Wading through the sea of Print-on-Demand titles, one overpriced paperback at a time--and giving you the buried treasure.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
LOVE IN THE TIME OF THE APOCALYPSE by Gregory Blecha (iUniverse)
This ain’t no chick lit. In fact, it’s hard to say what it is.
How does this sentence reverberate with you?
“Phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny.”
This is straight from the first chapter. Sad to say, but I had to look up the first and last words. Not my usual cup of tea. But then I smirked: Ah, I get it. I read on.
Blecha’s book was passed to me by one of my POD sisters-in-crime, who got it from someone right after release. In fact, the book has been in print (so to speak) for less than a month.
Ah, word of mouth. We live and die by it.
Anyway, this ain’t no chick lit.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF THE APOCALYPSE is, essentially, about a young couple in love during the end times (duh, read the title) who shine as an example of (slight) normalcy during a time of bizarre living--and dying. Read the description of the book and you will get a flavor (the Amish run a casino in Vegas, landmarks are being systematically destroyed by interior terrorists, and, of course, America no longer has healthcare to speak of—you can only imagine the repercussions.)
This ain’t LEFT BEHIND either.
What makes the book magical is the prose. This may be difficult to pigeonhole, but I’ll try . . .
It has a feel of Hunter S. Thompson’s FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. It’s also a little bit NAKED LUNCH-ish. Of course, there is Kafka, too. But most of all I got a LESS THAN ZERO (Bret Easton Ellis) vibe from the story, having the entire “we’re-here-and-we’re-trying-to-be-aware-of-what-is-happening-to-us-but-we-aren’t” sort of raciness to it. The book is trippy, as my burn-out friends would say, but in more of a magical way than you might expect.
The book is well-written and well-edited. It’s easy to read, though I can’t deny skipping over a hundred or more words I’d never seen before. In the end, I had to admit: There is nothing better than being entertained and taught at the same time. Get a full night of sleep, then start early the next day. You’ll be done in time for pizza and Seinfeld reruns.
Check out Mad Max Perkins (everyone’s beloved mystery publishing exec) who throws up a discussion about POD (March 7th). The comments below the posting include all the predicted responses (POD stinks because nothing is edited—which is true, to POD is great because it will eventually eliminate returns—also true) plus a few surprises. Give it a once-over.
Also worthy of note: Michael Cader and the great wizards at Publishers Marketplace are putting together a book of all the book deals they recorded in 2004, along with analysis and listings of the respective agents and editors. Let me just say that if you are a writer trying get a grasp on the market and understanding who buys and sells what, this will be the most important book you can this year. Forget the Writer’s Digest guide and Jeff Herman’s book. Those books are completely generic:
“William Morris prefers well-written books that appeal to a large audience.”
What you need to know is who sold what. Telling you that an agent at Writer’s House likes thrillers is useless; wouldn’t you much rather know the specific titles they sold? And to the specific editors they sold them to?
This book is where it’s at. Give it a once-over, too. Oh, and the best part of the Deal Book? You guessed it: it’s being printed and sold via POD (Booksurge).
There was a time when I would wake up, shower, coif as needed, look in the mirror and assess my outward value--how I looked, how I felt. Who I was.
Not anymore. Since Penguin Putnam flung my book into publication, this is the new routine:
Get up; Check Amazon ranking; Brush teeth; Check Amazon ranking; Grab unhealthy breakfast snack; Check Amazon ranking. If ranking above 20,000, throw-up unhealthy breakfast snack while refreshing browser to double-check said ranking;
If ranking above 25,000, type “BN.com” with left hand while cleaning up bloody bile from computer keyboard with right hand;
If ranking above 30,000, smash computer keyboard repeatedly until keys scatter across kitchen floor like spilled Cheerios. Toss broken keyboard on pile of broken keyboards in corner of living room.
Allow me to introduce myself. Today, I am 15,425.
It’s my name, my SSN, my inmate number, my tattoo--it is everything about who I am. Until Amazon refreshes their rankings later in the day.
One is the loneliest number, my ass.
As anyone will tell you, Amazon is just one retailer and a book’s sales cannot be judged solely on Amazon’s fluctuating ranking algorithms. But it’s all we, as writers, have. And, fortunately, book store sales for me have been slightly brisker (in proportion) to my numbers on Amazon. But that number is all we can use to give us value.
So what does this have to do with POD? Stay with me. . .
Here is a smattering of POD titles that, as of this morning, have a better ranking than my book. Let’s call them POD midlisters, for better or for worse. I’m certain there are more than what I've included on this small list, but let me offer these as a representative group.
Disclaimer: I am not endorsing any of these titles as I have not read them.
The Asylum of Howard Hughes (Xlibris) – 14,232 Belligerence & Debauchery (Lulu) – 13,730 Nuklear Age (iUniverse) – 13,162 Suddenly Strangers (Aventine) – 13,102 Female Domination (Lulu) – 10,955 The Ghost Next Door (iUniverse) – 10,229 Slow and Steady Get Me Ready (Xulon) – 9,506 Stealing from Angels (iUniverse) – 8,025 Bedtime Stories for Women (Llumina) – 7,729 The Great Pretender (Infinity) – 6,162 The Nephilim and the Pyramid of the Apocalypse (Xulon) – 1,250
Now, if I were of the mindset, I could add a similar list of titles that were purchased by major houses for six figures yet have rankings of 250,000 or higher. (And, I should add, that many of my favorite books were titles that "bombed" by sales standards.) But what would be the point? We all hear about the major publishing bombs day after day after day.
What you don’t hear about are the PODs that surface to the top.
