I thought it would be fun to read an excerpt from my novel, The New World. It’s a tale set in New York City that follows the struggles and triumphs of four generations of strivers, lovers, and grabbers- of-life.
This excerpt focuses on 20 year-old David Walker who has just been discharged from the army in Iraq for trying to shoot up his sergeant. Fortunately for David, he was able to cash in some chips to get out from the brig and escape with only a dishonorable discharge. Now returned home to live with his mother, he wonders how he’ll survive, with his major skill being cheating at cards. And despite many attempts to track down the old love of his life, Jennifer, he cannot find her.
Click on the triangle or link above to hear the excerpt as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.
So, I was having my weekly freak out about what will happen if I die tomorrow—not that I have any indication that that is going to occur—and I realized that what I was worried about the most, besides my family, was my writing.
Specifically, what about the novel that I’ve been working on for the last five years, the one that’s still sitting on my computer? My nightmare is that it just stays there with no one even knowing that it’s there. Oh, my family knows I’ve been working on it all this time—how could they not with all the agita around it?—but they don’t know what file it is, or what version is the latest, and probably they’ll have other things to think of when I drop dead, so what am I going to do? It’s strange: we finally got around to making a will, so my family is okay; but I worry about my characters. I’m worried that they will not have a chance to live. It’s a crazy feeling, but it’s a real one. I want them to have a home if they don’t find one before I’m gone. I wonder if other writers experience this. Like Pirandello’s characters, my modest creations want to have a chance to play out their stories, too.
I mean, I have been doing due diligence, sending out my manuscript and query letters, but who knows if anyone will bite? A few close calls, but still nothing. But I believe in this book and these characters, and while I know the book is not going to appeal to everyone, I say immodestly that it is good and deserves to be read by those who would enjoy it.
So I finally figured out a way to lessen my anxiety around this whole thing. I decided that I would self-publish one copy, one copy that I could leave behind, so that when I go, at least there will be some tangible evidence of what I’ve been doing these last few years. It’s kind of amazing to me the effort it takes to write a novel, good or bad. At least, the effort it took me. I don’t claim it to be anything great, but I don’t want it just to disappear.
I went onto a popular online self-publishing site, Lulu.com, having no experience at all how this was going to play out. I assumed that I would have to order a hundred or more copies to get this done. It’s not really what I wanted to do, but I figured, okay, if I have a stack of these left in my office when I kick the bucket, they can give them out at my funeral or something. When I actually went to the website, though, I was pleasantly surprised. You don’t have to order a hundred copies. You could order fifty, or fifteen, or for goodness sake, you could just order one. Yes, one’s the ticket: that’s just what I wanted. Just one to document that I was here, that somewhere in my life I did this thing, and here it is.
The whole process was not too difficult to navigate. There’s a bit of a learning curve but if you follow the directions on the website, you can create your book without too much trouble. The first thing you do is choose the format for your published book: hardbound, softbound, paper quality, different sizes, and so on. I chose a 6×9 perfect bound paperback. If you eventually decide that you want to publish the book commercially, they recommend you ask for the premium paper. This option also provides you with an ISBN number should you ever decide to go commercial with the book. Next, you download a Word template from the website and import the Word document of your manuscript into it. You then upload that file back to Lulu, and they return a pdf that shows exactly how the manuscript will look when published.
When you’re happy with what you see, then it’s time to choose a cover. There is a very easy and flexible Cover Wizard which allows you to choose from a number of attractive looking cover themes. If you like, you can add photos to your front cover; also, on the back cover, you can add an author’s photo and any text you wish. In addition, the book automatically prints with the title of the book and the author’s name on the spine. Since I am not interested right now in publishing, I did not opt for any photos or even back cover text, so I just chose an abstract cover design that I thought was attractive.
At this point you can order your masterpiece, any amount from one proof copy to hundreds. There is a discount in the price per book as the quantity goes up, but I was amazed at how inexpensive it was, even for the one proof copy I wished to purchase. For a 250 page softcover, premium paper, with a designed cover, it only cost $6, plus $5 for shipping. In other words, it cost less than a paperback at the local book store, even with shipping.
