Wednesday, August 10, 2005

MANDATORY READ: The Natalie R. Collins Interview

Thanks again for popping over to the POD-dy Mouth House of Publishing Uber-Style and Generic Psychotherapy. Today's guest is a lady who, having once had her head buried in the moist, gritty sand of POD, has risen above (or out of) it all and landed within the glory of New York: a multi-book deal with St. Martin's Press.

We are visiting with Natalie R. Collins, author of WIVES AND SISTERS (St. Martins, 2004) and the forthcoming BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (St. Martins, 2006) among other titles. Kirkus (the real review side) calls Natalie "a talent to watch." I can't help but agree.

Sit back, grab a cup of coffee and a couple boxes of some wholesome snack food and read with wonderment . . .

Girl: Hi, Natalie. Thanks for stopping by and I hope the fumes aren't getting to you. We're renovating. We're blowing out the back of the building so I can have a bigger office and a stable of secretaries. My hallucinations are just starting to fade away and I . . . think I . . . geez, anyone ever tell you that you look a lot like Cybil Shepherd? I mean, before she got all odd and whatnot? People tell me I look like Janeane Garofalo, whatever that's supposed to mean.

Natalie: Actually, yes I have heard that before. But she has more money for face lifts and liposuction than I. And I like Janeane Garofalo. Although I have a very hard time spelling her name . . . .

Girl: Yeah, Janeane is okay--mostly because she hangs with Ben Stiller. So . . . your first tour of duty was POD. Your book
SISTERWIFE was published with Booklocker in 2001. What was that experience like?

Natalie: Well, because I had never had a book published before, it was very exciting. Not what I had aimed for, but after the book was resoundly rejected by every agent in New York City, the rest of the United States, and all of Outer Mongolia, and back when I truly believed the hype that you can't approach a publisher without an agent, I decided to do it myself and get it out there. Booklocker, and POD, made it possible. At the time, most small publishers were only doing e-publishing and not a print copy, and I had bigger plans for the book. So I decided to go it alone, and went with Booklocker because they had a good rep, were up-front and honest about what they offered, and I didn't lose any of my rights.

The first time I held my book in hand, it was really cool, but I knew it wasn't my ultimate goal. I wanted New York. But, I marketed my butt off and sold about 400 copies. However, the "taint" of POD is hard to overcome. You can't get into bookstores, you can't get reviewed by major industry publications, and the burden of cost is all on you. I belong to writer's lists where someone will say, "Oh, are they a POD publisher," and people totally FREAK out about being called a POD author. "POD is just a technology." Yes, it is, but it is THE technology used by everybody and their dog to publish what, in many instances, should not be published. Therefore, it's hard to rise above the muck because of the crowded conditions down there. I'm not saying there are no gems in books published by companies using POD technology. There are. But I'm a realist. So while I don't regret getting SISTERWIFE out there using POD technology, neither do I rave about it. If you have a lot of money of your own, you can buy a lot of copies of your book and travel and push it, and sell a lot more than I did. But I didn't have that kind of cash. These damn children I have are too expensive.

Girl: Okay, so then SISTERWIFE was picked up by Zumaya--an independent press that also uses POD as its print method. How was this experience different?

Natalie: I didn't pay any money to get it published and I had a FABULOUS editor, Liz Burton, who has a wonderful eye. Other than that, it was pretty similar. The burden is still on the author to promote, get reviews, sell the book, etc. A small independent press using POD technology is not that much different from self-publishing, provided you use a legitimate self publisher. You get slightly more help on the pre-publication end. That's about it. Because POD allows people to start up businesses without any real investment, and they have no set up costs, they also don't have the money to hire people for promotion, to print out and send out a lot of ARCs for reviews, etc. Some small publishers who use this technology will argue that big presses aren't much different, as far as promoting new authors, and of course to a certain extent that's true. Much of the money they have goes into promoting sure things, or authors like Dan Brown who don't really need it, but just sending out newspaper and print publication ARCS is a HUGE thing in getting the word out about your book, and indie publishers using POD technology normally do not cover that cost. They might send out a few to legitimate publishers, but overall, they simply can't do what a big New York press can do.

Girl: Don't get me started on Dan Brown. How many units had you sold at this point?

Natalie: All told, between both publishers, I sold about 500 copies of SISTERWIFE. Most of those were the Booklocker version, too. Not terribly stellar. I've always been sad about that, because it's a good story that got great reviews, and it's very timely. The book explores a fundamentalist cult like the FLDS religion in Colorado City, Az., and Hildale, Utah. It goes a long way in explaining the thinking of someone like Brian David Mitchell, who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart to become his bride, and Warren Jeffs, who has gone into the Evil-Dictator-Relocation-Program, and why they think they can get away with this behavior. Plus it's a damn good love story and some great suspense. But, c'est la vie in the publishing industry.

