Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gateways to Publishing

Please welcome Ginger Moran, author of The Algebra of Snow, to The Blood-Red Pencil today.

When I was in graduate school there was only one door to publishing—the one that lead to the big commercial houses in New York. The only way in was through an agent and it was pretty hard to get one unless you had a guide or mentor who would introduce you to an agent.

And those were the good old days.

Those were the days when there were more than six commercial publishing houses, when the editor you started with was the one you had for your publishing lifetime, and they actually edited your work and helped you get it in shape for publication. In fact, they would take something that was relatively unreadable and turn it into—if not a bestseller, then something like a reasonable-seller.

Make no mistake about it—publishing at the commercial level was never an easy process, nor did very many writers hit that level. I haven’t seen any statistics, but I’d hazard a guess that more writers got commercial publication then, though, and maybe were able to sustain themselves a little better than today, though we should always keep in mind that Faulkner wrote screenplays to make ends meet and Fitzgerald churned out commercial short stories to keep Zelda in feather boas.

But those days are over, for better or worse.

Today the doorway to the commercial houses is extremely narrow. It isn’t nonexistent, as one of my favorite weekly reads, Publisher’s Lunch, will attest. There are a lot of books still being bought every day. Many of them are self-help, true, but the market for some memoirs and novels, both of which I write, still seems extant. And, on a bad day I can still wander into the local Barnes & Noble for a wallop of British breakfast tea and a triple chunk chocolate chip cookie and, though the effect may be abetted by the caffeine and sugar, I’m unfailingly cheered by the sheer number of books that are on sale.

But my books aren’t among them.


Two of my novels have had an agent; many of my essays have been published. An editor at Doubleday who loved my first novel nominated it for a Pushcart Editor’s Choice Award but, like her commercial publishing colleagues, didn’t think it had the potential to make the big bucks commercial fiction has to make to justify the investment.

Several of my friends have published books at the commercial level, including my graduate school buddy Tom Cobb, who wrote the very fine novel Crazy Heart that became the very fine movie by the same name.

But that isn’t the end of the story—publication existing only through the glass of the candy store window, forever out of my reach.

Because now my novel, The Algebra of Snow—the one nominated for the Pushcart Prize—has been published.

And not by me!

I know that self-publication has completely changed its reputation lately and I often counsel my editing clients to consider it. Several of them have not only considered it but done it, and been very happy with the results.

But if I could get one, I wanted a publisher I didn’t have to pay.

Enter the very fine publisher, Main Street Rag.

M. Scott Douglass and his team do a fantastic job of publishing quality books—that is, they look pretty and they are, as far as my sampling has gone, good reads. Not necessarily commercial—but high literary quality.

So here is the gateway that worked for me—a publisher who makes a fine book and gives you a chance to get it out into the world. MSR even does its level best to market it, from taking it to writing conferences to offering Goodreads giveaways.

But mostly you’re on your own—which you know from the very beginning.

Marketing a book is exhilarating and terrifying and hard. When I started writing, I never thought about this end of it. Now it’s about all I think about, as I take a hiatus from writing just to figure out how to do this marketing thing. There are numerous (overwhelming) resources for helping figure this out, and, as with everything else these days, seems to be more a matter of figuring out what not to do—what is actually effective as opposed to possible and/or touted.

If anyone out there has come up with an organized, tested recipe for marketing fiction, I’ll trade you something, like my first-born son. No, totally kidding about that—I adore both sons. But I would certainly send you a copy of my book, which has gotten some very nice reviews and my friends really like it.

For the time being, I’m grateful as heck to have found this gateway to publishing, that avoids both the tricky entry to commercial publishing and the crowded field of self-publishing, and gives me a good publication and a chance to get it into the hands of readers who say things like, “What a read!” (Kelly Coty, Nashville, TN).

