The Hard Part (IV)

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I haven’t written an update to this series of posts in far too long.  For those that don’t remember, which is probably everyone, the posts (part I, part II, and part III) were about the process of publishing a novel I’ve been working on for the last six or seven years.

I did eventually find an agent to represent the work and for the past year we’ve submitted it to a number of major publishers and editors.  In the end though, despite a lot of good feedback and encouraging words, none of them were willing to take the project on.

The publishing industry is going through a great deal of upheaval right now.  The economy is forcing publishers to take fewer risks and readers are buying fewer titles.  The consequence is that, as an unpublished novelist, it’s an incredibly difficult climate in which to find a publisher.  So although I haven’t wavered in my belief or passion for the book, after a lot of discussion, prayer, and soul-searching, I am changing my tactics.

For years I’ve wanted to find a way to function as an independent author much in the same way that an independent musician does.  The trouble is that while a musician can record his album and tour it to generate sales, the musician’s concert has no direct analog in the world of fiction.  No one pays to come see an author read his book (unless that author is Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer) and there are few ways to get the word out and build readership for an independently published book without the benefit of the resources, distribution, and marketing that a publisher provides.

So what’s the answer to that dilemma?  I’m still not sure but I’ve decided to give it a shot and see where it takes me.  Next month I’ll be placing the manuscript into the competent hands of my friend and editor, Kate Etue, for a full copy-edit.  From there I’ll be in the murky waters of the self-publishing world.

It’s important to me that the book in its final form be just as professional as anything on the top shelf at the bookstore.  I’d rather the book never see the light of day than have it released in the sad state that all too many self-published authors settle for.  That means that cover-design, paper-stock, binding, typesetting, and many other details need to be attended to carefully and professionally.  I think I’m up to it.

Through it all, the hard part will be trying to find a way to make it happen without losing my life savings.  I don’t want to end up living in a van down by the river and God knows it’s happened to better men than I.

I’m also interested in taking the coming digital revolution of the publishing industry by the horns and finding ways to make it work for me.  What does that mean exactly?  That’s another one I can’t answer right now.  Maybe it means free chapters online, maybe it means digital downloads, maybe it means getting it published in Kindle format, maybe it means an iPhone app, maybe it means using special interweb powers to deliver it directly into the brains of millions of people all at once.  I’m open to all those possibilities.

So while I’m approaching this coming process with a lot of fear and trepidation, I’m also encouraged to be pulling the trigger on something I’ve spent so much time on.  It’s liberating to see it finally on a trajectory that will put it into the hands of readers.

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he’s the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


13 Comments

  1. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Where’s the “Like” button? I couldn’t find it. Never mind. I’m thinking of some other website.

    The Chris Farley skit (one of my favorite and great to see it again) and the link for “the sad state that all too many self-published authors settle for” links were hilarious icing on the cake of a transparent, candid piece. Consider yourself with at least one literary cheerleader from the Midwest.

  2. Larry

    Pete,

    I have over 20 years of book publishing experience and am currently the VP of Marketing for John Wiley & Sons. We publish exclusively non-fiction (we recently celebrated out 200th Anniversary) so no conflict of interest here — but would be more than happy to help navigate the turbulent publishing waters and offer my help. Whether you opt for a mainstream commercial publisher or go the self-published route — many of the challenges you will face are similar. I am actually headed down to Nashville (can’t recall if that is where you are located) for a couple of days to meet with the Ingram folks (largest book wholesaler) and am happy to buy you a beer and offer any advice. My email is lolson@wiley.com. Feel free to contact me.

  3. becky

    Pete,

    I’m so glad to see that you are still pursuing the book.

    I worked for a printer who specializes in short runs for self-publishers, and sadly I have seen many books that were worse than the examples in the link. I have also seen self-publishing done very well, and successfully.

    I’ve read your posts here in the R.R., and I don’t think you are going to end up in a van down by the river. You are much better equipped than most who start down this road. You have a gift. You have great advisors (like Larry). You have knowledge of how the publishing industry works, and new avenues available for getting your work out there. You are surrounded by people who are used to thinking creatively about marketing their work. And I know there are many Rabbitheads like me who would buy anything you write in a heartbeat.

  4. Pete

    Pete:

    For the last two years, one of my closest friends has gone through a similar journey. It’s a different genre (basically a retelling of the Biblical narrative in a fantasy/fiction setting), but writing is writing (I’m an academic, so I deal with it in yet another genre). She usually bounces things off me as she’s writing them, so it’s a piece I have some skin in.

    Hang in there – from what I know, most writers write several pieces before they get published. They write not for the $$ (although that’d be nice), but because they simply have no other choice – writers write. As another friend told me, “You don’t choose music – music chooses you.”

    The good news is that both writing and getting published are crafts. That means they’re learnable (or so I’ve heard/read). So keep at it.

  5. Matt McBrien

    Good luck, Pete. Keep on writing. I’ll definitely buy your book when it’s available!

  6. Peter B

    Go, Pete, go! By the way, thanks for turning me on to Louis L’Amour. I just finished Fallon, and found a new favorite in the process.

    Give a yell if you happen to swing by Dallas. I’m no publisher, but I can at least promise that beer; believe it or not, we have a couple of darn good pubs here in Big D. ‘Twould be cool to hear about your travels and your book in person, if you’re up for that sort of thing.

    Echo what the others have said about writing whenever you can. Never having tried it myself, I have nonetheless noted the growth of many an aspiring author through a regular writer’s blog (or similarly accessible outlet).

    Back to my armchair now…

  7. Robert Treskillard

    Hi Pete,

    You’re ahead of me, since I am still finishing my manuscript and have only submitted to one agent.

    But epic fantasy “doesn’t sell in the CBA” I am told, and so I may be in your predicament soon. For me, I might just POD a few copies for myself and family/friends and then sit on it while I write something else.

    But if you can get excellent editing, packaging, marketing advice, and really go for it, its definitely possible to succeed at self-publishing.

    One of my friends, Scott Appleton, is trying the same thing over at Flaming Pen Press ( http://www.flamingpenpress.com/ ). He details his journey over at his blog ( http://www.flamingpen.blogspot.com/ ).

    BTW, what genre are you writing in? I checked your bio/blog, but couldn’t find out much about your WIP.

    I’ll be praying for you,

    -Robert

  8. M. J. Peterson

    Didn’t “The Shack” start out as a self-published book? Look where it is now! Who knows where this road may lead you?!

  9. Janna

    Pete,

    Thanks for all the helpful info in these posts. I’m trying not to be discouraged by the fact “the hard part” might not be the actual writing, like I’ve always been told. Last fall, I put my first boat in the water with a children’s picture book, and promptly (6 wks. later) received my first rejection notice. Yes, it was a form letter. I intend to try again, but have not made hurting my ego a priority.

    I have been thinking lately how “art transcends form”, but writers may have the hardest time finding an audience. And not just professionally. For instance, how many times has an artist or musician friend said to you, “hey take a look at this piece,” or “listen to this tune;” but to say, “will you read this and get back to me next week?” requires a bit more commitment.

    New topic: did Becky coin “rabbithead” here? I like it. Maybe it could be part of the brand design if the t-shirts and mugs ever take off. Can’t you see a cool drawing of a person with a rabbit’s head saying, “I’m a Rabbit Head?”

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