Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Remember that Famous Quote by Charlie Brown's Dad?

It was such a big deal.

Having voiced announcements for Vancouver Transit, homegrown superstar Seth Rogen was voicing a series of announcements for the Toronto Transit Commission. Injecting a bit of levity and fun into a dreary subway commute couldn’t be a bad thing, could it?

The first few days after they were supposed to go live, I heard nothing at my regular subway stops. Caught the tail end of an announcement a few days later, but it was like the last few words, going quiet just as I hit the bottom of the stairs.

But today, I heard my first announcement from start to finish.

I don’t know what I expected. This is the TTC after all.

I’ve had my hearing tested in the last few years, and despite all the rock concerts and headphones and heavy equipment I’ve been exposed to over my lifetime, the Doctor said my hearing was fine.

So I can only surmise that everybody else in the station heard pretty much what I heard. By the light, rising and falling tone of the voice, I could tell it was Seth Rogen, but he sounded more like Charlie Brown’s dad from the old Peanut comic strips, “Murfel dodd mmummph, brigirdinitz shpinkle shpankle, crobopple...murfle murfle mummph crobopple.”

There you go. Far as I could tell, it might have been the Boston Strangler threatening to garrotte me the next time I set foot on a subway car.  Thank you TTC. You did make me smile. A somewhat rueful and dismissive smile for sure, as I slowly shook my head and got on the train.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Dealing with Doubt

Immediately after finishing the last draft of the novel, I started questioning myself. Is there something wrong with the opening? I convinced myself that there was. After all, I was pretty confident in my actual query letter and the only thing other than that that I’ve sent to all five agents is the opening five pages.

I decided immediately that they suck and started replotting the entire first 150 pages of the novel to fix it. This is bullshit, as reflexive as falling in love with the first person you meet after a breakup.

Because in point of fact, even if they do suck, it’s too early to tell from the agent’s reactions. Their lack of response could be due to all sort of things – but three weeks in, is far too early to tell. I should not be assuming anything at all yet. Now that I have fixed all of the trouble spots I earmarked as I was approaching the end of the last draft, I need to wait, and reflect, and judge what's there on its own merits. And it certainly wouldn't hurt to have more feedback before determining my next move.

Deciding immediately that I’ve done it all wrong is a cop-out that allows me to forgive any rejections that come, by telling myself, “Oh I just sent it out too early.”

Well, maybe I did. And maybe I didn’t. I need to wait for evidence one way or the other. It may be painful, and it will almost certainly take way longer than I like. But I owe myself the benefit of the doubt.

And while I wait, I can work on other stuff. Get those short story collections filled up with new material. Apply everything I’ve learned with the novel to my pre-novel prose and see if I can bump my better stories up a few more notches.

Got a story “The Lost Psychonaut” that began as a horror, turned into a humour story and is now morphing a third time - into something in between - hopefully dark, dark comedy that morphs into really scary shit. If I can get the balance right, then it could be a knockout. So that’s what I’m going to do for the next while – work on the short story until I start getting more feedback from other people on the novel. The new ideas I was working on may just turn out to be the perfect place to start a sequel novel. Or might actually work in this one. But I need to let things settle for a while. Give the book a chance to breathe. I made a blackberry wine one time, that was really sour and awful at first taste – and turned into ambrosia after it sat for another month. That could happen.

And even if I’m right about the changes I’m tempted to make, it only makes sense to save it until I’m doing a more holistic revision based on other new feedback – so I can do it all at once.

So I’m forcing myself to push the pause button. Allowing myself to turn all my attention to other projects – just for awhile.

If you've gone through anything like this and feel inspired to share – I’d love to hear from you.

Is it normal; to be filled with self-doubt when you finish a draft? Do you think it means anything? Or it's just a panic reaction as I go to enter the starting gate?

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Growth through Reflection

While I was working on my novel, I came to a passage that reminded me of a breathtaking description of this very thing – in my story “Roots of the Soul,” which was the inspiration and the source of the ideas and characters in Avenging Glory.