I sent off my order and the book arrived about 10 days later. It was very exciting ripping open the package, and seeing the book. It looked and felt great—it was not just a cheap knock off. It was commercial grade paper, cover, and binding. I was very pleased with that. And when I read through my book, I was ready to weep, because the story actually worked as a book. It’s one thing to read a manuscript as a file on your computer, or a collection of printed out loose papers, but when you read it as a bound book, it is a whole different experience. I kept turning the pages, and kept feeling like I had done it. Of course, what I also found were typos and pages mis-formatted, even after literally dozens and dozens of revisions. My biggest mistake was something I thought I had accurately accounted for, but I was wrong—not all of the major chapter sections and title pages started on a right hand page. But I wasn’t too worried, because the cost of re-doing a proof was cheap enough that I didn’t mind just correcting the file, re-uploading it, and ordering a new proof. That’s what I did, and ten days later I was greeted by the new corrected copy.
I have to say this whole experience really helped me to put my mind to rest. Even if you’re not as neurotic as I am, preparing to keel over at any moment, I think that if you are shopping around a manuscript you would benefit from ordering a proof copy of your work. You will see mistakes and typos in a way that you may well have missed in electronic or loose manuscript form. If you do get an agent and a publisher, wonderful; but if not, you have the option of either buying copies from Lulu and selling them yourself, or you can have the book advertised on Lulu’s website. They will do print on demand if you wish, so that they only print the number of books that are actually ordered; Lulu, of course, takes a substantial cut of the cover price that way. You also have the option of listing the book on Amazon in a similar print on demand deal, but in that case, Amazon takes such a large cut, that it hardly pays for the author.
So, if my family is reading this, now you know what that book is that’s sitting next to my will…but I sure hope you get to read it before then.
Rejection, and a peculiar sort of acceptance: two poles of life that I swung through in one day, last Friday. Writing is a solitary art, but in the end it’s a narcissistic pursuit and how can I not care what others say? I suspect the major requirement for someone doing this, more than talent even, is persistence and the ability to keep on going after being rejected.
Yes, I got my first rejection slip today for my novel. Well not a slip, that’s old school, but an email that started off “Unfortunately…” One thing I can categorically say, emails that begin with “Unfortunately…” are not going to end well either.
This was a submission to a literary agency that said on their website that they would only reply if they wanted to see sample manuscript pages. They don’t want you to send any manuscript pages with your submission—just a project description and author’s bio. So, I guess even though they had said they would not reply if they were rejecting it, my project must have sounded so extra special suck-y, they figured that they had better break their own rules and make sure I understood that there was no doubt that my project was worth rejecting. I feel so special.
But I’m not bitter; at least this was the one submission of the seven that I had sent out that didn’t have any manuscript pages attached. So at least I can tell myself that they didn’t really reject my novel per se.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Now ironically, on the same day I received the rejection email, I also got a weird affirmation and acceptance of my writing. Sort of. I found out I had been plagiarized. It gave me a weird thrill to think that someone would want to rip off little old me. I have to say, I felt more flattered than disrespected. In fact, what had been plagiarized was a post on this very blog that you dear reader are viewing—it was a review I did some time ago of a mentalism magazine. (I’m not going to link to it, because, well, although I’m telling this story publicly, I don’t want to make it too public).
It turns out that another magic magazine had published a review of this same mentalism periodical. So I’m reading this first paragraph and holy crap, that’s word for word my review. The rest of the review follows the structure of my review, paraphrasing a paragraph here, inverting a sentence or two there, grabbing key ideas and key words for the rest. Actually, I’d rather they had just swiped the whole thing without trying to make it look like they were stealing it, because they really did a crap job trying to re-write it. It was kind of at the level of a high school student who copies an article from the Internet and changes the font because he thinks his teacher won’t realize what he’s done.
