The Publishing Specialist

Yesterday I had a phone call from a Publishing Specialist at a fairly well-known and prestigious (as these things go, at least–although I confess I’m not sure I know really how these things go) self-publishing company. My impression is these companies run the gamut between self and publishing, and the more self is involved, the less it costs, but the more publishing happens, the better-looking and marketed your product. Someone correct me if I’m wrong here.

Anyway, these particular self-publishers, though you pay them for the service, actually evaluate your manuscript–at least, under certain publishing packages–and so even though it isn’t exactly like traditional publishing in which you only go to print by virtue of merit and/or marketability, there is still some sort of literarily evaluative process going on. This might work, I thought to myself, when I filled in the little on-line questionnaire with self-revelatory information like my phone number, for the express purpose of receiving a phone call from a Publishing Specialist. Maybe I can Kickstart this thing to self-publication, and get the process going in time to resume seminary courses in the fall, so that by next year, I can fund my courses almost all by myself with the royalties.

I know. I’m such a jokester.

But even when I’m telling myself jokes, it doesn’t mean I’m not dreaming a little bit, too. So when this dude called, I was kind of excited to learn what I needed to do next. Here’s what didn’t occur to me: I am really Phone Awkward. (Actually, I’m pretty Generally Awkward, but I’m usually mostly enjoy interacting with people in person or in writing, regardless, whereas I dislike the telephone.) The thing is, if you’re about to pitch a book–even to a company that will accept money from you to publish it–you want to be able to do so compellingly.

At this point, I’m fairly convinced even my written queries and book proposals and synopses for Favored One are sub-par, and the reason they are is because until maybe two nights ago, I wasn’t completely certain it was all that good a book to begin with. Two nights ago I started rereading and tweaking it from the beginning, and, as happened with Trees in the Pavement, it dawned on me, This isn’t half bad. It might be more than half good, even. But yeah. You see what I’m saying. Even that much positivity–which, for me, is a heck of a lot of positivity–doesn’t exactly a riveting book-pitch make. (Nor does Shakespearean syntax randomly thrown into postmodern prose, but I do that, too, evidently.)

Book Anxiety added to Phone Awkwardness is a really bad combination, let me tell you. On top of that comes the fact that I’m also fairly low-energy, particularly when I’m feeling Anxious and Awkward, so when the Publishing Specialist and I finally managed to have a conversation (which was a feat in itself, given a pretty strenuous game of phone tag as well as decisive cell phone reception failure right when he called and actually got through to a real person (i.e., me)) and he asked me to “tell him about my book,” I said,

“Um . . . well . . . um . . . it’s, I guess the closest thing you might say it fits into is . . . historical fiction? Um . . . Biblical historical fiction? Um . . . it’s um, about Mary, the mother of Jesus.” (I didn’t even call her Miryam. Then again, if I had, would I have sounded pretentious? Maybe not, after all those ums.)

“Oh,” he said. “Uh huh.”

It wasn’t a Go on! I’m riveted! Tell me more! encouraging “Uh huh.” It was a That sounds horrendous. This conversation is so almost over kind of “Uh huh.:

I was afraid things were only going to get worse if I said anything else–how bad is it if people won’t even let you pay them to publish you? Then it did get worse, because he said, “So . . . did you do a lot of research, or is it mostly . . . all . . . fiction?”

I’m not even sure what kind of question that was. Come to think of it, he may not have been totally sure what kind of question it was. He probably had a wordless mind-jam in which he considered all those things I pointed out in an earlier post–that lots of people don’t believe the stories in the Bible to be historical actually, and how much research could you possibly do to make a historical novel about people who may or may not have existed? Or maybe he was being gripped by the possibilities, but that wasn’t the vibe I was getting. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out how honest to be without simultaneously tangenting and digging the book’s grave deeper by explaining the whole lectio divina spiritual exercise thing.

Finally I said, “Not much research, honestly. I mean, I did some, but I don’t think it’s possible to recreate the actual Mary of that time period, so it’s kind of a . . . psychological experiment where I imagined how I would have reacted had I been her and had things happened the way the Bible says they did.” I hoped the phrase “psychological experiment” would help. Be intriguing. You know.

