Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The state of contemporary publishing from an old author's perspective

Background: I've been publishing since the mid 1970s with books, magazine articles, newpaper cartoons, and a long-running magazine column to my credit. My book-writing career started with one NYC publisher for book 1, and then an independent small press for subssequent works. I gradually moved back into the NYC publisher realm as the imprint was passed around. I was writing books at the rate of about two a year and living on advances and my paychecks for the column. Those were the days, gone now, never to return.

While doing all that, I had a nocturnal career as a jazz musician. Don't be impressed. That's another whole blog some day, and it ain't all it's cracked up to be.

I retired from writing in 2003 and recently involuntarily retired from playing music when a small stroke made it difficult for me to schlep the equipment and remember the changes to Blue Moon, and when the economy made the world a less-hospitable planet for jazz musicians.

Take a minute to feel sorry for me, then come back. Thank you.

I'd had a story kicking around in my head for several years. It centers around the JFK assassination. With plenty of time on my hands and the phone not ringing, I decided to write the novel, which I completed earlier this year. Or was it last year? I forget. Blame the stroke.

I shopped it around keeping in mind the assassination's 50th anniversary. A release should happen in early 2013 at the latest. Unless the Mayans were right. In which case it doesn't matter. Reaching a publisher that would meet this deadline becomes increasingly difficult given the time it takes to get a publisher to read a manuscript these days. But I got lucky. Maybe.

Eventually a small press showed interest and asked for a full (short for a full manuscript). After some back and forth and R&R (no, not rest and relaxation; revise and resubmit), they made an offer. The contract they sent, however, was way out of line according to what I had been used to in the days of yore.

Given changes in the industry due to technology and the economy, and all that, since those days of yore, I wondered whether this contract was typical. I passed it by some authors whose experience is more current than mine, and they all said, in effect, run, don't walk away from this contract.

So, I sent the publisher a rejection.

Got that? The author rejects the publisher. That didn't seem all that unusual to me at the time, but it turns out that it is virtually unheard of in today's climate.

I submitted the project to a few other publishers and made a sale. A startup company with lots of promise wanted my book. The contract was extremely author-friendly with everything I had become accustomed to except that there was no advance. Even given my publishing background, I figure that since I'm new to the fiction world without a name and a following, advances, particularly from small presses are probably out of the question. I signed.

The publisher and I didn't see eye to eye on a few things, so she agreed to release me from my contracts.

I have put the manuscript in the trunk for now. I'm working on other things and don't have the time or inclination to grovel for a publisher. I figure I have a year and a half before the publication deadline.

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