I rooted around and found my contributors copy of North of Infinity – the 1998 anthology where the story first appeared. Re-reading it, 20 years later, I was dismayed that the passage I remembered so fondly, was really quite awful. In fact, the whole story was badly written - essentially a bunch of neat ideas, blocked out to give it a rudimentary dramatic arc. But the idea was great.

In the 90s, I also turned it into a screenplay and pitched it as Dark Woods, to a very nice and open-minded producer at BravoFact. She took the time to critique it – and gave me the opportunity to repitch it, a conversation that went very well, but ended with her telling me that she couldn’t see it going any further until I found a director to work with. 

I was pumped, but I didn’t know any directors, or have the faintest idea how to approach one. While all this was going on my employment prospects in my new city had all dead-ended. And as my already meager income dried up, the magazine (TransVersions) I had co-published, edited, and illustrated for over 5 years came to an end. Life conspired to send me into an emotional tailspin, and in the midst of that, I pretty much abandoned hope for any of my dreams coming true, and quit writing for over ten years.

When life stabilized again, I was doing quite well as a sculptor, exhibiting and selling my stone sculptures – which I had started carving in an attempt to fill the creative gap left when I stopped writing. But as much as I love sculpting, it couldn’t supplant writing as my artistic passion. The stories I could tell through sculpting are beautiful and mythopoeic, but the effect on viewers, seldom more substantial than the blink of an eye. See it. Like it. Buy it. Hate it. Ignore it. Done.

After hitting the reset button on my life, I watched my writing contemporaries enjoying differing levels of success. And I wondered if I too would have novels and collections published if I had stuck with it. I concluded that I would. Every friend I have who kept writing, has at least one or two books out. 

I had trained to be a writer and practiced writing for over 20 years, and then dropped out just as I was getting good at it. Crazy! So, I started writing again.

When I rejoined my old writers workshop and wrote some stories, I was rusty and awkward and discouraged and embarrassed to realize that my skill level had fallen ten years behind my peers, a realization that did a better job of urging me to give up than it did of convincing me to write, so I quit – the workshop that is – not the writing.

The moment I stopped trying to perform for the audience, the quantity and quality of my writing skyrocketed. I wrote six or eight new stories and self-published a collection. But the most significant development was diving back into Avenging Glory. And my most gratifying moment since I started writing again was realizing what an exponentially better writer I now am, than that dude who wrote “The Roots of the Soul” twenty years ago.

Friday, 3 August 2018

We Used to Wait

The Arcade Fire song, We Used to Wait, got me thinking about how electronic submission has changed the way we live our lives from day to day. The sweet anticipation has gone missing!

When I first started submitting stories for publication in the 80s, there was a fun element of suspense to the proceedings, once I got four or five stories in circulation. Everything was done by mail. The top publications, like Asimov’s, Alfred Hitchcock’s, Ellery Queen’s and F&SF maintained turnaround times of a few weeks with a maximum of around six weeks. Everything quickly settled into a rhythm, where I was averaging about one response per week. With 10 or 12 stories circulating at any given time, very few weeks went by without getting some sort of response in the mail. Slower publications – usually high end literary magazines and small press magazines, could take as long as six months. Very few publications had longer return times than that, and my stories usually sold before I got to the really slow responding markets.

Checking my mailbox for responses was the high point of my day. All day at work, I would anticipate it, and it quickened my step on the way home. Sure, nine times out of ten it was not good news, but there were just enough acceptances in the mix to keep it exciting. 

When submissions became almost all electronic, the whole dynamic changed. I could check for responses ten times a day.

But a peculiar thing happened at that point; responses gravitated to the extremes. In the 2010s, if you don’t hear back within 48 hours, then it will likely take a month. If you don’t hear back within a month, then it will probably take six months or more. Without sending simultaneous submissions to anyone, you can get rejections from all five top markets, within the first two weeks. Once you hit the second tier though, responses slow to a crawl, often taking six months or a year, if you’re lucky enough to get a response at all.

The mechanics of this puzzled me for a long time, until I realized that as it gets cheaper and easier to submit, all the paying markets are completely swamped with submissions. One and two person operations or juried markets that require four or five people to each read the stories get completely overwhelmed. Many rejected writers are standing by to fire off their next story, the instant they get a rejection…creating a sort of perma-submission situation. So the number of stories or poems in the queue never decreases, and even the one and two day turnaround markets get behind and start taking a week or ten days - until they close to submissions for awhile and catch up.

