Tuesday, August 30, 2005


The fascinating thing about bloggers is how seriously many of them take themselves. I have been treated wonderfully by some and like dirt by others. Exchanging links, for example: some folks will swap links if you ask. Others want to check out what you're writing. That seems fair. Others won't even answer an email. And we're not talking about famous published authors, we're talking about people who's only claim to fame is their blog.

Mistress Matisse will not be sending me a Christmas card. She did send me a nasty email about "spamming" her because I had sent her a virtual press release announcing Beyond You & Me hitting the 40,000 visitor plateau. Now, I get notices like this, and don't think too much about it. And since MM and I are both in sort of related fields (sex), well, I figured she might even be interested in exchanging links. But I suppose I shouldn't expect politeness and flowers from a professional dominatrix. Scary stuff, but who am I to judge?

Now, I understand when people come to you with offers to link to sites that are wildly inappropriate to mine. Because Beyond You & Me is partly about sex, I get offers from porn sites to link or even join their affiliate referral service. For those of you who don't know, an affiliate referrer sends traffic to your for-pay site. If they sign up, you pay the referrer a commission. I'm not particularly interested, and so I don't know if I should write the porn sites back, or ignore them. The former risks sounding conceited, the latter risks being rude.

Not sure which is the lesser of two evils.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

A Small Press Publisher Chimes In

James Chapman, whom some of you may remember from an earlier post, is the publisher of Fugue State Press, a self-proclaimed niche publisher. He has expanded on my list from the previous post with one of his own:

3.5 Watch as the agent requires small changes be made in the book (i.e. "cut the length by half," "combine these three characters into one," "raise the stakes on the ending.")

5. Watch as the editor at the mainstream publishing house requires that small changes be made in the book (see above). Decide whether to resist this, then cave in and produce a more commercial, smooth book that is not really your own.

6. Enjoy publication day, enjoy lovely reviews.

7. Marvel at the speed with which the book is put out of print, because it only sold in the low thousands.

8. Marvel at the speed with which you are dropped by the publisher because your editor moved on to another house and you have no political support within the firm any longer.

9. Look at the book you made in collaboration with these gentlemen publishers. Hold it in your hand. Flip through it. Realize that you don't even recognize it as your own.

10. Wonder what it all means. Wonder if there's a better way. (There is.)

As long as your book isn't about sex....

Chapman then goes on to say:

I think you've already considered and rejected my "other way," which is to start your own press. It just seems to me you have a lot of skills in promoting things, and could take all the time and effort you're spending in knocking on locked doors, and use it to slightly change the history of literature. Put out your own book and a few others that you admire, and you may find it hard to understand why you ever wanted to let businesspeople take hold of your work.

But almost nobody I ever tell this to ever takes me up on it. I understand why. But don't forget it's a real option, and it does work.

This option has crossed my mind, though the learning curve would be steep. Yes, I'm clearly a whiz at marketing, but publishing is much more than simply getting people to notice you. There are practical matters, including finding other authors to publish, the craft of publishing (ISBN numbers, distributors, etc.) and the real nitty-gritty: fulfillment. In other words, what happens when all those people send you money and expect to get books in return? Who stuffs them into envelopes, prints out and attaches the address labels, carts them to the post office, etc.

I'm not afraid of rolling up my sleeves and getting involved. It's just I didn't think I'd have to take off my clothes, too.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

What's It All About, Cross???

Todd Moser at Chasing the American Dream asks in a comment here:

So how DOES one get published anyway?

The man asks a reasonable question.

The usual method is:

1.) Write book (fiction) or book proposal (non-fiction). In both cases, it helps to be famous or infamous. In the case of non-fiction, you can also be an expert in some arcane field of inquiry.

2.) Send same to agent. In the case of a novel, most agents only want to see a query. What's a query, you ask? It's a short (usually one-page) description of your story. The query for Beyond You & Me reads as follows:

Beyond You & Me is a novel-in-diary-form that tells the story of Cassie DiMarco, an astonishing young woman struggling within the stultifying restraints of a boring conventional life as the wife of a Yale graduate student in 1975. The 110,000 word manuscript is partly a ride through the erotic house of mirrors we call the 70s, partly a journey of self-discovery that recounts her affair with a handsome European undergraduate.

