Not only to fly, but to bring the world's eyes...skyward.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why I quit querying and proceeded to publish, Part 2


I never once broke into the cool clique as a kid, but I was never a loner, either. Except on the many first few days at a new school I endured, I always had at least one friend, even if it was a geek, misfit, or reject like me. So I couldn’t interest anyone in New York in my little “aviation love story.” Fine. I still loved and believed in my book, and I was almost sure my true peers—irony addicts and/or aviation nuts who feel no need for time-traveling or benevolent undead characters for a story to be romantic—would love it too. Why not just accept my fate as one of the publishing world’s Goonies, self-publish, and take it straight to them?

When I finished my first draft back in 2006 or so, I briefly looked into self-, or as I now know it, vanity publishing. Fortunately, I saw right away that the deck would be stacked against me, though I didn’t fully understand some of the reasons why. I did some research and soul-searching and quickly realized that just seeing my work take the form of a book wasn’t my goal. Neither was getting any certain amount of money or fame. Entertaining the people who’d enjoy my story as much as I did was the goal, and I thought the credibility that comes with contracting with a big New York house would be the surest route to that goal. Self-publishing seemed the writer’s analog to opening a little specialty restaurant of my own versus trying to sell my recipes to a huge, established chain whose numbers bore out a dire need of fresh ideas. Even if my food was fantastic, how would I ever get any customers?

But as the queries went out and the years rolled by, the form rejects and just a single partial request came in, and I was compelled to take another long, hard look at self-publishing. Perhaps the chain restaurants had no interest in putting my stuff on their menu because nothing like it had ever been tried. Perhaps it was, but had been badly executed. Whenever I cooked for friends or family, people sure seemed genuinely impressed, and yes, I know it’s cliché, but people who know me consider me to have an emotional bloodlust. I despise minced words and small talk, insist on blunt honesty, and usually give and get it in spades. So was I really the world’s reigning chef specializing in Curry Ken-L-Ration with a too-strong-for-my-own-good support structure, or was I just having foreseeable difficulty getting my little brand of nihilist southern redneck cuisine placed?

I inquired about getting a booth at a few of the larger airshows. Kristin Schaick of the Experimental Aircraft Association, arguably the most passionate group of wingnuts (intermittently) on Earth, said for their annual fly-in convention in Oshkosh, WI each year, they select a few dozen writers for a program called Authors’ Corner, where authors talk about their books and people can interact with them and purchase signed copies. When she said I was welcome to submit A Silver Ring for consideration, I confessed I didn’t actually have any physical books to send in. She asked me to send her a .pdf to read and said if I were selected, I would have to have a small number printed. A couple of weeks later, she emailed to say she adored the book, and a few weeks after that notified me I was officially on the program. I’d need to send at least fifty copies to participate, but the more successful authors often sell many more. There’s no fee or other cost—just a consignment commission that benefits the EAA—a true win/win if I ever saw one. It looked as if this aviation goonie had found his little hole in the wall—smack in the middle of the annual Aviation Goonie-Pride Parade route.

The grass outside my window was still its winter shade of yuck. I had plenty of time to get cooking.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I quit querying and proceeded to publish, Part 1


The die is cast. After about five years of writing, two years of editing, and three more of miscellaneous handwringing and acute analysis paralysis researching and pitching it and a couple of nonfiction experiments, my debut novel, the story that made me start writing in the first place, is at the printers.

My publisher gave me a deal no other could match and that I couldn’t refuse: a professional, ethical editor, a small promotional budget, roughly three to twelve dollars per copy directly to me, total and final authority over content and cover, and no advance. I guarantee you’ve never heard of the house, because it didn’t exist until last month. The name’s almost certainly meaningless to you, but I think it has a certain ring to it, and everyone who should knows what it’s about—Karcher Prince. I’m ignoring a certain amount of conventional wisdom with my marketing plan, but I think if you’ll just postpone dismissing me as another half-baked self-publisher waging jihad on the rain forest, you might find something of value in this series of posts.

Against the odds, I spent a great deal of time researching and querying roughly forty top agencies about my novel. The first ten or so were admittedly amateurish tell-fests, but the next ten or so were merely unacceptable by today’s standards, which is to say they were unique and honest. I’ve always longed to blend in and be cool with my wardrobe, hairstyles, and other material aspects of life, but I’ve never well tolerated forcible assimilation where affairs of the heart or mind are concerned. Nevertheless, I soon realized if I wanted my story set free into the world, I’d have to submit to a certain amount of monkey-do in how I pitched it to gatekeepers.

I thought of New York’s publishing machine as just another exclusive clique of cool kids, and if I wanted my writing to get a part of it, I was going to have to put some makeup on it, buy it some fashionable clothes, and make sure not to let it be seen getting out of my stodgy old Midwestern station wagon, no matter how unique or dependable—or that a 455 big block may lurk beneath the hood.

So with my next 20 queries or so, I sold out. I read blog after blog, accepted well-intended, on-target advice from dozens of other writers, and sent my writing to New York in various shades of mascara and blush, skinny jeans, and those fashionable high-waisted tunic things that honestly could make Jennifer Aniston look frumpy, but the cool kids were still just too smart for me. They must have seen through my façade and realized mine doesn’t look much like the trendy writing that gets agents and contracts and advances and royalties these days. The unanimous crop of form rejects from my first, honest queries were soon in good company with a whole new bunch from my sellout queries, albeit garnished with a few kindly tailored notes, as if passed my way when the Alpha dogs weren’t watching.

In frustration, I took the holidays off from everything. I needed time to lick my wounds and decide what to do next. No posts, no status updates, no tweets, except with friends—one being agent intern, freelance editor, and cool-kid-clique double-agent Cassandra Marshall (@CA_Marshall), on whose shoulder I cried my virtual eyes out over the icy reception my unrequited love had received. Her advice, surreptitiously slipped into my hand in a dark hallway of Direct Messaging, was a blog post that purportedly sought to help writers discern if they've reached their limit and should give up on their dream. I read it several times…and wondered.

An aviation love story...

Twilight landing at LAX

Martinez Canyon Rescue