Joke: Three women (okay, this is me and my two friends, the POD collectors) walk into a Waldens looking for a book on infertility that might brighten the hopes of a dear friend. The first woman picks up a book titled GIRLFRIEND TO GIRLFRIEND by Kristen Magnacca (Authorhouse.) The second woman picks up a book titled WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE NOT EXPECTING by Ty Canady (iUniverse.) The third woman picks up a book titled INFERTILITY SUCKS by Beverly Barna (Xlibris.)
That’s it. That’s the joke. Get it? Three women go into a book store and find three titles by three different POD publishers. Now that’s funny.
Not so funny: we read them all.
But only one gets mentioned here . . .
INFERTILITY SUCKS is a gas. It’s a short (140 pages) and predictably expensive ($20.99) book—that’s 15 cents per page, by the way—that happens to be worth the purchase.
Beverly Barna’s book is rude. It’s irreverent. It touches on all the things a woman goes through when dealing with infertility (“the most under-diagnosed condition” a woman can have, as she puts it) and allows the reader to break through the stress and laugh at the situation for a change.
“Tired of throwing up your hands—and your legs?” she asks. Anyone who has been diagnosed with a fertility problem can’t help but smirk at all the crazy sexual positions used in an effort to get those swimmers to reach the shore. She touches, too, on the obsession and addiction infertile women have with HPTs (Home Pregnancy Tests) and how most can’t go a day without whipping one out.
The book also serves as a resource for advice on infertility. And while delivering a good dose of info (especially considering how it's packed into this lean product), its real value is the humor.
INFERTLITY SUCKS is light and enjoyable and delivers with the ease of an evening sitcom (minus the inanity.) It’s a great book to give as a gift or just to have around for a fun read. Get it on Amazon or B&N and pair it with another order so you can avoid tax and shipping—something to get the price down.
"Who are these folks?" I have been asked three times already, in reference to my links. What do these people have in common?
They are people changing (or trying to change) the publishing culture. Anywhere from giving you background info into the industry and the hurdles they faced (face) in getting and staying published (Max Barry and Jennifer Weiner, for example.) Or folks who have challenged/revolutionized the industry (MJ Rose). Or folks who have just plain pissed off the industry (Gerard Jones, who single-handedly released the email addresses of all the agents and editors in North America.)
So what's the connection? One person wanted to know why I don't have all the POD publishers listed here instead.
I am not a great advocate of POD. It's overpriced, slow and has a scent just this side of Roquefort. If you ask your Barnes and Noble sales rep if they have Slap Happy, Arkansas, he'll look it up in the store database, then curl his lip and flare his nostrils as he grunts, "That's a POD title. We don't carry those."
Furthermore, I am not saying that all POD titles are as good as what HarperCollins releases; the vast majority of PODs should not see print. But there are titles that are worthy of note--and some are better than what HC releases. There are plenty of folks who wrote books--good books--who did not know how to get them to a traditional publisher. And then there are the folks who managed to find a respectable literary agent (one who might have been an editor herself at one time) but could not get an editor to acquire the thing. What about all of those books?
My opinion: If one or more industry professionals found your book an intriguing and delightful read but couldn't get it there themselves, then it should be in print. Because the editor your agent submitted to happened to have PMS or lost last weeks pay in a bout with March Madness is irrelevant. In a perfect world, serendipity would not play a role in publishing.
So, for you folks that have a gem on your hard drive, do what you have to do. You can certainly trash it. Or you can find some way to get into the hands of readers on your own.
As for the rest of you--for the love of God, please stop.
WAITING FOR THE WORLD TO END by Nicole Hunter (iUniverse)
It’s all about the human experience.
Let me say that WAITING FOR THE WORLD TO END is not only one of the best POD books to find its way to my lap, it is one of the best books I have read—and certainly one I repeatedly recommend to friends and family.
Here’s the one-liner: Thomas Olsen, 41, Head of the English Department and Basketball Coach of a High School in Indiana wrestles with a painful mistake he made in his youth.
This is literature, man.
Nicole Hunter writes so beautifully it could have been about Thomas Olsen’s love of dirt. But it’s not, and it’s sooooo good. Thomas Olson has it all, yet remains an outsider, living in complete loneliness, hopelessly unfulfilled—until he takes a young basketball star under his wing and falls in love with the boy’s married mother in an ultimate attempt to fix the wrongs of his youth and paint over the cracks of his life.
The novel is touching and beautiful. It is the kind of story, like, say THE LOVELY BONES, which might require you to read a chapter to become fully engaged. You need to experience the beauty of Ms. Hunter’s writing and let the magic unfold incidentally. She intersperses poetry sparingly/appropriately and it enhances the plot in just the right way at just the right time.
Every guy is grabbing for his mouse. Hey, the story is about a basketball coach, dude.
Friends of mine, 13 in all, women and men, have all unanimously enjoyed this book—maybe for different reasons, but who cares. Of those same 13, only 8 enjoyed THE LOVELY BONES.
This story is wonderful. The story is touching. It’s about pain and grief and regret and all that crap that New York is saying is the current hot plotline. But as a POD title it might never see the light of day. And that is a shame.
I am an author and instructor, in that order (for now.) My debut novel (which debuted in the midlist) was released by Penguin Putnam in 2004 and my second novel was released early 2006.
As for this blog, it has been profiled in many online magazines, blogs and news stories, including the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News, the LA Times and Publishers Lunch.
To answer the deluge of questions I have been receiving from publicists: I'll review pretty much anything that is good--but it better be good, or I'll never look at another one of your books again. Then I'll hunt you down. Fiction preferred (no fantasy or young adult, go easy on the science fiction.) Non-fiction should be memoir, humor, self-help. Definite no-nos: cookbooks, textbooks, porn, books without verbs. And it must be POD (no small presses.) Otherwise, email with pitch first.