Friday, December 19, 2008

My Life in Publishing Hell, Part VIII

Double Blind
The Self-Publishing Experiment

My next project was based on something I'd always wanted to do: to write a novel about sex that got away from this silly American giggliness and spoke in plain terms. To bolster my approach, I used a first-person male narrator who is also a scientist (and much more apt to see sex as a natural process). I came up with an outlandish plot (a husband accidentally getting his wife involved with an Internet porn site) that had some surprisingly poignant things to say about bringing unnecessary chaos into the lives of children. I was also relieved to be back in the land of the non-autobiographical novel, and the kind of imaginative, pure storytelling that had produced my earlier favorites, Gabriella's Voice and Frosted Glass.

Blessed with the credentials I'd recently gathered writing for Writer's Digest, I thought I would have a better chance with agents and publishers. Alas, no. I had, however, crossed a personal boundary: I no longer had any doubt in the merits of my writing, and particularly in Double Blind, and I knew that it deserved to be read. So I decided to do it all on my own.

Some of this decision was fueled by the can't-beat-'em-join-'em angle. I went with IUniverse, largely because it's owned by the same folks who own Barnes & Noble and is thereby well-connected with the distribution system.

Tossing all humility aside, I am the perfect self-publisher. With my stringent self-editing habits I handed IUniverse a near-perfect text (I have yet to find a typo, two years later). They did a beautiful job with the typography and layout. On the design side, I had the chance to pursue the photographic approach that I had always envisioned. I'm a sometime-photographer myself, and have always been drawn to book covers featuring photos. My first book, 1995's Frozen Music, featured a Susan Merrill photograph that I still adore.

With Double Blind, I was in some extraordinary luck. A few years before, the online journal Avatar Review accepted some of my poetry. I became a regular correspondent with the poetry editor, Paula Grenside. She lives in Italy, and as an opera buff I enjoyed attempting some conversations with her in Italian. One day she invited me to check out her online photography portfolio, and I immediately fell in love. Working in a wide variety of styles - black and white, color, computer-manipulated and not, landscapes and model work - Paula had created some fantastically imaginative work. I asked to use some of it for an online journal of my own - - and a few months later, when it came to Double Blind, I knew I wanted to use one of her works for the cover.

Scanning Paula's portfolio, I though I was looking for a nude shot - something as frankly sexual as the narration - but then I happened upon a non-manipulated black-and-white of a svelte young woman with a lizard tattoo and a feathered mask. There was something so flirtatious and mysterious about her demeanor that I knew this was my cover. (Later, a friend would point out that I had, in fact, written a mystery, so it's no wonder the photo made that connection.) I asked Paula to send a Tif file of it off to IUniverse, and what I got back was perfection: a design that used shadowed blue-gray type to blend the title and author name with the graytones of Paula's image.

I've also been pleased by the customer service at IU. They assigned me to a customer service rep who walked me through the process: she was prompt with answers and always encouraging in her tone - even when wrestling with my clumsy attempts at getting the right format for the author photo. Later, they offered some intriguing group advertising buys, and even though it didn't help sales at all, I did appreciate the opportunity to have DB in Poets & Writers and the New York Times review of Books. (I got a call from a long-lost colleague who assumed that the latter meant I had hit the big time. I did not correct her.)

After trying for a year to encourage people to buy DB online, I discovered that a friend of mine had just published a book on recession economics (nicely timed!) and decided to set up some readings for the both of us. We called it the Sex & Money Tour. And here are my findings: as a self-published POD author, you simply have to bring your own copies. It's the only way a bookstore will host you. Our two readings received some excellent response. In the book-mad county of Santa Cruz, CA, we drew 60 folks to the Capitola Book Cafe, and in Silicon Valley, 30 came to Books Inc. in Mountain View. I did my usual dramatic readings (with a couple actor friends to add dialogues) and was very happy with the audience response. I was especially pleased with the Books Inc. store, which afforded my title some excellent display space, sent me a check for sold copies a week after the reading, and still has six copies on their shelves six months later. The Capitola store has sent me nothing, but does have some copies of the books still on its shelves.

Although DB was far from a sales success, it taught me some valuable lessons, and I am set to try some more ambitious things with my upcoming IU book, Outro, which I will chronicle here as the process goes along.

Next: Outro, epic karaoke novel

Find Double Blind at

1 comment:

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