Today I am delighted to welcome author Valerie Stocking to Colloquium! Valerie details the frustrating and harrowing saga of getting her first novel published! It is a cautionary tale for all would-be published authors.
Valerie’s second novel, The Promised Land, is set in 1966. The Civil Rights Act was enacted two years prior and twelve-year-old Joy Bradford’s life is about to change as she relocates with her mother from the white suburbs of Connecticut to Willets Point, Florida. Jessica quickly realizes that Florida is not the promised land her mother described. Moreover, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, Joy’s mother remains emotionally and mentally unstable, and abuses Joy who also has trouble fitting in with the kids in her new school.
When Clay Dooley, a mixed-race boy in Joy’s geography class befriends Joy, shockwaves in the school coincide with the growing racial tension in the community. Clay’s African-American father attempts to open a clothing store in the white section of downtown Willets Point. But the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan chapter will not be satisfied until the business fails and Clay’s family is forced to move from the white neighborhood in which they reside. An explosive confrontation forever changes all involved.
The Promised Land is being praised as an “absorbing and suspenseful coming of age story set against the tumultuous backdrop of racial tensions in mid-1960’s America, … as relevant today as it was during the explosive Civil Rights era.”
My Publishing Nightmare
It all started in the summer of 2009. I had written a mystery called A Touch of Murder, and was making some half-hearted attempts to get an agent or a publisher for it. (I say “half-hearted” because after all this time, I am still sensitive to rejection, which I have gotten plenty of over the years!) Anyway, I got an email from a man I’ll call Pete. Pete worked in traditional publishing for several decades before retiring. His specialty was marketing. I had met him a couple years earlier at a writers’ conference, and was receiving his monthly newsletters, which concerned promoting one’s book. In the latest newsletter, he had an exciting announcement: he was forming a publishing company to publish independent authors! He went on to say that, because of his reputation in the publishing business, he would not publish everybody. You had to submit your manuscript to him and be accepted, the way you would with a traditional publisher. That didn’t deter me. In fact, I thought it was to his credit that he was being selective. So I sent in my novel, and then nail-biting time began.
I had myself convinced that this would be a dead end, just another rejection like all the others. So when I saw that I’d received an email from Pete, my heart did a nosedive. Until I opened it.
The letter began, “We love your writing!” Sure, I thought, expecting the “but” to come immediately after. However, it didn’t. There was no “but.” They wanted to publish me! I was on cloud nine, anxious and eager to get on with the process of publishing my first book.
First came a contract, which, according to my lawyer, contained “no surprises.” So I signed, and paid what was the beginning of a long stream of money.
The first thing that came up was graphic design. For those unfamiliar with the lingo, that’s the interior of the book. The font, point size, etc. I began working with a graphic designer I’ll call Hannah. Hannah wrote me a detailed post, explaining her philosophies and how she worked. So far, so good. I looked at sample fonts and point sizes, and made my selections.
The problems began when she sent me the entire novel, as it would be published, pending my approval. (In other words, the galleys.) I was mortified. Paragraphs were squished together, lines were crooked, and in one instance, two pages appeared in the middle of a section that was fifty pages ahead of where it should have been. I sent in my corrections and waited. And waited. Finally, I got the corrected proof back. More problems. More changes. More waiting. Another corrected proof. This went on for five proofs. Each time, I painstakingly reread the entire novel, word by word. Problems seemed to be cropping up where previously there had been none. Hannah had promised me we’d be done by Labor Day weekend. Now it was past Christmas, and I was waiting for yet another proof. So I waited, and waited. I waited some more. Finally, I contacted Pete, who explained that Hannah was having some problems. She couldn’t get Word 7 to work on her PC. Her child had been sick. She’d been going through a nightmare (she wasn’t the only one). So I kept waiting. Finally, after several months, I received another proof from her. I approved the sixth one, and crossed my fingers.
Meanwhile, I’d worked with a cover designer and Pete’s sales team, which created a selling sheet and back cover copy for the book. But all of this took time. Between one thing and another, A Touch of Murder was published around July 1, 2010 –- over a year after the publishing process began. I paid the printer quite a large sum for two hundred books, fifty of which came and sat in my office; others were stored with the distributor. I sold a few, but that was about it. I got to work on my next book.