Ginger Moran is a teacher, published writer, and single mom of two boys. Her areas of expertise are in fiction and creative nonfiction writing, editing, and creative survival. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston in Literature and Creative Writing and Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English from the University of Virginia. She has published in, Oxford American, The Virginia Quarterly Review and Feminist Studies among other journals and magazines. Her first novel, The Algebra of Snow, was nominated for a Pushcart Editor's Choice Award and was published in the spring of 2012. She edits the University of Virginia Women's Center magazine, Iris, and serves as the associate director.

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  1. The road to publishing has long been fraught with chuckholes, roadblocks, detours, and other hazards that make it a trip for only the stout of heart. Now we face the additional challenges of changing routes and multiple destinations with the construction of new publishing avenues.

    This is a helpful post, Ginger, and I'm so glad that you ended it on a note of hope. It's a tough trip, but you've stayed on the road and headed for the destination of book sales and personal fulfillment. You inspire all of us to persevere and to celebrate the small accomplishments as well as the big ones. Thank you for sharing.

  2. One of the hot new ideas was announced yesterday and I think you'll see more of it. A group of 18 self-published authors just created their own marketing co-op called Killer Thrillers. Check out those book covers - no amateurs in this group!

  3. Welcome to the BRP, Ginger! For the rest of you: I met Ginger earlier this summer at her book signing in Lake Placid, NY. That's a good 2-hour drive from my summer home but hey, my guests had left and the sun was shining and I was up for a ride through the Adirondack Park. We ended up talking quite a bit, have connected through social media, and now she's guesting here! In our internet-crazed world, there's still something to be said for face-to-face human interaction.

  4. Dani, this is a great site. Simple, strong eye appeal, snippets behind the covers that offer great hooks -- don't who thought of it, but it cuts through all the extraneous material that too often fills websites and gets right to the heart of the matter. Nice! I suspect it might well also be effective, which is even better. :-)

    Kathryn, three cheers for meeting in person! As a relic of the old school of face-to-face contact, I believe the synergy that can come from "real" interaction surpasses anything offered by modern technology that transports us around the world without our leaving the confines of our computer chairs.

  5. Even a reasonable-seller sounds like a huge accomplishment to me. Or, as a fellow musician joked after we finished a song, "Hey, we sell one more and this sucker's going cardboard!"

  6. Kathryn, I am so glad you invited Ginger to be our guest here. Her post was so good and proves that there is no right or wrong way to approach getting into the marketplace. I have long thought it a mistake to think there is only one way to sell a book and we should jump on whatever current bandwagon is being touted.

  7. Ginger, I don't think I'd trade the recipe for marketing fiction for you first born son ... I was a parent once. But the truth is, I don't have it ... the recipe for marketing fiction, that is.

  8. I'm glad you found your niche, with a decent publisher. My experiences with my publisher didn't work out as well, as can happen with small operations basically run by one person.

    I wish you the best. Love your cover!

    Morgan Mandel

  9. Morgan, I love this cover, too. Can you see all the algebraic equations, hand-written in white against the snowy branches? It's a neat effect.

  10. Hi, everyone,
    Thanks for the warm welcome to BRP. It's a great site--very clear in design and very helpful in content. I feel so fortunate to have met Kathryn in Lake Placid--she read a notice I'd posted in Linked In the morning of the reading and was wonderfully spontaneous and came on over. When we talked, it turned out that we had so much in common it verged on one of those "separated at birth" coincidences! Let it be recorded, Christopher, that I wouldn't actually trade either son for anything whatsoever--I just took the youngest off to college and am in the house alone for the first time in 22 years and it feels truly odd. Thanks for the compliments on the cover--my brother did the design, working from an iPhoto picture. He actually wrote the ghostly equations in the trees. I encourage everyone to keep on writing and sending out. It isn't an easy path and I've been doing it long enough to know that those who persevere are absolutely the ones who succeed. Thanks again for the chance to post here and to get to know you!

  11. Hi, Heidiwriter,

    Thanks so much. I wish I'd kept the pages I used up trying out not-so-great titles like "Numbers in the Snow" until I got to The Algebra of Snow. When I got there, I knew it was the right one. I'm a great example of how much trial and error goes into writing!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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