When you’re waiting two days, it doesn’t seem like a wait at all. The response is in your inbox before you even think of checking. When it takes six months to a year, then checking even once a day is a recipe for frustration. And there’s not much in between. 
Which is why looking for an agent hit a nostalgic note, with me checking my e-mail daily to see if I got a response. Then reality settled in – when the first rejection took two days and I found myself still waiting on the others, several weeks later. Maybe this process will be identical to submitting short stories to publishers. If the answer isn’t in your mailbox within a day or two of hitting the send button, then I’d might as well forget about it.

At least the good old fashioned waiting left something to look forward to.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Let Em Die

Television has always been filled with one hour dramas featuring the full range of modern heroes: doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, soldiers.  Most of them don’t reach too high. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched a show like Criminal Minds or Castle, only to realize partway through that I’d seen it before. Or the number of times I thought I’ve seen it before only to figure out that it was actually new, but the plotline was so tired and overdone that I’d might as well have seen it. Frankly, the lack of imagination bores the hell out of me.

Historical dramas are somewhat better. The best ones find ways to pump new life and new insights into old stories. And stories set in the French court, Victorian England, colonial Africa or the dawn of humankind - depict cultures I’m not overly familiar with. I get a bit irked when someone gets into bed in a medieval castle and their bed linens look like 300 threadcount sheets from WalMart - . Part of making a good historical drama is creating enough verisimilitude to make the viewer feel like they’re there. Either that or throwing it all out the window and doing a Baz Luhrmann-style modern take, putting swordfights and rock n roll on the same palette and using it to paint something flashy out of something that might otherwise just seem tried and true.

My love of the new, the creative, and the exotic starting when I was a kid. And science fiction has always been the best source of that. The ideas are exciting , the milieus are unfamiliar and the story possibilities are endless. But for most of my life, the budget required to do satisfactory worldbuilding for the small screen just hasn’t been there. Early science fiction movies had to either have huge budgets or settle for looking cheesy. Lots of shows settled for aliens that looked very human and spaceships that looked like plastic models on strings. Lots of plotlines cheated by imagining societies that looked like Nazi Germany with different insignias on the uniforms, or the old west with rayguns, or medieval Europe with computers. The stories were often as pedestrian as the sets. I was delighted when CGI came along and allowed producers to create truly science fictional sets, spaceships and aliens. 

Phillip K Dick stories were made into often riveting shows. Realistic looking superhero movies became a possibility and pushed almost everything else out of the theatres. And science fiction series found new ways to cheat. Heroes could be killed off with impunity, because with “time travel,” there’s a “reset” button whenever they need one. Nested realities were cool the first ten times, until writers and showrunners started using it as just another tool to make everything that had come before more or less irrelevant. And all those billions of new stories could be reduced to a few basic storylines, for fear of driving off mainstream viewers.

This is all my very long-winded way of saying how profoundly disappointed I am with the end of season 2 of Westworld.  With everything I loved about the show, they just descended into bafflegab – hoping it would come across with Inception/ Matrix-like cool and profundity - with nested realities that could be used to undo anything they did.

I think that drama only exists because events and actions have stakes. When you hammer a nail through your hand, it hurts and it breaks little bones and tendons and may well prevent that hand from ever working properly again. At the very least, it should leave a scar and hurt like a motherfucker every time it rains. That sort of detail creates a sense of plausibility. When a show – like the first season of Heroes, for instance, captures your imagination and takes you down a road and makes you care about the characters – the last thing they should do, in my opinion is hit the reset button, so those characters that died are no longer dead and the entire story line you’ve invested six or 10 or 40 hours of your life in – becomes moot. 

