Monthly Archives: July 2011

Giving It Away: Scout Publishing

(Every now and then I have ideas that I think I’ll do something with, but, for some reason, they never really materialize the way I want them to. So, I’ve decided to simply give them away. All I ask is that you think of me fondly if you make it rich off one of these ideas.)

Scout Publishing is an idea I had once I realized I could make ebooks on my own with an inexpensive program called Jutoh, and that it could answer three issues I thought were important. The first was that the Big Six publishing houses (Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Macmillan, Hachette, Harpercollins – it could be stretched to 7 if we include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) were cutting back on the number of first time authors they were signing. The second was that no matter how valorous and adventurous the smaller presses might be, they are only able to publish so many books a year and, perhaps, are even more reliant upon their first-time authors turning a profit – especially considering the cost of traditionally published books – than the big publishers. The third issue was that at the same time a number of organizations and writers were wringing their hands over the fate of the literary novel, we have also been losing print outlets for other fictional forms (short stories & novellas) that could, if we presented them properly, compete with other entertainments.

There are already a number of publishers that produce ebooks only. There are even a number of “independent authors” (a nice euphemism I may write about later), who simply release their own books on places like Smashwords, or through Amazon’s self-publishing model Createspace. And, of course, a rare few are successful and get the attention of one of the Big Six publishers. However, that profit comes after those successful writers have paid cover designers, freelance editors, and perhaps online marketing groups to help them shill their product as professionally as possible. Consequently, those same people, when offered a contract by a traditional publisher, jump at it because, despite some indy writer’s paranoias about copyright, they realize they can spend a whole lot more time writing if someone else handles that layout, design, editing, and marketing of the books they’ve finished (as for rights, well, any contract is negotiable, and if an indy writer has the chutzpah to self-publish well enough to get the notice of one of the big publishers, then I’m sure that person has enough savvy to properly negotiate a contract so the author’s rights to his or her work are properly protected).

My concept was to take the ebook-only approach and publish unknown, previously unpublished, or under published authors and make “micro-collections” of short stories (3-5 pieces, no more than 100 pages combined), novellas (120 pages max), micro-collections of poetry (5-10 poems, no more than 20 pages combined), or “epic poems.” These ebooks would then be sold on iBooks, Amazon, Google, etc and would cost between $2.00 and $4, depending on length. There would be no advance, but the author would immediately be eligible for royalties. I hadn’t decided on the contract language or a royalty structure, but was considering anything from 50/50 up to 70/20 for the author.

Here’s why it would be good for writers: It would allow them an outlet for their odd-sized writing and give them a way to build an audience and turn a small profit while they are trying to get a longer work published.

Here’s why it would be good for readers: All readers like to discover “new” writers, but sometimes, even a $9 dollar, 300 page ebook might be too much of an investment of money and time when there’s a risk of it being terrible; however, an ebook of three short stories under $4, might be something an adventurous reader might take an chance on.

So, there it is. Take it. Run with it. See what you can do with it.

