Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Spruce Park Press?

Zestful Blog Post #80

Last week I mentioned that I’m doing revisions on and preparing to self-publish my next novel, Left Field. The ‘long-awaited’ fifth in the Lillian Byrd series, Left Field opens with Lillian doing odd detective jobs for a pair of odder recluses in one of Detroit’s last remaining prestige neighborhoods. After spotting a corpse on the next-door lawn, she… well, more on the story soon. Today I’ll be talking publishing.

I’ve heard from readers who wonder why I’m publishing under my own imprint, Spruce Park Press. Funny, I sat down and tried to answer that in a blog-postable 400-600 words, but found I had to compress and omit way too much, including how I got my first publishing contracts and representation. The micro version is simply this:

There are a number of established publishers who have expressed interest in Left Field or anything in the LGBT line I might write. I run into them at conferences, or they email me or put out a feeler via a common friend. But none of them offers terms I want.

That’s the short, literal answer, and it’s rooted, of course, in the digital revolution. How did I arrive at this point?
[The logo for my imprint, designed by TreeHouse Studios. I love it so much I’m thinking I might want to do more with it, like publish others someday.]

For a long time I thought my publishing history wouldn’t engross anybody, thus I omitted it from this blog. But when I get to talking informally with aspiring writers, especially novelists, I find that they are acutely interested in the twists and turns of my career, and they find my perspective helpful—to the point of grabbing the front of my shirt and demanding to know more. Think you’re the only one with publishing heartache? Look no further! Stick with me.

I’ll give you some detail and flavor of the whole enterprise, while keeping things chronological and more or less concise. The point is that my actions and decisions today all are based on my experiences. So here’s the story of my experience. The first installment today, more to come.

1) First Publications

Like many young people with literary ambitions, I got started writing poetry and short fiction, and had my first publications with those. In undergrad school at Michigan State I submitted all over the place, including the New Yorker, which was laughable, but they actually sent me a handwritten no-thank-you. (Aiming high never hurt anybody, I firmly believe. Aiming low, however, is a different story.)

Eventually I had some poems published in the Detroit-based literary journal The Smudge, edited by Douglas Mumm and Kurt Nimmo. (Where are they today? Thank you, guys.) I remember standing in my dorm room opening that first acceptance letter and howling with excitement. The girl in the next room came running in, fearing I was killing an animal. Hey, I told her, I’ve just skipped over the school literary journal and gone right to the hardscrabble level of an independent magazine. They want three of the six poems I sent! They want a photo of me!

So I enlisted a guy I was dating to shoot some black-and-white pictures of me looking dramatic in a dark alley, beneath a cone of grainy light. I sent those in, but the editors wrote back saying they wanted something more legible. Perhaps some shots of me indoors under better lighting? So we tried again, and the result was a picture of me smiling enthusiastically, as if someone had just told me I was really smart. This was in the late 1970s. In spite of my best efforts to suppress it, my birth date is now public information, so I might as well be honest about my vintage. The Smudge was, like many an underfunded journal, short-lived, but it gave me affirmation and confidence.

More next week, which will span quite a few years and bring us up to the publication of my first novel, Holy Hell.

Speaking of poetry, here’s something from one of our fellow zestful writers, Lidy Wilks. Her new book of poetry, Can You Catch My Flow?, is available here.

I’ll be glad to share your link too. Let me know when you have something new out, OK?

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  1. Once again from a member of your Florida Heritage critique group: I write folk tales as A.A.King and just put out a 2d edition of The Not-So-Grim Folk Tales and More Not-So-Grim Folk Tales using Create Space. Naturally I will be following your blog closely while you talk about publishing. JH Weis

    1. Fabulous, JH. Thanks for sharing the news about your work! Back at ya next week.

  2. Looking forward to hearing the rest! Reading about your first acceptance made me smile - I have the first check I received from my first paid acceptance framed in my office. It was many, many years ago from a small, now defunct literary journal. I'll have to see if my husband remembers what we did with that ten dollars. :)

    1. How fun, Madeline! I hope you guys spent the money on a special little treat....


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