So, I’m upset, but I’m thinking I don’t want a big confrontation with the editor of the magazine. The review was unsigned so I figured it could have been some overworked subordinate who was getting close to deadline and had to come up with copy quickly. But I was irked, because if the reviewer had just asked me I would have gladly let them reprint the review. After tossing it about in my mind, jumping from the poles of wanting to write an angry missive, to writing instead a mild supplicating letter, I finally decide on a stark statement of fact that would throw the ball into their court:
“I was flabbergasted to see that my review of blah blah blah was plagiarized in your latest issue of blah blah blah. Is that Standard Operating Procedure?”
I sent if off with some trepidation.
Two hours later I came back to my email and saw three emails in a row from the editor:
Please let me know where?
“Ahh I know where. I actually didn’t know it was a review but part of the blurb of the book — I Googled the magazine to find out where I could find info on it and that came up — it read like it was a blurb to sell the book so I used part of it.
Sorry about that
“Jack if you can send me the link to your review and I will put it at the end of the review.
Again sorry—I really thought it was part of the magazines home page as I was searching the net to find where it was being sold and that popped up. I can’t remember what i used from it —
What can I say? It was a real shaking my head moment. He couldn’t tell the difference between a review on a blog and a publisher’s advertisement? And then he paraphrases the rest of it? The boob was absolutely blase about the whole thing. He thought I would be happy to have my link as an attachment to his plagiarized version. Jesus. He’s a lazy incompetent idiot who had actually nicked the review himself, and then tried to play it off as if it were no big deal.
Well, truth is, it really isn’t a big deal. But I’ll take it as an acceptance of my writing from at least one editor. “Good Enough To Plagiarize.” I shall make up the lapel pins forthwith. That’s me. Yes, “Good Enough To Plagiarize.”
… said Shakespeare’s Thane of Cawdor about his bloody deeds. Well my deeds are not bloody, but after more than three years of battle with my novel, The New World, and 15 drafts, I have finally said, “enough.” This is it: best I can tell, it’s done. Yes, I could keep tinkering, but I no longer know whether the tinkering is doing any good. It’s time to get on to the next phase.
The manuscript is sitting there in a pile next to me.
Now, to get this published. I think it’s very good. I still enjoy reading it, even after reading it through for the 100th time. So that’s one person who likes it. I still love my characters, and I still want to keep my promises to them.
I could self-publish, and maybe that’s how this will end up, but I suspect that would seem like a disappointment to me. So the next step—and God knows I’ve only been approaching this one step at a time, but at least that’s got me this far, to a point I would never have thought myself capable of—the next step is to get myself an agent. And in order to do that, I have to put together a query letter and synopsis to send out to prospective agents.
After writing a 90,000 word novel, you’d think it would be a breeze to write a one page query letter and a two page novel synopsis, but it seems intimidating to me, and here I find myself without much of a compass. I’ve read a bunch of books on the subject, and the query letter is supposed to tell all the reasons that you think this particular book would be the right book for this particular agent, the subtext always being, “Here’s the reason why my novel is going to make you money.” To that end, you lay out what genre your novel is, and how it is just like popular books X, Y, and Z, and here’s the plot, where a, b, and c happen,” and maybe you’re subtly highlighting why this would make terrific movie material, and so on.
I’m not sure that my novel necessarily falls into any of these categories. It’s not particularly plot-driven, and I’m not sure it can fit into any well-defined category. I suppose one could say it’s what the agents call Literary Fiction, but even that designation doesn’t tell you too much. Is it a Domestic Drama? Maybe, but I’d like to think there’s too much humor in it to be considered strictly a drama. Maybe the kind of thing Anne Tyler writes. I recently read her A Spool of Blue Thread which I greatly admired, and thought, “Damn, that’s the novel that I’ve been trying to write!” Well, I’ve got to accept my limitations and understand that I’m no Anne Tyler, but at least I feel some kind of kinship with her book, so maybe the people who like Anne Tyler’s books will like mine.
Anyway, best I can tell, my work is now just beginning, and I’m about to plunge into a whole new world of learning about publishing. I never expected to get anywhere close to where I am now in terms of my writing, so anything else is gravy. I’ll just take the next step and tell myself: screw your courage to the sticking point and we’ll not fail. (Hmmm, note to self: maybe I want to rethink quoting Lady M as my inspirational source.)