For me, the need to keep watching hits the same sort of reset switch. I very often find that I lose interest in something the moment that the stakes are taken away. There is no drama when every character you kill off can come back to life, when every battle turns out to be avoidable. Unlike with Heroes, I think Westworld is salvageable. The questions of morality they’re asking are important and relevant. The acting and production values are great. Some of the writing is really good. But it won't be "must watch TV anymore - knowing that anyone who is killed off probably just has a doppleganger in the wings somewhere. Everyone who loves the characters won’t have to suffer the pain and grief of loss.

At least in the hospital dramas and police procedurals, when a character dies, they stay that way. Modern science fiction needs to remember that true poignancy most often comes from dark places.
And death is the darkest place of all. 

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Outlining The Path Ahead

It’s easier to write about stuff when you’re actually going through it – so I’m going to save my blog posts about self-publishing until I am actually back in the throes of doing it. Approach it like a reporter. In fact - that's what I will do with the whole publishing process. 

Ergo, Avenging Glory will be coming out as a novel sometime in the next few years. Whether or not it will be published is not the question - the only question is, how? Traditional, hybrid, or self-published? 

For the first while, I will be exploring the traditional route. If and when I do hit paydirt and start down that path, the process will be considerably longer – most likely entailing the hiring of an agent, the search for a publisher, working with the agent and/or editor on the mss, and then ultimately publishing the book, a pipeline I have been told can go on for as long as three years.

If I self-published the entire project, it could be done in a window as short  as a few days – but since I made the mistake with Psychedelia Gothique of hurrying it to press, I’ve decided to approach it much more experimentally the next time. 

With my current marketing plan, I am going to be self-publishing some titles leading up to the release of my novel.  It would take a major disaster in my life to knock me off course at this point in time. Whichever publishing route I take, the lead up books will almost certainly be self-published story collections containing anywhere from three to six stories – as many as four or five e-books.  So that will give me lots to talk about when the time comes.

But for now, I’m at stage one of the traditional publishing route: finding an agent.

Finding an Agent

Agents typically won’t represent story collections from writers without one hell of a track record.
If you’re another Clive Barker and you show up out of the gate with a massive and brilliant collection of short fiction, or another Harlan Ellison with multiple collections of award winning stories – agents may talk to you and even buy you a drink – but probably only in order to find out if you’re working on something long-form.

So okay. I’m out there with a big fat freaking novel. I have friends who go to writers conventions and other writers events strictly to pitch agents and publishers at various events apparently modeled after the speed-dating fad – or just taking the opportunity to meet agents face to face and pitch their projects. It’s a good method. Most agents pay extra attention to potential clients whose pitches they have already heard. If they give you the go ahead at the event, you will get around barriers. Agents not accepting random E-queries will accept queries, synopses, partials and fulls that they invited at such an event.

Since I don’t get out much to these events – I’ve been looking around for other methods. And am happy to report my discovery of a couple wonderful free tools in AgentQuery.com and QueryTracker.net that give you insights, guidance, encouragement. I’ve just sent off my first handful of queries, mostly to test the waters. I’ve already made a few mistakes and will likely make more.

So, like, this is great – finished today’s blog entry and already have something to talk about next time.

This blog will contain lots of stuff I write for Goodreads, stuff I write for Linked in and other stuff that's not on any of those sites. For instance, if I want to do a random post about why I don't feel that the film, Hereditary, lives up to the hype, I'll do that here.

Hope to see you back here soon - and if you want to deliver the first salvo about Hereditary, please do!

Thursday, 5 July 2018

The Pirates of Publishing

Pirates? Arrrr, matie, pirates! And they’re taking over the publishing world. Hold onto your purse because the publishing waters are full of cutthroats.

With the ever evolving publishing paradigm, the big publishers have closed ranks – so that it’s harder than ever to get in. If you have a phenomenal track record or (or a really big cannon) ... or present them with a book that seems like a sure-fire winner, you may be able to break down the doors. Otherwise, your chances are akin to a dinghy in a hurricane.

So, what options are left for new authors?

Small publishers for long fiction or collections are all looking for breakthrough books. So write a breakthrough book. That was easy, eh?

But even that may not work, if no-one recognizes it as a breakthrough book. And publishers that can see and cultivate the “potential” in unpolished gems disappeared sometime last century. You’ll need your manuscript sharpened like a rapier – which means spending money on it upfront. Like thousands of dollars for editing. That way, you’ll stand a chance at landing one of those $50-100 advances I keep hearing about.

