Tuesday, January 10, 2006

History - Part 2: The Rollercoaster Ride

Let’s recap: write, live, query, rejection, friendly introduction, manuscript submission, wait, wait, write, forget, wait, Starbucks, phone call, book sale, excitement, alone.

Okay, I wasn’t alone forever. In fact I called several friends and family members before I even got up from the table. And you can bet the next day at work I spread the news. One of my best friends had my favorite response when I told her the news. She said:

“What? Really?” Like she didn’t believe me. “That’s…uh…that’s great.” She did mean it, she was just surprised…not sure what that says about her confidence in me. But I’d rather not dwell on that now.

The next couple of months were spent working on rewrites based on notes I got from Ugly Town. The cool thing was that instead of waiting a full year for publication, they wanted my book to come out that following October or November, and in hardback no less. That meant working fast.

By May, the book was already so much better than the original draft I sent them. Also around that time, Jim sent me the first pass on the cover. It was awesome. It made everything seem that much more real.

June was spent doing some small tweaks, going on a research trip for the next book and visiting New York for a day-job related conference. As we got into July, communication with Ugly Town became less frequent. Finally there came a point where I wasn’t receiving any responses at all to my emails and occasion phone call. I knew then that something was up. And for some reason, I had an idea what it was. It wasn’t going to be good.

In early August, they finally called me. I was right. The news wasn’t good. It seems the previous year their then distributor went bankrupt. They had since signed on with another distributor, but the bankruptcy hit them harder than they first wanted to admit. (There was a short article in Publisher’s Weekly in October about this.) They had told me they decided they had to suspend operations for a while. What this meant was they were taking almost everything off their calendar. They were still excited about my book, though, and still wanted to find a way to bring it out. They decided to push my pub date back until spring of 2006, but I knew even that was sketchy. They’d know more later.

I was depressed by the news, but not surprised. My friend Derek had a similar experience, only instead of the distributor going bankrupt it was the publisher. His book never came out. This story was in the back of my mind even before Ugly Town called me.

If you asked me then, I would have said there was probably less than a 10% chance my book was going to be published. From feeling like I’d finally broken through, I was suddenly thinking I was back outside looking in. I didn’t blame Ugly Town, of course. They were trying to do their best. They genuinely love the material they work with. And their intentions have always been good. But what has been well documented is that it is very difficult for small publishers to survive. (A disclaimer is needed here. Ugly Town is by no means out of business yet. I think they are still working out what their next step should be. I hope they find a way to make things work. They put out such great stuff.)

The timing of the decision to put things on hold was also bad for another reason - well, I guess the timing of this kind of thing would always be bad. At the end of August, only a few weeks after the phone call, I was scheduled to go to Bouchercon in Chicago. I wasn’t really sure what to do. But after talking with Jim, I decided I’d still go. I would take the attitude that my book was still coming out. In fact, I decided I’d do more than take the attitude, somehow I would make it happen.

Bouchercon was an eye opener. It was amazing being around all these other writers. I met Barry Eisler, James O. Born, Sean Doolittle and J.A. Konrath. (James gave me a hard time for reading one of Barry’s books before a session…I think he said something like, “That book sucks. And you can tell Barry I said that.” It was my first exposure to Born-humor.) I attended seminar after seminar, some better than others, but all good. One of the most important talks I attended was unfortunately relegated to a small room and only 30 minutes. It was the marketing seminar paneled by Barry Eisler, Sean Doolittle and Jason Starr. There was something Barry said that really stuck with me. It’s also on his website which I checked out later. “Recruiting Your Publisher.” Basically he talked about getting your publisher excited about your book and on your side. (If you’re a writer and don’t know what I’m talking about, check it out. The link to Barry’s site is in the right hand column, then go to the bottom of his home page and click on the “For Writers” link. It’ll be under the Marketing section.)

As I continued to think about it after the conference, I realized it was exactly what I needed to do. Only I needed to put my own twist on it. I needed to convince Ugly Town that not only was my book worth publishing, but also worth staying in business for. So I immediately set about doing several things. The first was doing another complete revision on the manuscript. The second, and perhaps most important at the time, was the creation of a marketing plan for Hung Out to Die. It ended up being over twenty pages long, and was only what I would consider a first draft. But a lot of research went into the different ideas. I talked about reviews, radio, guerilla tactics, bookseller contacts. I even had a couple of ideas that could be considered long-shot “out-of-the-box” kind of things, but definitely worth a try.

I sent it to them before the end of September, and it definitely made an impression. I don’t know if it had anything to do with what happened next or not, but I guess it didn’t hurt. In the past, Ugly Town had sold mass paperback rights to other publishers. (Ugly Town’s own publications are either hardback or trade paperback.) Apparently they were talking to one of their contacts about some of the novels they had. Mine was one of them. I think, though I don’t know this for sure, mine was the only one that hadn’t been previously released by Ugly Town. Their contact was interested enough in HOTD to read the first three chapters, then interested enough to ask for a complete manuscript.

This was right around the time of the West Hollywood Book Fair in the park across from the Pacific Design Center. Ugly Town had already purchased a booth for the event, so despite their problems, they decided to still attend. The book fair was located maybe fifteen minutes from where I live. So I brought my updated manuscript to them to send off. As a side note, there was also one panel Ugly Town was in charge of presenting. They were a little short on panelist, so they asked if I wanted to sit in. It was kind of fun. My very first panel. We had maybe a dozen people at the high point, and one drunk in the front row asking really bizarre questions – note the panel was at around 10:00 a.m.

When the day was done, the Ugly Town guys took my manuscript with them and sent it off.

And another waiting game began…

(NEXT: History – Part 3: An Unexpected Ending)

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