Cassie tells her story in an easy, direct manner that's not unlike a modern blog. Younger readers will relate to this, and older ones will remember their own struggles navigating the shoals of the Sexual Revolution. The novel is based an actual journal loaned to the author by the real "Cassie DiMarco" (on condition her identity remains a secret). Illustrated with dozens of beautiful, high-quality art nudes, the novel's controversial love scenes will scandalize readers as Cassie makes her way around the erotic banquet she's stumbled into with both men and women.

The novel chronicles a young woman gaining personal awareness through the dawning Women's Movement to free herself from the painful aftermath of the affair. With this new-found strength, she is able to find the life she both wants and deserves. Readers of both genders will root for Cassie as she tries valiantly at first to integrate the two men into her life, then empathize with her loss, first of her lover, then her husband. Forced to overcome her grief alone, she finally subdues her demons, leaves the wasteland of academia, and finds the life she’s always wanted in New York.

The novel's structure is a classic three-character play, and will make an easy transition to a motion picture.

3.) Agent agrees to represent you. This happened to me once before. Needless to say, agents don't always deliver. But when they can, their next step is:

4.) Sell publishing rights to mainstream publisher. Then nirvana happens, you're a successful author, you can smoke a pipe and wear tweedy jackets.

In truth, the way to getting published is quite varied, and we'll look at some others in the next post.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Nobody Nastier than another Writer

For some months I've been hanging out in the "Speakeasy" section of the Poets & Writers website. The magazine Poets & Writers is one of those earnest efforts to go behind-the-scenes of the literary writing community. And any pub that talks about poets and poetry has GOT to be looked on favorably. Remember that poetry was once seen as the highest form of human endeavor. Look at Wordsworth or Keats if you doubt me. Now, poetry's mostly consigned to women and Hallmark Cards. Of course, Janet Holmes, a friend, recently became the target of a smear campaign over awarding poetry publication prizes, so there's life in the old metered verse after all!

Anyway, I posted something over in their "Writers Websites" section about how Beyond You & Me is about to pass the 40,000 hit mark. Needless to say, someone felt the urge to say "you can't sell first time rights to your novel if you've published it on the web," and "I don't think this shameless plug belongs here."

Thanks, considering you don't know what you're talking about. If publishing excerpts of something meant you couldn't sell first-time rights any longer, then it wouldn't be a strategy of most literary writers to get their stories published in literary magazines. Selling first time rights just means no one else can publish it until you do. Excerpting part of the novel is not the same.

But this isn't the only example. Ask a favor if you want to clear a room full of writers. I have written several dozen Yale alumni about blurbing my book, and every single one has told me how terribly busy they are. Well, yeah, we're all busy.

What is it about writers that we think we're God's gift to humanity and we know everything? Where is the lack of generosity of spirit one finds in other professions or from strangers? Is it the instinct to shrink from human contact for the solitude of our writing desks? Or does the profession attract the selfish and churlish?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

No Indignation Like The Indignation of a Whore

I got excited about a tiny publisher known as Fugue State Press. Their website eschews giving formal submission guidelines, preferring to paint an impressionistic picture of what the editor is looking for:

We'd love to see a book that's like an artifact, elemental, less like storytelling literature, more like dirt or air.

OK, that's a little vague, though certainly colorful. I don't know of any books that are like dirt, other than when I worked in Classic Books in the basement of the World Trade Center and we sold the book from the WGBH TV series "Victory Garden." I remember a college professor who once said a really great novel was like getting a wound that you carried around for days or weeks, so instinctively I responded to this description, especially the next sentence:

We often enjoy prose that's broken, writing in which the flaws are obvious and grow out of emotional necessity. Writing that's clearly different because its author is different.

Well, shit fire and save matches! as my mother says. What writer doesn't think they're different? And one of the criticisms of Beyond You & Me has been the sometimes imperfect prose of its narrator. Cassie's wracked with agony about the break-up of her relationship with her lover, S. So naturally her prose is often stressed and imperfect, occasionally boiling over into brokenness.

Well, I fired off a query to the publisher, but was turned down flat. Seems the subject matter is about sex, and he's anti-sex. Not anti-sex like Christian evangelicals, but anti-sex in our culture. Feels it's something that he doesn't like and doesn't want in the books he publishes. He wrote me two very lovely emails that compared what I'm doing to Laurence Durrell, D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and of course, the previously reviled Anais Nin. He's ambivalent at best about "a kind of decadent sexual obsession [being] the basis of a lot of the great literature of the last century. (not, again, to stupidly pigeonhole your work.) It's certainly what drives Prakash Kona in his 'streets that smell of dying roses.' It's just the reality quotient that's different."

