Monday, May 19, 2008

Horsemen are Poets and Publishers Aren't

by Brenda Roger

I am just back from the PennWriters conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I won’t be giving a detailed report, as I have not finished processing some of the information. My reason for attending was two-fold; to get some specific information on craft and to find out more about the process of selling a manuscript.

The message from the industry is that they will only buy what they can sell gobs of in Target, Costco, Barnes & Noble and Borders. That is disappointing, but it explains why most of the books that I buy have to be special ordered, and why I like to go to Mystery Lover’s Bookshop and ask the staff there to help me select books. It also explains why I don’t watch much television, and I only go to the movies about twice a year. There are no new ideas and everything is driven my mass consumption.

My rant about boring consumer goods could go on, but I have to hurry and post this so I can bid on twenty-year-old skirts on e-bay in an effort to have something interesting to wear this summer.

If you are lucky enough to sell your work, you will get a very small payday and the marketing of the book is pretty much up to you. Hmmm. Tell me again why you need to use a large publishing house?

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the weekend was when my roommate taught me how to read a racing form. I’m not a gambler by nature, but I love to watch horse racing. I took up riding about eighteen months ago, and once you have experienced the power of the animal it is intoxicating to watch them run at top speeds. The language on a racing form is like poetry. There are phrases at the end of each entry that say things like, “stretch duel, driving,” or “wide, steady urging.”

Other than discovering that horsemen are poets, I don’t think I garnered much good news from the weekend. The information about the publishing industry being very narrow minded is useful, however, because both of my concepts could be re-packaged as something other than a commercial book. A new direction may be called for.

Who else went to the conference? How are you feeling about things?


Annette said...

Hey, roomy.

Yes, I may have created a monster by translating the apparent gibberish of the Daily Racing Form for our dear Brenda. I fear that one day we will find her in gutter, sleeping under a week's worth of the forms after gambling away her last penny.

Just kidding. I hope. But I do feel bad that the Preakness (Yay, Big Brown!) was the highlight of the weekend for you, Brenda. I guess I've known for quite a while that the publishing industry is brutal, so that came as no big shock to me.

D.L. "Just call me Dave" Wilson, in his Saturday keynote address, mentioned that you must have a passion for your writing. And that is so true.

I've heard some of Brenda's "alternative" marketing ideas and I think she may be onto something.

Get writing, roomy!

Gina said...

And Brenda, I hear that you repaid Annette's horse racing tutelage by helping her dress for the Joyce Carol Oates dinner. We all have our areas of expertise.

It was a good conference, although the message was one we Pittsburgh drivers should be used to: You can't get there from here. I still play Powerball, though, so I guess I'll keep submitting.

Joyce said...

I'm one of those people who are just too stubborn to give up. I figure sooner or later I have to get a break.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Problem with Big Brown is that he paid as well as selling your manuscript to a small press. Let's see, last I heard he was 1 to 5. So for every $5 bet, you made $1.

There are logistical issues with small presses, ranging from distribution to print runs to review submissions, etc.

My publisher, Hilliard and Harris has been great. Ultimately, I would like to move up.

Annette said...

Wilfred, I don't bet on horses. Just like to see if I can pick the winner. Do I? Usually not. But this time I did. The only way you'd make money betting on Big Brown is if you also picked the second and third place horses. Even then, not a huge payday.

And, Joyce, I hear ya. Me, too.

JennieB said...

For the record, I'm with one of the real powerhouses, and their advances for first timers aren't anything fabulous, either. Not that I'm complaining; I know I'm lucky. I also know I'm making more than I would at a smaller press, and aren't we all mostly just excited about seeing our words in print, anyway? I'll worry about my advance if/when Berkley comes to me with a second contract. After I've proven that I can sell. And I don't blame them at all for wanting to publish books that sell well in the big box stores. It's a business, folks. I get pleny of my books on special order too, but from a business standpoint, it's obvious that the publishers want to publish books that will make money for them. But there are plenty of smaller presses out there that'll take a chance on something different, too. Something for everyone, yeah?