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.
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 salon.com, 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.