“Uh huh,” he said again, with about the same degree of encouragement as before. But he forged ahead anyway; he probably has certain prescribed questions he has to ask anyone before he can justifiably hang up on them, and it was sometime during the part of the interrogation surrounding publishing goals or something that I mentioned I already had a book published.

“Oh!” he said, “So you actually have an advantage over a lot of writers.”

I do? I–well, I was kind of hoping I did, but you never know, do you?

We talked about my “advantage” a little bit and by the end of the conversation, although he still didn’t sound personally sold on my book idea, he did sound a little less resistant to the idea of my name being linked to his company. He promised to send me an email via which I could learn about their publishing packages and ask further questions before we decided on which package would be “right for me.”

Even the least expensive package seems pretty good, although the editorial input ramps up considerably with more financial outlay. I checked out a few other companies today to do a little comparison shopping. There are Christian ones. They might like my storyline a little better. In any case, it appears there are some good options out there, but none I can finance myself. So, I either keep flogging my book to uninterested agents, or I see what Kickstarter can do. I’ve asked before. I’ll ask again.

Pretty sure there’s always more than “self” in publishing

What do you think?


16 thoughts on “The Publishing Specialist

  1. Jenn, I can so imagine that feeling of finally connecting with someone with even the tiniest possibility of helping to launch a publishing endeavor and at once somehow feel like a bad episode of Star Trek and your phasers fail and Scotty can’t beam you up and the alien is about to eat you unless you can come up with some witticism that will keep the creature spellbound while you make a hasty retreat and … oh sorry that was my fear not years, carry on 🙂

  2. This is way out of any field of exspertease that I have but it seems to me: 1) you have a wide base of people who would buy your book. 2) If it goes viral (you never know) do you have to keep paying for more books. 3) If it is a Christian type book whats your opposition to a Christian publisher 4) I read a lot of free Christian fiction on my kindle and notice if they get popular, they start charging. Not at all sure how that works…(once again, sorry about the spelling)

    • 1) I like to think that. I hope that’s true.
      2) I don’t think so. It may depend on the company and how much “self” versus “publishing” is involved.
      3) No opposition in theory. It’s more about the bang for the buck at that point.
      4) Yeah–it probably works differently through different outfits. I’ve gotten a few books like that when the author has given it away for a couple of days–as in, it usually costs a couple of bucks, but if you follow them on Twitter or something, you can find out when they’re giving it away free for a limited time.

  3. Jenn, this made me laugh because I’m exactly like that on the phone! I don’t really know what route you should take. Perhaps Kickstarter is a good idea in terms of minimising your financial risk. I know it’s a long-shot, but have you checked out Authonomy? If for nothing else, it might be a good way to build up a bit of a readership before you self-publish, therefore guaranteeing some sales. xxx

    • You know? I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never heard of Authonomy. Will definitely check it out NOW, though!

      Supposedly I have like 1000 people reading this blog. But you’d never know it from the comment volume, would you? 🙂


      No. I’m not needy. Why do you ask?

        • Well . . . it depends on how you count ’em. Only about 50 WordPress ones. And . . . given the fact that I’m only getting about 15 hits on here a day, I’d say “following” is maybe in the eye of the beholder. Or . . . something. 🙂

          • Aw, I guess I should say it’s your content, not your stats, that matters, but we all like good stats don’t we? It all seems rather random, though. I see blogs with a massive following and can’t always work out why 😦

  4. Hey – we’re all here! How are you with interviews? There’s a magic phrase that always helps me to avoid negatives, which in any context are a conversation killer: “It turns out”. Research or made-it-up? “It turns out there isn’t a huge volume of external literature about the life and society of the time, but by comparing biblical passages of rites and customs with what is known, I was able to create a realistic and convincing world for my story.” What do you think?

  5. Ugh, I am so bad at answering that question “So tell me about your book”. It should be so easy – I mean, I wrote the thing, and I know it inside out. But I just clam up and stutter some embarrassing answer that makes it sound lame.

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