Great company to be in, though I don't know what a "reality quotient" is, and I've never read Prakash Kona. Still, I was flattered the editor went on to say he's not putting down my work. He could've just said "it stinks, go away." Is "sexual obsession" the proper description for those four writers (and by extension, me)? Durrell's work (particularly "The Alexandria Quartet" series of novels) does concern people who might be described as "decadent." Jews, Greeks, half-castes, expatriots living in Alexandria, Egypt before Nassar came to power and expelled them, destroying what some have described as a wonderfully tolerant and erudite culture. But obsession? Hmmm. Yes, there is a lot of coupling in various forms.

D. H. Lawrence did by the end of his life become identified with a cult of sexuality, especially after the publication of his scandalous Lady Chatterly's Lover. Women in Love and The Fox are also concerned with erotic relationships. But there's precious little explicit sex in either (more innuendo than anything). No, the emphasis is on "relationship" and power struggles, as in the Sapphic overtones of the trio whose interactions are described in the novella-length The Fox.

Miller and Nin are more markedly focused on sex, but not for sex's sake. Both viewed sexual expression and a way of freeing the soul from the restraints of social convention. But their "obsession" seems no more odd or remarkable than Philip Roth's or John Updike's. Isn't much of Western fiction about the struggles between men and women? And isn't the bedroom one of the battlefields that up until the 20th Century was largely off-limits to storytellers?

Still, his comments made me wonder if the acceptance of Beyond You & Me in the erotica community is obscuring other aspects of the novel? Remember, I never thought of myself as writing erotica, just literary fiction with good sex scenes. So there's a risk, one I'm aware of, that erotica will become smut or even pornography to some agents and/or editors.

To make my confusion more pronounced, there was the negative reaction of a fellow web denizen when I wrote what she decided was an insufficiently laudatory review of her website. "You never said anywhere that you liked it," she complained. Well, I sort of thought mentioning it favorably was enough.

Seems like there's no easy balance between sex and seriousness.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Sorry, nothing personal, a business decision

Jennifer, some woman I don't know at Search4Blogs sent me an email saying:


I needed to contact you about your blog 'Beyond You & Me' that you have listed in our "Writers Blog" category.

We had to remove all the links at our site that has [sic] adult content and your site has adult content so we will need to delete your blog from our data base.

Please remove our link from your site since your blog will be deleted from our data base.

This is nothing persoanal[sic], just a business decision we had to make.

Thank you,

Honey, I didn't need more than a second to delete any link to you gutless folk who can't spell or make your verb tenses agree. We're not talking pornography here, we're talking adult content. So, since it's nothing personal, I hope Search4Blogs withers and blows away. Nothing personal, just business. That's what Salazzo the Turk told Michael Corleone about why he tried to kill Michael's father in "The Godfather."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Print on Demand: one author's story

The nearly always fascinating and almost never dull Miss Snark pointed me over to Jamie Boud's novel-flogging blog The Known Universe as an example of guerilla marketing for the POD book Envy the Rain.

With the conventional publishing industry a closed loop, it's not surprising that writers are turning to unconventional means of getting their books in the hands of people who want to read them. Over and over I hear from agents who say "I wasn't sufficiently excited by your book to undertake the struggle of representing it in today's challenging fiction marketplace." Translation: "it's a bugger selling most fiction these days, so I'm not going to flog anything I don't love."

I can appreciate that. If it's going to take 6-8 months to place the damn thing, you don't want to admit to your agent and editor friends you're peddling a book about the mating habits of perverted monkeys. Not great cocktail party chatter.

The fact is, many agents won't even touch fiction, and the majority of titles most of them are promoting on their websites are non-fiction. That doesn't mean novels aren't getting published, but it's not a market for the faint-hearted. So writers either accept the verdict of the marketplace-- or they don't. This writer isn't prepared to throw in the towel just yet.

And yes, it has crossed my mind: if Miss Snark is hanging out here, why hasn't she asked to represent Beyond You & Me? Good question. Presumably she's not going to rush in where 756 of her colleagues have refused to tread.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Same Old, Same Old?

New publishing ventures are showing up all the time. Gracie Passette, who says she's a veteran of the sex biz, has created at least two new sites for peddling erotica. One is Sex Kitten, the other Tit-Elation.com. To read more about the latter, go to:


Now my dilemma is: what should I do with Beyond You & Me?

