Wednesday, February 13, 2013

publishing crossroads

So anyway...

I'm at a crossroad regarding my latest completed novel, Parkland.

The thing is that it is good. I know it is. It's (immodestly) more than good. I am not saying that it is flawless; I've been editing it constantly and will continue to do so until the day it is published (if it ever is), and (like George Lucas) probably wish to do so even after that. But the story is strong, the characters are well-written and deep, the narration good, the concept timely, the pace varied, and all of the other things that a good book ought to be. And everyone, young and old, who has read it thus far has enjoyed it. Offered feedback--which I have incorporated--yes, but enjoyed it.


I cannot get an agent interested in it. And I know why.

According to the rather arbitrary rules of the publishing biz these days, my book is absolutely, positively, by a factor of about 100%, way, way, way too long. You see, publishers these days like YA-ish novels to clock in at between 55-70,000 words. (Translation: about 180-200 pages at most.) Parkland contains 150,000 (400 pages). And even though I'd argue that this is for mature YA readers and adults, well, that does not help much, because in any genre, the most a publisher wants to see is barely over 100,000...and that is only in fantasy/SF.

(What about Harry Potter, you ask? Don't bother. When the books got obscenely long, Rowling was a well-established writer who could do whatever she wanted. Sorcerer's Stone was much shorter.)

I cannot keep fooling myself. Although it is possible that a 150K first novel will sell, it is incredibly unlikely. Although I strongly believe in this book, I don't have that kind of belief in the industry right now. So I am, as I said, at a crossroad.

I have choices:

First, I could cut the book in half, leaving it (still longish) at 75,000 words, a more satisfactory length. To do so would be to cut many, many subplots and characters, to eliminate much of the richness of the narrative and character depth and back stories, and basically to make it a very different reading experience and, I firmly believe, a much lesser one. But it could be done.

Second, I could chuck it all and self-publish, hoping that I know enough people who know enough people that sales could reach the magical 10,000 mark that would interest publishers.

Or I could try something utterly new and bizarre. Or rather: old and bizarre.

I thought of this yesterday while I was considering the long novels of the past and, in particular, the godfather of long novels, Charles Dickens. Dickens was a neophyte trying to get a publishing contract when he managed to get an interview with the premiere booksellers/publishers in London. They came to his apartment (which he claimed was also his office, though it was a mere studio), and he pitched them on his book. They liked the idea but were uncertain he could pull off the sales.

(Some things never change.)

So he told them he had a scheme wherein he would not only guarantee them sales, but guarantee them that people would buy the thing three times. He would serialize it, three chapters at a time, in pamphlet form. At the end of the third of these chapters, he told them, he would have his main character hanging from a cliff or some such thing, and the reader would be terrified about his fate. And to up the suspense, there would be an approaching pair of legs at the cliff's edge but we would be uncertain whether they belonged to someone who would rescue him or stomp on his hands to send him to his death. It was the origin of both the cliffhanger and the soap opera.

They were intrigued by the concept, but how, they wondered, did this translate into three sales?

He explained: they'd buy every month's installment, and he'd drag these out as much as he could. They could sell official bindings in which to collect the pamphlets, for people would wish to turn them into a volume to read. But when it all was complete, they would sell the complete novel, and of course everyone would buy that because it would be much nicer. And then, as a crowning achievement, a year or so later they wold come out with a collector's edition in gold leaf for private libraries and they'd buy that one too. Three sales of a single book.

It worked too. Everyone who was literate owned multiple copies of Dickens.

I don't think that would work exactly in modern times, but what if I could manage to release a novel in serialization through subscription in e-book form, selling the full book only after the subscription is complete? (Or heck: even giving away a copy of the whole book once the subscription is complete.) A few chapters a week...automatically sent to your kindle or nook? There must be a way to do that. (And if someone reads this who can figure out a way, please write to me!) Somehow I think I might get noticed.

Anyway, I have choices. My first choice as always is the traditional route with my actual complete novel. But I fear that choice is fading away.


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