Youngblood Blog

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Publishing Headache: Do or Be Done By

Monthy IWSG Corner

Mrs BeDoneByAsYouDid, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith for (1916) The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley

However talented and charismatic your writing is, entering the publishing world at ground level can be daunting. We all need a little extra help to keep our heads down and our fingers on the keyboard. In that respect, this little monthly injection from the Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG) is a boon. Those who have been following know that our revered leader, Alex J Cavanaugh, celebrated the launch of his second book last week, see blog below.

That’s taking the I-95 to stardom. Many of us toil and trouble over our works for years before reaching that superhighway. Some of us get stuck on Route-66 indefinitely and then launch ourselves into self-pub, if only to see what it actually looks like on the bookshelf!

Within what is almost the last industry to become ‘wired’, Big Five Publishers are notorious for not replying to query letters for months; require representation by an agent before looking at a submission; fail to return MSS unless accompanied by a SAE; don’t like email submissions and generally offer little advice. The learning curve is huge — and mostly self-taught.

It is little wonder, then, that self-publishing has taken off — there are an inordinate number of frustrated authors-turned-publishers out there. And with the advent of Smashwords, CreateSpace and Lulu, everyone can do it.

Plunging into deep waters: Tom hides from trout in Jessie Smith's 1916 illustration of Kingsley's 'Water Babies: a Fairy Story for Land Babies'

But we authors, published, self-published or wannabe-published, are a determined group. And we still — in our darkest days — imagine our name in (virtual) lights, our nom de plume in headlines.

So, some of us –while not letting up on the query circuit– adapt ourselves for entry into yet another world of imaginary stardom: the book contest. Believe me, it is yet another plunge into unknown waters.

I submitted to ABNA again this year, but did not make it through the first hoop — although I am thrilled to say one of my writerly cohorts did!!

Undaunted, I regrouped and headed back to my old stomping grounds (Scotland) and submitted for the newish (eight-year-old) Dundee International Book Prize, a British enterprise co-hosted by the University of Dundee and the City of Discovery. Like ABNA, Dundee takes a month or so to let you know you’ve made it (or not) through the first round. Both accepted online submissions. However, unlike ABNA’s publishing partner, Penguin Books, Cargo — the publisher behind Dundee– announces the winner AND launches the winning book in October. This at least gives the entrant hope.

Judges lined up to scan the winning entries include author Phillip Pullman, agent Jenny Brown and media intellectual Stephen Fry. With the prize also comes an advance of GBP £10,000. It is a major incentive for any new author.

The difference between these two contests, however, is striking.

Tom finds not all young ladies are as dirty as he: Smith illustration of 1916 edition of The Water Babies

All comparisons of geographical size, literary muscle and talent aside, I saw these two arms of the industry reaching out to us authors in remarkably different ways. Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) — author of the Victorian cautionary tale, The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for Land Babies — would have had fun. In his 1863 tale of a lowly sweep (boy apprentice) lowered down chimneys to clean as he went, Kingsley emphasized squalor versus gentrified living, criticized child-labor, was outraged by American slavery. His hero Tom is amazed to see his own reflection in a little lady’s bedroom, immediately plunging himself afterwards into a stream to wash; and spending the rest of the story in the arms of fairies. He is ‘redeemed’ by two Victorian mother-figures: Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid: the former surrounded all water babies in a kindly bubble; the latter brushed all aside with impunity.

Kingsley’s authority figures show remarkable similarities to our two book contests.

Dundee, a rising star in the British book prize league, offered press office interaction, explanation of how to submit, entered into helpful discussion when one platform seemed incompatible with their entry guidelines, and acknowledged receipt: c.f. Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby.

ABNA, on the other hand, admittedly swamped by 5000 entrants, did not acknowledge receipt of entries, but its webpage was efficient; announcing MS upload as having ‘succeeded’ or try again. The February 23rd first round successes were provided in a pdf list which could be downloaded to see if one’s name was included. No correspondence was entered into. In a cautionary sense, ABNA gave no advice, took no prisoners, offered no ‘Pay-it-Forward’ ethos; c.f. Kingsley’s Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid.