While there’s a measure of truth in that, the best of the small presses sometimes offer advances in the $500-$2000 range and pay generous royalties. Many of the good ones are supported by arts funding and are restricted to “literary” works only. A few genre houses have really nice covers and publish a good number of titles per year (anything over 20 is a red flag – more on that below). But even the best of these publishers are understaffed, underpaid, and overworked. They may or may not put your book out on schedule, send review copies, include you in their publishing catalogue or offer the kind of distribution you’ve been led to expect. They may go out of business tomorrow. The best small publishers are the ones that sincerely do everything in their power to help your book succeed. If they fail, you can at least come away feeling that you made a good choice of publisher.

The worst of them? Well, don’t get me started. Oh, yeah. I’ve already started. So fine. The very worst ones buy lots and lots of titles – a flotilla of titles, if you will. So that your book will be buried deeper than any pirate treasure – and often unfindable even on their website. They often pay royalties only, with no advance (although those $50 – 100 advance companies are out there). Most publish only e-books because they don’t want even the expense of preparing them for print on demand. Basically, they buy anything that has any chance of catching on, put in minimal work (although again – some do nice covers – because good covers can help sell almost anything). In one writer’s experience, they listed all their many books alphabetically in their online catalogue, so that books starting with a T (as in The) would be right at the end of their list of new books – ie: the second or third page of the website... and that “ unless someone went looking for it, it wasn't noticeable. Note to writers: Pick a title that starts with an up-front letter!!” I imagine it working like the old telephone yellow pages – where the best spots in the listing can be secured by those with the foresight to call their books 101010023 Miles from Earth or Aardvark Aliens of Alpha 3.

I think it’s important to note that some of these publishers started off with good intentions, but ended up keelhauling the very authors they set out to help. Writers who get into these publishing mills lose their rights; the faith in themselves; their faith in the system; and, possibly, their sense that being a writer was a good idea in the first place. In other words, be careful. Do not sell all rights (including movie and subsidiary rights) for eternity. Don’t get so excited about actually selling a book that you fail to notice what a bad contract you’re signing. If you just can’t resist, then at least, make sure there is a rights reversion clause in your contract (so that if the book doesn’t sell a certain amount, you get all your rights back on request). 

In the next blog entry, I’ll talk about hybrid publishers and self publishing.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

A Field Guide to Small Publishers

Type 1: Small Press - non-paying, token paying & low paying markets for fiction, article, reviews, poetry, and art.

 I have seen writers and artists get angry at non-paying markets, as if their very existence is an affront! If you are one of those, then please - stop being such an asshole. Sure, writers wanting to give their work away for free can just do it on Wattpad. But, especially when you're first starting out, there’s something nice about having your work selected for inclusion by an actual editor. There is credibility and validation in having your publication at least “juried” by a third party. And every once in a while, works from those publications get singled out for further honours and/or republished in paying markets.

For those who consider those markets beneath them – remember that the publishers and editors of those publications are most likely making less than you. Yes – less than zero ie: paying all expenses out of pocket. Many small press magazines are classic “labours of love.”  

Printing and postage both cost money – more money than a magazine or anthology will likely earn back through any combination of ad revenues and issue sales/subscriptions. If they sold every issue for full price, it probably wouldn’t recover their hard costs. If they charged enough to do that, no one would buy it because it’s too freaking expensive.

Even online magazines have to pay for their url – plus webhosting, design, insurance, maintenance etc.. Most have small readerships (200 subscribers is very good – and most of those are fellow writers artists and publishers). Many publishers do all the work themselves: reading, copy editing; layout, typesetting; administration, interacting with the community; doing publicity; keeping the subscriber list updated; and responding to submissions. Most publications that survive, do so because they’ve been able to round up a legion of volunteers to read; update sections of the magazine, represent them at functions and so on.

