authors were required to bring their own copies to the faire, give the stores a percentage of any copies sold that day, and then take the rest home - which removes the most basic reason for arranging author appearances, which is to get copies of your book on the shelves, where consumers might see it and take a chance on an unknown author. Faced with glass ceiling after glass ceiling, I began to wonder how I would ever be able to bring my novels to a wider audience.

Next: Painting Tacoma, the end of the Dead End Street

To see Legendary Barons, go to:

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