Saturday, November 10, 2007

Reading unpublished manuscripts

Recently I read about a Print On Demand author, Jeremy Robinson, who had signed with a traditional publishing house, Breakneck Books of N.H. His novel was selling well as a POD, and a literary agency noticed and offered to represent him. Sounds almost too good to be true, but I verified the results on Amazon. Both the original POD book (Lulu) and its reincarnation from Breakneck are available. The book is fast-paced and deals with Christianity's origins. A major writer, James Rollins, liked the story, and Robinson got Rollins to write a blurb for the inside cover of the book. Apparently, Rollins' endorsement did wonders for getting readers to buy it.

I tried this approach a couple of years ago with my revised screenplay about Thomas Paine. I managed to get Nathaniel Branden to agree to read it, but I suspect he did so believing I was the other George Smith, the author of books on atheism and the one he knew. His email reply was friendly when he assumed I was his former acquaintance, but when I corrected him his next reply was quite distant and terse. I got the impression he regretted agreeing to read it.

I went ahead and mailed it to him and within a week I got a disheartening reply, again very short, congratulating me on writing a screenplay and wishing me luck with my project. Other than admitting he couldn't verify the history behind the story, that was it. He didn't say anything I could use for sell copy. I figure either he didn't read it or he read it and thought it wasn't worthy of his support.

As harsh as that experience was, I still think it's an excellent way to get noticed. Robinson's experience testifies to that. I've already approached two people about reading JR$, either of whom would be in a position to help me get published. Unfortunately, the first one hasn't replied to my request and probably never will. The second one replied the same day with a very polite and encouraging note saying he didn't have time to read my story.

So I look for others who could help. But as I do, I start imagining no one reads anything anymore, other than short articles. To be is to be in video. Even Amazon offers the option of posting reviews in video rather than writing. And if it's not video it's audio. Notice the popularity of books in audio. I go a little crazy with these thoughts. But of those people who know me, only my wife has actually read my manuscript. Everyone else is too busy. Too busy watching videos or TV. Or listening to their iPods.

Nevertheless, I must push ahead, and I must continue to think of creative ways to get the book out to the public. One thought I had was to publish the prolog and first three chapters on the web, then give readers the option of buying the whole thing in PDF for a low price. If I coupled that with an endorsement, I might make some sales. For an endorsement I could select a famous name and seek him or her out in person with my manuscript in hand. It's hard to refuse someone when he's standing in front of you with pages in one hand and a gun in the other. Ha, ha.

At any rate, I can't give up. I can't wait for an editor to come to supper and by chance read the manuscript, as happened to Margaret Mitchell.


confidante said...

Chanced upon your blog. Print on Demand Books - Lulu - publishing the first three chapters of your ms - Do you think this is going to be the trend in future publishing? Just curious

George said...

Not sure about future trends. Most writers think they want to be published only to discover what they really wanted was to be read. Paying a company like Lulu or iUniverse to print copies of one's manuscript to give to friends and family may be initially satisfying but unless it leads to sales . . . So, I don't know what the future will bring. It's up to writers to make that future. I recall some web service sponsoring a new Stephen King novel in installments some years ago but I believe it was a flop commercially. Not sure why. My guess is people expect things in cyberspace to be free, and when they're not they go elsewhere.

A new writer has to be at least as creative in marketing as in writing.

Selling a PDF version of your ms online might be fruitful but it would be difficult to protect against piracy. Keeping the price low would help, but it's no guarantee you won't lose substantial sales. Years ago I marketed a shareware software package and heard about its proliferation in places for which I had no record of sales. And the price was so low a number of registered users sent me more than I asked because they felt guilty paying so little. At the moment, at least, I think traditional publishing is the best way, but it's also the most difficult for untested writers.

Years ago, I interviewed novelist Taylor Caldwell on the subject of writing. One of her more common sense points was that editors are always looking for new talent because that's how they make money. The market, in other words, is only crowded at the bottom, not the top. Another writer I know has been busy writing articles to get name recognition, at the advice of an editor who rejected her novel about Nathan Hale. Joanne K. Rowling had a dream and is now living it -- way beyond it -- but apparently she's very talented, though I've never read any of her Harry Potter books.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.