One to three cent a word markets are usually ones where the publishers, usually writers themselves – either have big ambitions, or so strongly desire respect in the marketplace – that they put themselves in debt to get it. From having once co-run a small press genre magazine that paid 2 cents per word, I can pretty much promise you that no editors have ever gotten rich off your labours. In fact, all these markets are paying a lot for our deathless prose – with their faith in your work – and the labour they expend to create a good venue for your work. 

The quality of those publications is often governed by the fact that established writers don’t usually work for free, so you’ll usually be in the company of newbies. If you don’t like it, then don’t go there, but the publishers and editors of those publication deserve medals more than they deserve your scorn or ridicule.

There is one other notable type of non-paying short story and poetry market. The literary/arts magazines – which are usually non-profit. The publishers and editors are sometimes paid – at least with honorariums. And grants often pay for printing and distribution.  These publications are often works of art unto themselves – and their purpose is to provide a showcase – a credit on your bibliography that will impress other writers and editors. What they don’t pay in cash, they pay in prestige…perhaps not your cuppa tea, but a very legitimate form of payment for many struggling authors and artists.

When it comes to long fiction markets – all the rules change. That’s where you really need to start looking out for yourself. My next blog entry will be dedicated to that very subject.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Exploring Publishing Options: Part 1 - The Traditional Route

As I get closer to completing Avenging Glory,  you’d think I would have the path ahead mapped out.

After all, I’ve been writing for decades, have researched the markets exhaustively, have lots of friends who are published authors, and know a few publishers and agents personally.

But the truth is, only a few of those people I know are happy with the paths they’ve taken. And number of people who used to be happy, are no longer satisfied. The number of potential routes have multiplied to the point where it’s fair to say that all or any of us can get published – but hardly any of us will get noticed outside our circles of friends, or adequately paid for all the hard work we’ve put in. Many of the publishers are flying by the seat of their pants. Or doing it as a labour of love. And there are almost as many publishing models out there as there are publishers.

Before submitting the book to major publishers, I need to think seriously about getting an agent. There are publishers who accept over-the-transom queries and submissions, but it would be good to have someone (an agent), who is known by the publishers, pitching and negotiating on my behalf. If a book has impressed an established agent, publishers are more easily persuaded that taking a look might be worth their while, and on the off-chance that one of them does show an interest, it would be good to have someone knowledgeable, and maybe a little bit money hungry, negotiating on my behalf.

For my first time ever with a novel (I’ve had a few short stories I’ve felt this way about), I’m not the least bit worried that this book isn’t good enough to get picked up by a major publisher. But the quality of a given book is only part of what traditional publishers are looking for. Whether or not any of those publishers decide to take a chance on a first novel by a late career writer is another story. This is where I’m thankful for Jeff Vandermeer for showing that it can be done. But Jeff’s career has been much more illustrious and prolific than mine from the get-go – so while he may have opened the door a crack, I still have to come knocking with a novel that’s good enough to open that door the rest of the way. And not many writers have the ability to create something audacious and well-written enough to do the trick. Riding the zeitgeist is harder than riding a mechanical bull dialed up to 11. And just because one veteran writer managed to hold on, doesn’t make it any easier for the next one.

Not that I’m putting my book in the same league, but we’ve all heard the stories about works of genius like Confederation of Dunces – which took decades and miraculous patience to find a publisher (from the authors mother after he committed suicide) – or even huge bestsellers like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – which went out to over a dozen publishers before finding a buyer. There are undoubtedly countless good novels that never managed to make it to print at all! And as fraught with hazards as the process of finding a publisher was in the late 20th century, it’s almost certainly much harder today – with more competition and fewer publishers than ever – and on top of that, most publishers are less willing to take chances!

In the end, all the sizable publishers have their eyes on the bottom line – which encompasses not just breakout potential but follow-up potential – and no one has ever accused me of being prolific, so it seems unlikely that I will turn on a dime and suddenly start churning books out – although I may have a few surprises in store – in fact, I promise I do.

But before I start tilting at those particular windmills, I have to ask myself, “Do I really want to go there?”

