Friday, September 18, 2009

Guest Blog Author: DEBBI MACK



Refusing to Die: My Story of Losing a Publisher, But Going on Anyway

This is actually a revised version of a piece I wrote for my Web site in February 2008. It's been updated to reflect developments since then.

Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's, once said: "Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence." I couldn't agree more.

Persistence is an essential quality for anyone doing creative or cutting-edge work. Biotech startups, inventors, artists, musicians, and yes, writers, know that they'll never succeed if they allow failure and disappointment to stop them. I speak from experience when I say that if it weren't for sheer bull-headed persistence, I would've washed out of the fiction writing business ages ago.

It was the early 1990s when I began putting serious effort toward writing fiction. I finished my first mystery novel in 1997. I sent letters out to as many agents as I could and got a few nibbles, but no contract. I kept this up for a while, then decided to write a second novel with the same protagonist. I went through an even more extensive round of agent queries and rejections with this novel. Finally, I decided to submit it directly to small presses.

My first submission was to a small press that had agreed to publish and anthology called CHESAPEAKE CRIMES to which I had contributed a short story, my first published fiction. I submitted my novel manuscript to this publisher and a few months later, was offered a contract. By then, it was 2003 and I was ecstatic at having landed a publisher after so many years of rejections. But before I could even savor the feeling of sweet success of a first novel release, something terrible happened. I had a stroke.

I was extremely fortunate to have been treated quickly, so my recovery from total paralysis on the left side took place within hours. I was walking the next day and speaking with no problem. No one but the most observant person could even tell I'd had a stroke. But things got worse. A few months after the stroke, my left hand and foot began to clench. The contortions in my hand and arm became painful. It turned out the stroke had caused a condition called dystonia. It has no cure.

In short, I have been through numerous treatments. None of them has provided complete or lasting relief. The accepted medical treatment--injections of botulinum toxin to the affected areas--has produced minimal relief. I am unable to lift certain fingers or grip things in the affected hand. As I struggled with this, my first novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, was published in the summer of 2005, to the acclaim of many--many relatives, friends and acquaintances, that is. The rest of the world remained blissfully unaware of it. My small publisher was without the money or inclination to promote the book other than to make it available for sale through Amazon and other online booksellers. The rest was up to me.

So I hired a book promoter, did some interviews and signings, got a handful of good reviews and tried every way I could to get the word out about my book. Then things got even worse. Around the time my first royalties were due, my publisher had some kind of crisis and stopped paying his authors. They tried to reach the owner but didn't get a response until long after their trust in him was irreparably damaged. Ultimately, the vast majority of the authors, myself included, cut their contractual ties with the publisher. It was a difficult decision for me, but an inevitable one under the circumstances.

In early 2006, my novel had gone out of print, less than a year after its release. I think I'd sold maybe 125 copies in that time. I still had no agent. I was looking for a new publisher and at the same time, battling an incurable disorder that was still causing pain and constant clenching in my hand and foot. I've been told life is a journey, but I wasn't expecting the march to Bataan!

Still, I didn't give up. Like I said, if it weren't for persistence, I'd forget about fiction writing. Despite all the bad stuff, I kept writing, kept submitting, and kept getting rejections (rejections, I might add, that were getting more complimentary of my writing skills each time, like "Sorry, really close, but no cigar." Doh!). At one point, it occurred to me that I could get the book re-issued by Lulu.com. So I went to work on making that a reality.

I'd be lying if I said the process was completely transparent and I never ran into any glitches or delays. There were cover formatting issues that required frequent revisions and resubmissions. And it took me forever to understand some of the simplest concepts (in retrospect), like how the ISBN would get into the book or on the cover after I gave the go-ahead to publish. The Lulu publishing process is conducted completely online, which helps keep their costs down and make their service viable. But it eliminates the human factor (or at least minimizes it), so your communications are reduced to emails that may or may not explain everything you don't understand. Nonetheless, I muddled through the process despite myself.

After all was said and done, it took a little more than a year to publish the book, from minor editing to finished product. And the best part was that after all that patient effort, I could hold up the book to people and say, "This is my novel. It's back in print." And believe me, this achievement alone feels HUGE!

Even better still, though, I discovered e-publishing about a month before the new print edition came out. It opened a whole new world of possibilities for me. Uploading my novel was neither time nor cost-prohibitive. And it was relatively easy to market online. I made IDENTITY CRISIS available as an e-book for Kindle on June 2, 2009, and offered it on sites like the Scribe Store and Smashwords, as well. As of the end of August, I've sold more than 200 downloads through these three e-book retailers (and most recently, Lulu too). That's more books than I sold in the nine months it was originally in print. Assuming I hit 250 downloads within the next month or two, that'll be twice as many books as I sold during the nine months it was first released.

So, despite all the setbacks, as you can see, I simply refuse to die. I simply refuse to go away and pout over my troubles. I simply won't stop writing and trying to find another publisher. I simply refuse to quit. Because a quitter I'm not.

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Debbi Mack's novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, features lawyer/sleuth Stephanie Ann "Sam" McRae in a hardboiled mystery involving a complex case of murder and identity theft. It's available in print through Lulu.com and will become available at Amazon and other online sellers and as an e-book through Lulu.com, Amazon, the Scribd Store and Smashwords. Debbie has a short story published in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES She will have more stories published soon in The Back Alley Webzine and in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES 4, coming from Wildside Press in March 2010. Her web site is www.debbimack.com and she has two fiction related blogs: Debbi Mack: My Life on the Mid-List and The Book Grrl

5 comments:

jenny milchman said...

I love Debbi's work, and her hearing her real story gives it a layer that only builds my admiration. Thanks for a great post, Debbi & Patty.

Pat Browning said...

Debbi,

What an amazing story! Hip, hip, hooray for you! And I loved the book, as I've already told you. I hope you sell a jillion copies.

Pat Browning

Patty G. Henderson said...

I was thrilled to have Debbi featured at The Henderson Files. After reading her story, how can you not be touched and inspired?

What Debbi experienced with her publishing company is an all too common occurrence with small or micro POD publishers. They do little or no promotion or marketing, relying mostly on the author and often, if other pending events in the publisher's life get out of hand, the publishing business suffers or goes out of business. This is why I am such a big proponent of self-publishing if you have some extra cash and the cojones to do it or if your last resort is a tiny, POD based micro publisher. You can do everything a tiny, one-man/woman operation can do and you reap all the rewards and profits.

I hope that if Debbi can't find a reputable publisher, she might reconsider going out on her own for her next book. Debbi, I can help with the cover! LOL

Star Lawrence said...

Debbi rocks! I wish her book was in audio for us vision problem children--but one step at a time.

Debbi said...

Oh, you guys are awesome! Reading your comments and feeling the love and support in them, I'm actual tearing up a bit. What's a cynical, hardboiled gal like me doin' that for? ;)

And, Star, if I can find a way to get my book out in audio version, I will definitely do so. There's a big market still for that format.

Patty, I will keep the possibility of going "indie" with my other novels (Sam McRae and standalone--I've written two others with Sam and one standalone crime caper) firmly in the back of my mind. They're waiting patiently on my hard drive to be released at some point. Exactly when and how--we'll see.