Monday, December 20, 2010

Unfinished Business #3: Two Large Hats, One Very Small Head

Another glimpse of the setting for Dragon's Ark

(In my last two posts, I’ve written about some of the challenges I’ve faced wearing two hats as both an independent publisher and author of the contemporary Dracula novel Dragon’s Ark. I closed with a worried tremble in my voice, concerned with the fate of the publisher/author who’s unable to move on to the next book due to all the work, as publisher, s/he has to do get the current release a decent spot in the tumultuous market place.

I will now continue to finger my worry beads, first, by comparing the past with present.)

Back in the good old days (and I do believe they were truly good) Ernest Hemingway would send one of his many great novels off to the great editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s—what, I’m getting too pretentious now?

Ohhh all right then, goddammit.

Harold Robbins would send his latest boring potboiler over to whoever was the editor at whatever was his publisher. Writer and editor might engage in back and forth over the manuscript (such as it was). There also might be money negotiations between Harold’s lawyers and their lawyers. Next, copyediting and proofreading by Whatever House’s staff or freelancers.

After in-house design did their work, the latest Harold Robbins epic of money-grubbing power grabs, shooting, and fucking would be shipped off to the printers. Before long, it would land in airport and drugstore book racks everywhere to be purchased or furtively thumbed by horny, shifty-eyed teenage boys. (I used to sneak my trembling looks at the copies in the Oshkosh Public Library while my mother worked the front desk, twenty feet away.)

In the time among all this shorthand, Harold Robbins would sprawl on the chaise lounge on the veranda of his 222-room mansion, cozy in his endangered-animal fur robe, boinking bosomy bikinied babes, smoking his cigars, drinking his mint juleps or whatever the hell it was he drank, bragging to everyone that he was the greatest writer who ever lived simply for selling more books than everyone including Hemingway, which in his day—the 1960s through the 1970s--was factually true.

Meanwhile, between the boinking and the boozing, Harold Robbins would be typing out his next book.

Whatever Publisher (Sorry, I can’t even be bothered to Google about this. If the Harold Robbins Literary Legacy Society wants to burn my books, I’ll send the matches.) would meanwhile handle all the marketing and all the distribution. They would make all the media contacts, arrange for all interviews: TV, radio, newspaper, magazine.

In the meantime, Harold Robbins--I'm guessing--drank and boinked, wrote and waited. After the phone call came, maybe from his personal publicist, off he’d fly around the globe to all the media interviews. Perhaps he would haul his typewriter along on his private jet (yes, he owned at least one jet; maybe more) so he could continue typing up The Betsy II or whatever. Maybe he’d stop by Whatz-it House and the entire staff would lick the carpet as he passed because Harold Robbins’s novels were making them soooo much money.

Then back he’d wheel in his rented 30-foot limo to his 6-star hotel, or jet back to the manse, and his typewriter, banging away, martinis lined up like martinets that coolly glistened at his elbow.

He did this for many books over many years. Sweet life, eh?

And so: Welcome to the 21st century and the world of independent publishing. As the new publishing system is now working, if you’re expecting to live the life of Harold Robbins, you’re in trouble, and not just ‘cause people aren’t reading as much anymore.

I know, because I’m in trouble. The first article in this series described all the work I’ve been doing as an independent publisher to get my novel into your kind and waiting hands. In the old, ideal—and increasingly misty sepia—world of long ago, I might write a brief article promoting my next book, a Prohibition saga I’m calling Butchertown, upon which I would be working away, with yummy glasses of mango yogurt drink lined up on my desk (I’m at that age). Meanwhile my publisher
would be doing all the work described above for Dragon’s Ark. And then I'd go out and perform by song-and-dance for maybe six weeks, my Royal (a brand of typewriter) not far away.

That’s not happening. As burning as I am to rat-a-tat my way into Butchertown, I have done little except key up a draft of Chapter 1 and a scrawl a few notes. My obsession with it is growing to Dragon’s-Ark proportions, but I’m stalled, not because I’m “blocked” or lazy from counting up eggs that haven’t hatched yet, but because ... I’m sure you see it now.

Understand, I’ve not made a penny yet out of Dragon’s Ark, and there are no guarantees I will. All the pennies—and there aren’t many--are coming from my day job. Harold Robbins didn't have a day job.

And so, I don’t believe this model of independent publishing can quite sustain in its current form, at least for writers with more than book—maybe many more—to write, especially if they're just trying to break in, or maybe not selling enough to call it a living.

If anything, the time between one book and the next could grow quite a bit longer. Unless I’m a well-paid professional blogger, it seems to me, my postings--no matter how jolly and clever--won’t be enough to keep whatever fans I may have happy. They’ll want my next book. And I’ll want to get it them.

So, what’s to be done? How might—or should—the evolution of this new field proceed? I’ll propose some ideas of where things might go in the next—and maybe final--chapter of this saga.

(Edited 12/21/10)

Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield

Photo by Author 

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

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