I’ve never had much success in the American mainstream or genre markets. Other than a nod, a wink, or an acknowledgement here or there (mostly from American writers as opposed to publishers), most of the success I have had is with Canadian small publishers. No matter how exceptional this particular novel may be, throwing myself at the same markets that have been blithely turning me away for 40 years, seems like a recipe for disaster. Their expectations –based on my publishing history – are likely to be quite limiting. Getting turned down by a succession of agents and/or publishers is unlikely to boost my self-confidence. 
I just have to cling to the conviction that it may well have little to do with the quality of the book. It may be better to write under a non de plume and hope to be “discovered.”

On the astronomical chance that my tactics (whichever ones I use) actually work, what then? A multi-book deal? Hmmm. I’ve known too many exceptional writers who have been published by established genre publishers and been totally trapped in the mid-list – working in every spare minute to produce to unreasonable deadlines and expected to outperform the previous book each time out, in the face of decreasing support from the publisher, distributors, bookstores. Print less, sell more! Yikes! Charles Dickens would blanch. I can’t count the number of writers I know who have been trapped in this sort of puzzle box, with grave concerns about promotion, distribution, and the publisher’s dedication to helping their books succeed. It’s really hard to keep their careers going as publishers “cut back.” And what large publishers these days are not cutting back?

Writers picked up by big “mainstream” and or venerated “literary” houses seem to do far better on average than those picked up by genre houses. Small publishers can be a good entry point for prolific or early career writers – but the quality of their books vary widely – as does their power in the marketplace. Small genre houses are another story, since even the best of them tend to get nothing but disdain from the literary elite. There is nothing any of those publishers can do in the face of that disheartening phenomenon, except keep publishing the best work they can find and watch as their more successful authors are poached by the bigger players.

Prolific small publishers don’t seem as well regarded as the more selective ones. And many of them expect the Earth, the Sun and the Moon for an e-mail handshake and “future royalties.” Uh huh. And then they’ll add it to their website as one of the 22 books they’re “publishing” this month. There are so many good writers hoping to see their works in print by any means, that these pirates on the Sea of Crushed Dreams have no trouble filling their slots (no doubt by killing off the galley slaves they’ve already been bleeding dry for months or years).

I have been cautioned in the past by some well and fairly well-published friends about taking the self-publication route with a first novel. And I have seen for myself – as a consumer, a writer, a publisher and a competition judge, that there is automatically less respect given to projects that are clearly self-published. Funding bodies like Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council regard self-published work with more than a little suspicion.

But the world is definitely changing – it keeps changing and changing and changing. What was wrong 2 years ago is going to be right 20 minutes from now (maybe for a duration of about 20 minutes). All of which leads me to believe, quite strongly, that there are no wrong or right answers, approaches, philosophies or attitudes.

All any of us can do is apply some of the lessons and methods we have learned in our lives, and hope we’re using them right, and that maybe we stumble onto some new and effective ways of doing things.

I’ve seen as many examples recently of people getting rich from self-published projects as the folks who have entered the front ranks through traditional publishing routes.

So what conclusions have I come to? Well, none yet, to tell the truth.
Every publication route out there has major problems and concerns. And entering into a traditional contract with traditional publishers in the traditional way – seems like the least promising and least rewarding conceivable path for those who aren’t already among the acclaimed new voices in any field. For some writers, they’re perfect, but for the rest of us, there’s probably a better way.

So my first step is going to be getting the novel in the best shape I can get it into – then simply putting something out there in the pre-publication stages in an attempt to create a buzz. With the advent of print-on-demand, I think I can come up with some pretty snazzy looking galleys and beta-versions that I can send to a select group of readers, critics, publishers, agents, random readers, tv studios. (Anyone who’s interested can drop me a line – through the comment section –  although I will definitely be selective, since each pre-publication copy represents money out of pocket for me.) I’d like to fuck around a bit with the process – produce galleys and beta-copies with different covers (future collectors items, should miracles happen). If I’m going to do a marketing experiment, it makes sense to do it with a book that I feel genuinely has the potential to take off. That way, if I do stumble into something brilliant – I’ll be in a position to reap the rewards.

And if it doesn’t take off – I’ll have one of the most interesting failed vanity projects around – and some really nice copies of a book that I’m genuinely proud of. (May even be able to sell enough of them to make my money back). Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Please stay tuned for future developments.