Saturday, November 25, 2006

A perpetual chip (on my shoulder)

Sometimes I can be a bit abrasive. Those who know me well, know that I'm not above the sarcastic barb, or worse, sharp putdown, particularly when I'm of the opinion that my subject is dealing some serious bullsh*t.

I would say that I've gotten better at controlling those urges to "put people in their places," but from time-to-time, even now, my frustration bubbles over and I revert to being "petulant Jim."

Over the past four years, trying to find a way to market my writing and locate an audience for my opinions, commentary and views about all things Maine, I've been irked on how tough it is to get noticed and register attention with readers and others, particularly those who pay writers for their work. Now, more than ever, I'm convinced luck plays a huge role in catching a break or two as a writer.

While luck is a factor, having some support from members of Maine's writing community would certainly be helpful from time to time, not that I'm holding my breath, waiting for this to happen. If that sounds like part sour grapes, maybe it is.

Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance has been around since 1975, with a mission to "promote the value of literature and the art of writing by building a community of publishers, writers, and readers of all ages within Maine." They claim to be the largest writer's group in the country, when factored on a per capita basis. Having been a member for the past three years, I've found that they've offered very little for a writer like me. It's possible that if I wrote poetry, or children's books that they might have more to offer in the way of support. Granted, they operate as a small non-profit, which limits what they are able to offer in the way of support for writers in Maine. However, they are held up by many writers as some paragon of literary virtue. More times than I care to recount, some well-meaning pseudo-writer, the kind that's got a manuscript they've been working on for a decade, will say to me, when I whine about the lack of a writing community in Maine, "have you joined MWPA?" Personally, I've found the yearly fee I pay to be of no value whatsoever. In fact, some national trade organizations have given me real "bang for my buck" and have proven invaluable in what they've been able to offer me.

Recently, feeling shortchanged by Maine's only literary organization, I fired off a letter to MWPA, pissed that I was being "snubbed" for the second year in a row for their holiday book signing. I included some choice lines like the following:

"For the second consecutive year, writers of books that have sold a mere fraction of what my first book, the award-winning "When Towns Had Teams" has, find themselves invited and once again, I’ll be on the sidelines, excluded from an event that I have earned the right to be a part of."

The only problem with my perception is that I hadn't paid attention. If I had given heed to their monthly newsletter, "Maine In Print," I would have known that to be part of Holiday Book Fair and Author Signing, you had to send your materials in for review, since it is a juried selection process. Talk about the proverbial "egg on my face." Actually, I did send along a packet in 2005, which was rejected. But, with all that's going on here at the end of 2006, I forgot about these details and of course, when the recent"Maine In Print" showed up in my mailbox and I wasn't part of the list of 20 authors, my pride got the best of me.

I wasn't done, however, in fact, I was just warming up, as is obvious from the following:

"To be quite frank, I’ve established my own publishing beachhead with little support from Maine’s myopic writing community. At first, this was a bit of an issue for me, particularly when I first started. It is now much less of an issue, as I’ve come to accept that there will always be those who don’t value what it is that I’m trying to accomplish with RiverVision Press, both as a writer and as a publisher, plus 65-70 hour work weeks leave little room to worry about what others are doing.

While it is easy to feel slighted on a personal level, I’ve heard from other writers that this isn’t unusual for MWPA to highlight particular writers and publishers, to the exclusion of others. Yet, when a state like Maine lacks much else in the way of a writing community, it’s hard not to feel some indignity for being overlooked."

Needless to say, I didn't score any points for style and probably won't be extended an invitation to take part in any MWPA events any time soon.

Oh well, I guess I'll just have to make it on my own, DIY-style, just as I have been since day one.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

The power of (advertising) money

Sometimes I feel that I'm publishing in a vacuum. While When Towns Had Teams has sold better than I had any right to expect, as a first time author, independently releasing my own book, with no publishing experience to speak of, I still have a sense that not enough people know about the book. Interestingly, here I am, one year later, finally with some cake for advertising and the fields book readers ripe for the picking. Can we approach 2006's lofty holiday buying numbers? I think we can, precisely because I have some cash, a plan and some targeted advertising planned, via print and even radio.

There are no official channels to measure book sales for small Maine presses. If I can be so bold, however, I'd hazard a guess that my numbers for offering #1 are comparable to some of the better known presses, like Down East, Islandport and Tilbury House. I know that some of my book sellers told me last year that I was one of their better local sellers. On top of that, I've talked with other writers who offered insight into how their books did. Additionally, I check out bookstores whenever I can and my book is in alot of bookstores that some of the other publisher's books are not. Lastly, some publishers don't seem particularly interested in welcoming an upstart like RiverVision Press, Maine's unique small press. Hey, whatever!

The holiday book buying season is an exciting time for this new publisher. Prior to my foray into the book biz, I only had the usual reasons for looking forward to the holidays. Now, I have new visions of book sales dancing in my head, heading into the upcoming season.