The Gauntlet Thrown: Atticus Books has agreed to release my first novel, The Director of Happiness, in installments of two chapters a week for eight weeks, beginning this March. It works because the novel is written in 16 short chapters, and even with the footnotes comes out at 58,000 words. Pretty short.
How it Works: Well, that’s part of the process. Neither of us know exactly. This is virgin territory. One approach is that readers Sponsor (or Adopt) an Author by contributing to the novel and for it to reach goals along a thermometer line.
Complete the Dramatic Triangle. The first level along the thermometer triggers the author (me) to write the next perspective of the three major characters that form the dramatic triangle, creating suspense for readers as it further develops and complicates the novel. Now the Director of Happiness herself speaks from her own voice. Another level mark releases the third and final section of the triangle’s completion, the voice of the character “E.,” (the main character, J.J. Fleming’s, wife). Another mark can be sending the book into ebook status, and at the final mark the novel is sent into full print production, distribution and promotion following its online release and subsequent success. But the two other perspectives are only released in the print version! Oh, and the real incentive? The last two chapters are held back until it’s fully paid for. If it never is, then I’ve published a portion of what is now only one part of three parts of a novel. I have nothing to fear, and we’ve basically generated some buzz, learned from the experience, and published a portion of the novel.
How Did I Get Here? In late August I had begun a second novel, and for the first couple of months it easily took the majority of whatever “professional development” time I had. A common enough writer-life problem. Perhaps even more importantly, I spent a lot of time carefully targeting publishers and agents who I would be proud to work with, and less on blitzing in at all costs. I knew I had a “product” I believed in, and it would be worth the wait to find the right place. I’d also been doing a lot of work for C&R Press, and we’d been working on these ideas–all of which sounded potentially great–but how to put them altogether? It was sort of like cold fusion.
Crazy Crazy? or Crazy like a Fox Crazy? It seems for all the legitimate excitement and buzz in today’s publishing industry about e-everything, that writers of (it’s almost a bad word) literary fiction, cannot (and I will say for now should not) go the self-publishing route. Why not? Well, that’s a subject for another post. The fact does remain, for “hot topic” nonfiction, and often for genre fiction, self-publishing is a viable, even preferable, way to go, especially if you’re authentically driven to get behind your product. Just check out the persuasiveness from James Altucher’s recent blog post Why Every Entrepreneur Should Self-Publish a Book. He backs up his claims from experience with three major publishers. Or from a different perspective focusing strictly on the book publishing industry for writers, publishers and booksellers, consider Book Biz from Tim Byrd’s Under an Outlaw Moon blog.
Something Different about Atticus: While the idea was my own, a way “to get in the door” during a fairly dormant reading period across a great deal of the publishing world, and while the novel has not been officially “taken” by Atticus to print (which is a part of the suggested arrangement), I had no idea how excited I would be. I want to give a shout out to Atticus–specifically Dan Cafaro and Libby O’Neill. If not for the innovative spirit and engaging challenge from Dan to hit them up with ideas even while they were not accepting new manuscripts, I probably wouldn’t have even sent my brainstorm off. Perhaps it has something to do with Cafaro’s background. When he founded Atticus:
…Dan’s book publishing experience primarily had consisted of carving out a niche career in the professional association world, specifically in human resources, aerospace sciences, and performance management. His knowledge of the literary presses, mostly as a bookseller, reader, and collector, gave him a distinct, well-rounded edge to attempt the implausible: create a viable book business whose purpose was to discover voices otherwise lost in a crowded, unforgiving marketplace.
Rewards and Risks: In partnership, Atticus Books and I may be on to something new here.
- The possibilities for how to promote the work through all the avenues of social media are greatly improved. And as an author I have to literally put up or shut up about whether or not people respond. A challenge and an opportunity.
- We can promote by doing things like having a contest/bid for the book trailer. A book trailer would be perfect for a project such as this–abstracts of characters and images and some content–all without revealing the end.
- Certain obvious risks are in play too. How much material do you offer for free? How much do you “let happen” and how much do you set specific goals? How does one structure the opportunities for people to donate and, therefore, support the title coming into existence in print form? And is that really what the primary goal of such an enterprise should be?
- How much does the publisher get for their energy, promotion and time in general, and how much does the author?
- How do we measure success? a certain number of readers, a certain number of donations or funds? Or is it like so many entrepreneurial endeavors: simply another step in the long and challenging journey of marketing and branding?
With a release date a month away, we have a lot of work to do, but that very urgency, the very immediacy of generating buzz and maximizing the event of its first release, is the very part of this idea that just might work. If it doesn’t? It will. Okay, OR, we learn a lot and offer it as advice?