1. There's the e-book route, but most folks in publishing insist e-books aren't REAL books (I guess they eat quiche or something that makes them less real).

2. There's printing it myself and selling it on-line. My garage filled with books.

3. There's POD (iUniverse and other "print when you've sold a copy" services).

4. Then there are new, start-up operations like Gracie's.

One problem with the e-books is their ghastly covers: in an effort to save money, it appears many of them resort to graphics that look like they were scammed off a video game. Laura Croft as nude bodice-ripper heroine?

If it's true, as Miss Snark maintains, that agents and publishers are clueless about what will SELL (as opposed to what they LIKE), then should I follow my capitalist instincts and go with the new technologies. After all, at least the book would be out there in print.

Or is an e-book not really in print?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Do Good Books Always Find a Publisher?

The lovely Mr. Jakubowski wanted me to feel better, so he finished his letter turning down Beyond You & Me by saying that "good books always find a publisher." Of course, that isn't always true, but it's a fiction we all need to believe in. The process isn't made any easier by publishers and their changing wants and desires.

James Pannell of Brook Street Press in Georgia wrote me three months after I submitted on-line to him to say that "we have decided, in the past month, that we will concentrate our efforts on building a backlist of reissued out-of-print novels by several established authors. We believe that this will provide a strong foundation for the company. At some point we may return to considering new fiction, and the risks associated with them [sic]."

Sort of like changing the rules in the middle of the game, isn't it?

But it's his right to do so. And the good news is that it was an email submission, so no money or effort wasted printing up something and mailing it off to him. Yet it's annoying to say the least that publishers feel it's OK to change direction after you've already sent them something. If they were thinking about making a change, why not let us know on the website?

The good news is that more and more small publishers are building websites. If the company is only putting out books by left-handed dead presidents, don't waste my time and yours.

In the end, though, there's that nagging question: if a book is good, wouldn't it find a publisher pretty easily? The implication in all this is that books without ready access to a publisher are somehow less-than-good, right? Or am I thinking too much?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Miss Snark Weighs In

Miss Snark is supposedly a pseudononymous NY literary agent blogging away in the blogosphere. I say "supposedly," not out of any disrespect. She's never boring, sometimes quite funny, yet I have no idea if she's a real agent or not. With blogging, no one is carding us or checking references. She left a comment that got me to thinking:

Fuck em.

Agents who think that writers talking/blogging about how loathsome agents can be is a sign there is something wrong with the WRITERS is nuts.

I've heard some horror stories.
I've probably perpetrated a few myself.
Publishing could do with more transparency.

Blog on!

Thanks, MS. It did cross my mind that perhaps I ought to take this site down after the English editor of the new Neon imprint, Maxim Jakubowski, gave me that advice in the post beneath this. But you see, I didn't go looking for the nasty email from Jack Scovil that started it all, other than by sending him an electronic press release. Last I heard, there are "twit" filters to block emails you don't want. I suppose I shouldn't name names, but why not? I've already gone through over 700 agents so far, so it's not like I'm going to gain anything by keeping quiet. And Mr. Jakubowski has made it clear he's not going to offer a contract for Beyond You & Me because "the structure [i] too episodic and the writing a tad clumsy and self-conscious."

OK, you didn't like it, that's fair. Will I sound petulant to point out that it's supposed to be a journal, so that means it's going to be episodic by definition. And the writing's deliberately clumsy, because the narrator is 24 and writing a private journal.

So much for verisimilitude.

But that's OK, I bear no ill will to Mr. Jakubowski for turning down the novel, it's not his cup of tea. And I'm sure he meant well offering me advice to tone things down and not rock the boat. Publishing's a small world, and difficult authors get known.

I must confess what puzzles me about this whole process is a determination by some agents to turn down something that has a pre-sold audience. I appreciate that there is, as yet, no way to measure that audience, but attendance at the site has topped 33,000 and is still climbing. Comments continue to be left by people I wouldn't know from Adam or Eve, and other bloggers continue to link to the site without being asked.

So what's the answer? I don't know. POD? A small press? One of the sex sites is going to be launching its own line or erotica books shortly. And then there's the question: is Beyond You & Me erotica, literary fiction with sex scenes, or just garbage that doesn't deserve to see the light of day?

Stay tuned, there's more coming.