I had questions for Pete, who was usually very prompt in getting back to me. Then, one day, he wasn’t. It turned out he had had something that sounded like a heart attack. I held my breath, wondering if his publishing career was over. But no; he returned, a bit shaky, but OK.
I asked how many books I’d sold. I got different numbers at different times, but nothing consistent. Then came a fantastic post from Pete: according to the distributor, there had been one hundred and eighty-seven backorder requests for my book! I rejoiced. Quickly, I ordered the printer to create two hundred more copies, all of which were to go to the distributor.
More time passed. Pete became ill again. Not his heart this time, but something else very serious, which caused him to have to go away somewhere to receive treatment. I thought it was cancer, of course, although that word was never mentioned.
Then came a pained email from him. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he was bowing out of his contract with the distributor. He complained that the distributor was doing nothing to promote sales of Pete’s authors. They had pledged to do a lot, and had in fact done next to nothing. The contract ended June 15, 2011, after which time I would be responsible for finding my own distributor. Pete’s publishing company had folded.
What to do? He wrote a series of posts, in which he described various distributing alternatives. He mentioned a couple of distributors I might investigate, but stated that for legal reasons, he couldn’t recommend any of the remedies he delineated. I quickly became confused, and buried myself still further in my then-current project, a novel in progress. Meanwhile, nearly a year had passed since my book’s publication, and I had not seen a cent in royalties.
Pete assured me they were coming. He said that after the contract expired, the distributor would do an audit, which would take six months. I should receive a settlement by mid-December 2011.
Meanwhile, once I notified the distributor that I wanted my books back the cheapest way possible, they were sent in cardboard boxes that were so flimsy they were squishing and buckling under their burden of books. The one hundred and eighty-seven back orders? Apparently a lie. I got all of them sent to me, plus nearly one hundred more. The boxes multiplied in my office. I had spent over $800 in printing costs for nothing.
December 15 came and went, with no word from Pete. When I queried, he said that there had been “problems” and that everything was now in the hands of the attorneys. Two dates had been set for meetings, both of which had been canceled by the distributor. Now, apparently, a firm date for a meeting had been scheduled, as all attorneys had been notified of it.
As of this date (the beginning of March 2012), I have received no further word from Pete. Nor do I expect to. I don’t anticipate receiving any royalties, either. He said he was “sick” from all the horrible things this distributor had done, and claimed he had never in his thirty years in the publishing business run across anything like this.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Pete is a nice guy. He is very generous with his advice. Maybe that is the problem. Maybe he is too nice. Whatever the case, I am now with a publisher (CreateSpace) who charged me far less than Pete, for more services than Pete provided. Their system is print on demand, which means no back orders piling up, no boxes of dusty books left in my office for an eternity; in other words, no waste. No money spent for nothing. The publishing process this time was less than six months long. And I have already started to receive royalties from them.
Live and learn.
Valerie Stocking was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and wrote her first short story when she was only five years old. By the time she was eight, she won a short story contest in Jack and Jill Magazine and penned her first play just two years later. In 1966, at the age of twelve, Valerie moved with her mother to a small Florida town where they only remained for one year. Valerie experienced difficulties with the public school system, so she briefly attended a Seventh Day Adventist school before simply dropping out. Some good came of her experiences however: they inspired her second novel, The Promised Land. Valerie eventually resumed her studies, earning a Master’s degree in Cinema Studies from New York University. For nearly thirty years, she wrote and edited in various capacities, including copywriting, newspaper articles, and short stories. Also, during a ten-year period, she wrote nearly twenty full-length and one-act plays, which have been performed throughout the U.S. and Canada. She edited books for audio, abridging over one hundred novels over the course of six years.
In 2010, Valerie published her debut novel, A Touch of Murder, the first of the Samantha Kern mystery series. It was nominated for a 2011 Global eBook Award in the category of Best Mystery.
Valerie lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her dog and cat, and is working on her next novel.
Enter to Win a Copy of The Promised Land
Author Valerie Stocking has graciously provided one copy of The Promised Land to be awarded to a lucky reader! Enter to win utilizing the Rafflecopter widget. (Note: The book can only be mailed to a U.S. or Canadian street address — not a P.O. box.)
Thanks to Valerie and all who participated in the giveaway!