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Writer Seeks Agent

Hello, my name’s Jason. Will you be my agent?
I have a BA in Creative Writing from Kansas State University, and an MFA from Naropa University, and I have one published novel. The Evolution of Shadows, was released in 2009 by Unbridled Books. My book received a nice review from Publishers Weekly, and my photo led-off the fiction review section that month. My book then received a starred review from Library Journal and the reviewer made a favorable comparison to Earnest Hemingway. Those reviews were followed by good reviews from Booklist and Bookforum, plus a number of independent book bloggers.  The Evolution of Shadows was then selected as a November 2009 Indie Next Pick, and a 2010 Kansas Notable Book. Unfortunately, so far, sales haven’t been what we hoped they would be, but I don’t think they’ve been completely dismal for a first novel on a small press by a writer with no previous publishing history and no fan base, except for some mystery person at the Atlantic Monthly who thought I deserved an honorable mention in their 1999 Student Writing Competition.
Recently, I completed a draft of next novel, titled “The Palace of Winds,” which is the first of a planned trilogy. So, if by the end of my post here you wish to read that, I can deliver that manuscript for review. The second book of the trilogy is already in progress.
So, I don’t have an agent because I gave up on agents after receiving nearly fifty rejections from various ones while trying to get my first novel published.  Yes, I know, I’ve heard all the advice that says a writer should never lead with the number of rejections they’ve had because it tells the prospective agent both that 50 people didn’t like the book, and that the agent receiving the 51st submission is way down on the list. But you see, I want that number out there because I think it shows my determination but also because it goes a small bit of the way towards explaining my sometimes bitter opinions about agents and the kinds of writers they seem to prefer.
Getting all those rejections made me feel like I did during those awful junior high dances I attended when I was 13 or 14 years-old. I went out and and approached the agents I was most attracted to: you know, the ones who represent the authors I like, or the writers I think I’m similar to. I tried 50 times to win the favor of an agent who, like the most popular girl at school, had already landed someone “better,” or who was entertaining so many charming suitors that she wasn’t going to waste time with a small-time beginner promising only small returns when she could pick from several writers with pre-existing reputations and the promise of six figure contracts.
Inevitably, just like at those dances, every submission I made to those agents received a rejection. When I got the form rejection letters, they often included such statements as “I won’t take on an author I don’t believe I can get behind 100%” or “I have to be absolutely passionate about a writer’s work before I’ll represent him.” A few times, I got personalized rejections where the agents stated that they liked my writing but “didn’t think it was right for the list” or the agents didn’t think they “would be able to advocate for the book as strongly as it deserves.” One even said that my novel had a haunting, lyrical quality, but that she didn’t know how to sell it (try that haunting lyrical quality). It was all eerily like those girls in junior high who, when they discovered I had a crush on them, would say all sorts of things like “you’re not my type” or “I want someone just like you, but not you” in an attempt to let me down easily, but still make it clear that my meager offerings in love (and literature) were undesirable and more than just a little beneath them.
Finding an agent in the traditional way is exactly like those awful, soul and confidence crushing junior high dances. The agent is the belle of ball, or maybe Madeline Kahn’s Empress Nympho selecting her escorts for the orgy, and every day there are hundreds of new writers showing up at the agent’s doorstep begging to be picked. Well, the truth is, if I’m running around trying to woo an agent because that agent represents a writer I admire, or am similar to, what in the world would that agent want with me when she already has that writer?
But, just like I eventually got lucky and found my girlfriend, Rebekah (six years together this August), and my publisher and editor, Fred Ramey (two plus years and, I hope, two books), who both decided they wanted me and my writing in their lives, I am certain I can find an agent who will want me and my writing in his or her life – and who thinks other people should read what I write. However, I’m not going to keep running about begging to be liked because, honestly, I know I would continue to pick badly and beg to be liked by the agents who don’t want anything to do with me.
A few years ago, there was a website that set itself up as a database of writers looking for agents, and as a place where agents could go to find new writers. Has it survived? Did it survive? I know that back then, I couldn’t afford to join (paying to be on the site in itself makes it suspect to me) and if it still exists, it seems it’s become insignificant and probably still beyond my budget. So, I am putting out my little personal ad and hoping that chance, or my fellow writers, will play match-maker and bring me and that perfect agent together.
Who would be the perfect agent, you ask? Why the perfect agent for me would be someone who meets the following two requirements:
1) Be a member of, or in the process of becoming a member of, the Association of Authors’ Representatives.
2) Love my writing enough to be its champion.
        2a) Be flexible and creative about championing my work to the world, i.e. be willing to work with independent publishers, embrace technology, consider alternative contracts, etc.
That’s it. The agent doesn’t have to be “famous,” or have made a stellar big money sale, or know every editor at a big publishing house. In fact, it might be better if the agent isn’t any of those things, but I won’t hold those things against an agent if the agent loves my writing.
I await your reply,
Sincerely, Jason Quinn Malott.