I do not expect consolation or even understanding from the wide world of publishing — matters for publishers have gone from bad to worse in a matter of a few years. They struggle with advances (many give none), book returns, publicity budgets and book signings. It has become a cut-throat business where many have gone down. But in taking the Bedonebyasyoudid approach, slicing off all option for the kindness of others to play a part, they may have been a little hasty –shortsighted, even. [In my opinion there will always be a place in people’s hearts for the feel of a book in one’s hands].

Dundee is Paying-it-Forward. I admire them for that. When I was unable to complete their online entry form — let’s just say it was formatted in a program which my **MacBook** couldn’t read– the Prize office suggested I send in my own text document, completing my required details. How enlightened!

Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby at Kingsley’s Christian redemptive best!

There is no mega-solution or allegory in this cautionary tale; it is totally unrealistic to believe that the publishing industry, especially in the US where readership is the world’s highest, will change overnight and become a kindly motherly soul.

But I’d like to compliment Dundee on its humanness.

It matters not who wins and who loses; but how we treat each other in the process. And ‘paying-it-forward’ is going to become more important to our interaction as we writing-humans journey through this crazy fairy story called life. On that lingering note, I thank our host, Alex, whose pay-it-forward approach has rubbed off quite a bit lately!
©2012 Marian Youngblood

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March 7, 2012 - Posted by | authors, culture, elemental, fiction, novel, writing | , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. That is quite a difference between the two contests. Business over here is just so impersonal now. We’re not writers, we’re numbers.

    Comment by Alex J. Cavanaugh | March 7, 2012 | Reply

  2. A brilliant observation. I think there are a lot of parallels here with the British versus American ethos, too. Americans tend to be ‘you have to figure it out on your own to prove your worthiness’ where Britain managed to learn the lessons of personalization and kindliness.

    Comment by Hart | March 7, 2012 | Reply

  3. It has been my experience that the publishers I’ve met or whose blurbs I’ve read seem more anxious to tell the aspiring writer just what they can’t or don’t do rather than what they can do. I can certainly appreciate the horrendous workloads the publishers (and agents, too – and it seems more and more publishers won’t even look at a submission except through an agent) have in view of the increasing number of submissions, many poorly done. But, it is very discouraging to the yet-unpublished writer.

    Comment by Jim Church | March 8, 2012 | Reply

  4. I’d like to know where this statistic — “in the US where readership is the world’s highest” — came from!

    Comment by RLB Hartmann | March 9, 2012 | Reply

  5. thanks again, Alex & Hart: always staunch!
    Jim: keeping us at it!
    RLB: Nielsen says Americans bought 751.7million books in 2010; 777million in 2009 and 757million in 2008… oh I think I should have said ‘English-reading’ public.. thanks for nudge 🙂

    Comment by siderealview | March 10, 2012 | Reply

  6. I don’t understand much of anything I think sometimes, but just hacking away I guess somehow we can make it. Innovative thinking and flexibility is the key. Maybe the tried and true roads aren’t always the ones that will get us where we’re going. Sometimes we have to trail blaze a way into new frontiers.

    Lee
    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out
    Voting for A to Z Video Contest Now Open

    Comment by Arlee Bird | March 14, 2012 | Reply

  7. Reblogged this on Youngblood Blog and commented:

    21 months ago I wrote this; seems as apt now as it did then… and as I have now inherited a SUPERB mini-aquarium, I am so-o-o reliving Chas.Kingsley’s Waterbabies + Coelacanth illustrations (1916) by #JessieWillcoxSmith

    Comment by siderealview | November 14, 2013 | Reply

  8. That does sound like a great contest. Trying to breaking into publishing is extremely hard and I am trying to do it, as you said, from the ground level with the release of my debut eBook. It is daunting. But you can say I still have the dream of my name in “lights”. 😉

    Comment by Chrys Fey | December 5, 2013 | Reply


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