Girl: Timing is a real problem in the publishing industry. It takes 9 - 18 months to get a book through the printer. POD could solve this problem if it wasn't so expensive to produce. So what came next--an agent or a direct deal with St. Martins? Was it a multi-book deal?

Natalie: I had sent out a press release about SISTERWIFE and Jennifer Weis, my editor, saw it, and asked to see WIVES AND SISTERS, which at the time was called OUTER DARKNESS.(No, I am NOT title challenged. I can write a book without the words WIFE, WIVES, SISTER or SISTERS in it. St. Martin's changed the title after they bought it. They were not bothered that I had a POD pubbed book with a very similar title. I guess it was a good title.) Around the same time, I contacted my agent and explained that I had some interest from Jennifer, and she asked to read it. She offered me representation the next day, without knowing whether or not I had an offer from Jennifer. She believed in the book, even if Jennifer didn't buy it, but I know it helped to know someone was seriously considering it. So when the offer was made, it was through my agent. At the time, it was only a one book offer. However, I am now working on revisions for my second contracted book for them.

Girl: Did you know that WIVES AND SISTERS will be the third book I have mentioned on my blog in the last few months that takes place in Utah? And the second to deal with polygamy? Can you recommend a therapist for this ailment?

Natalie: Not really surprising. This, stuff, has been going on in Utah for YEARS and yet to the outside world we were just those nice, polite, stuffy Mormons. Tom Green, the polygamist who paraded his Barbie doll wives on all the talk shows, and the Elizabeth Smart case changed all that. Suddenly, the oddities of life in Utah were in the spotlight, and making the news. I would LIKE to state here that I wrote SISTERWIFE long before Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped and kept as a second wife, even though much about my book parallels what happened to her--except for the explosions and gun battles I have. But the teachings of early Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith Jr. can be a dangerous mix when in the wrong hands--er, minds. Make no mistake--these people believe THEY have the true Church, not the mainstream Mormons, and they believe THEY are living the Church the way Smith taught it. And in many ways, they are. It's great fodder for fiction. And I'd be happy to recommend a therapist, except Mormons and Fundie Mormons usually turn to the Lord or their prophets for help, and not therapists. So it would fall on deaf ears . . . .

Girl: You crack me up. I think. Maybe it's the glue. *deep breath* How much editing did St. Martins put into WIVES AND SISTERS?

Natalie: Very little. But that's not because my editor isn't great. I spent more than two years working on this book, so by the time Jennifer got it, it was very clean. Also, I paid Liz Burton of Zumaya to edit it, and as I have mentioned before, she is an absolutely FANTASTIC editor. By the time St. Martin's got it, it was pretty much ready to go, except for a few quibbles here and there.

Girl: I hate quibbles. When my first book was picked up, my agent said this: "Of all the prickly things you will run into from this point forward in the publishing industry, I ask you to allow everything to happen without conflict when it comes to having [my editor] edit your book." So, I did. And I learned a lot.

Do you think going POD have anything to do with where you are today? Or do you think it all would've happened on its own?

Natalie: No, without POD I would not be here. It's because of SISTERWIFE, and the route I took, that my editor noticed me and asked for something else I'd written. Um, I should also thank Elizabeth Smart, of course, but I'm not sure she would be appreciative. I guess it could have happened on its own, down the road, but who knows how FAR down that road. And one thing people don't realize is that books New York touts as "debut" or "first books" are rarely firsts. Usually, they are fifth, or sixth, or seventh . . . .

Girl: You said it, sister! In closing, any recommendations for the fence-sitter about whether to take his/her mind-blowing book and push it POD?

Natalie: I think if you do it with the right mindset, going into it armed with the realities of what it is going to do and be, then it isn't a mistake. Just understand what you are up against, and don't get upset when you have to work your ass off just to get a small amount of notice, or when people dismiss you as a "POD" author, because it will happen over and over and over again. But you should know that I refused to go POD with WIVES AND SISTERS. I knew it deserved better. I could have done it at any time, and I didn't and wouldn't. This was backed up by several people, including the editor and owner of POISONED PEN PRESS, who while choosing not to publish it encouraged me to work on it and keep submitting it, because it deserved to be published. I'm so grateful for that feedback, because it allowed me to stay strong and know that this story was THE story, the one that would finally break through. And it did. Not without a lot of work on my part, of course. But it did.

Girl: Well, much obliged, Ms. Collins. Thanks for stopping by and don't worry--you'll be able to see things in color again within a few hours.

I highly recommend checking out Natalie's books and her website. There is some excellent reading here, and the chance, once again, to show New York that there is a lot of cream in the barrel of POD milk (or whatever.)

Stop in again soon, faithful patrons of the POD-dy Mouth Enterprise, where good books are available 24 hours a day.