Saturday, September 4, 2010

Poe's Digital Daughter

Julie Smith

Hi. I’m Julie and I’m a writeaholic. Although I’ve long admitted I was powerless before my addiction, it was working for me, so who cared? But lately I’ve realized I’ve got another, possibly self-destructive problem: I’m addicted to publishing as practiced by the great houses of New York.

Why is this self-destructive, you might say, since it’s a) lucrative and b) the only game in town if you want to make an actual living? Oh, let’s see. Let me count the ways. It turns me into a passive and obedient little girl. Dare I say… a corporate drone? It restricts creativity. It makes me feel like I’m either queen for a day or the icky stuff on somebody’s shoe, and which one it is is always their call. It makes me feel powerless. It makes me feel like I’m in a strait jacket….it makes me want to scream….

Oh, help, get me to a meeting! Wait, can’t go yet. Need to say:
It’s not nearly as lucrative as it used to be. For publishers or authors. And it’s not the only game in town any more.

I feel better now.

I still need a meeting, no way I’ve kicked it, but maybe we’re onto a new 12-step program here, because realizing that last thing--that it’s not the only game in town any more–might be the new second step.

I’ve been gradually coming to that awareness, and last year decided to add yet another addiction to the first two—though maybe something a bit more constructive. Having been a wannabe writer for years before I actually was one, now I’m a wannabe publisher. Which is more constructive because I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen just as soon as we get our website up. In other words, the power’s now mine. Not that I’ve given up my other addictions. I can’t stop writing, and New York, I’ll always love you. This is simply something else. Not a replacement; an addition.

But what’s the point, besides feeling more in control? Easy: The creative challenge. This isn’t traditional publishing—it’s digital, dahlings. The only way to go! You know what you can do with digital? Almost anything. Like add video. Publish books of any length whatsoever—five pages if you like, or 5000. Offer them in sections, like episodes of TV shows. Sell them cheap. Flog individual short stories. Split 50-50 with your authors! Invent completely new art forms. Buy books that might otherwise slip through the cracks. Test out your pet theories about what people really want. And don’t want.

My agent once told me I couldn’t write about Mormons because no one in New York would buy the book. Unconvinced, I ran that by an editor. Know what she said? “Julie, why do you keep coming up with these insane ideas that push people’s buttons?”

Mormons push people’s buttons? Who knew?

So the first book we acquired was one that pushed buttons in New York—it’s an adorable chick-lit mystery, cute and funny and clever, about a writer whose day gig happens to be phone sex. Oh, no! Not that! New York was appalled.

Well, it’ll be an experiment. So far not one single person’s gone ewwwww! Au contraire, every woman I’ve mentioned it to has lit up. It’s something we’re all curious about. Something, maybe, to fall back on if publishing really does croak and our bag lady fantasies are this….far….from coming true. I’m betting people’ll love the book. And the good part is, it won’t cost much to find out—digital is about a zillion times cheaper than print.

Now then. Let’s talk about you. Should you start your own digital publishing company? I highly recommend it, but oh, boy, is it humbling. Because, see, writers act like…writers. When one author suggested GEOMETRY as the title for her literary love story, I swore never to give another publisher a hard time about a title.

That debacle ended with a six-person pow-wow that included the author, her daughter, her four-old granddaughter, and seventy-five potential titles, all of which they hated! But there was one amazing, magic moment. The author suddenly started shaking and, I swear to God, her hair stood on end. When she finally got control, she mouthed three words: The perfect title.

Then there’s the author who won’t even talk about her cover because “what if the graphic’s not my vision of the character?” Yikes. You people.

Finally, there’s me. One book we acquired is a mainstream novel without an obvious niche—leaving me with the same problems as every publisher who’s ever said “love to, but don’t know how.” Dammit, we’re going to figure out how! Want to help?
It’s a satire about a virgin named Mary who gives birth on Chrismas Eve, 2011 . You can just imagine how much fun the author had imagining this poor child’s exploitation ops. Delightful book, but not a mystery or a romance. It’ll be our Christmas offering, but aside from that, what? Any ideas? Write me at , and I’ll be grateful.

Meanwhile, be nice to your publisher! You might be one some day.

Edgar-winner Julie Smith has written so many novels it’s sick, but can’t stop herself. Her infant blog on her new publishing venture is .


Sandra Parshall said...

Hi, Julie -- I'm glad to hear you "can't stop writing" because I will eagerly read anything you produce. Thanks for visiting PDD and telling us about your e-publishing venture.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Welcome to PDD, Julie. :) Two questions plenty of people will be eager to hear the answers to:
1. are you accepting unsolicited queries or submissions for your e-publishing venture; and 2. will we ever get to see more of Skip Langdon?

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks for the visit--this is really intriguing!

Marilynne said...

Well, being a publisher and a writer sounds like a lot of fun - and a lot of work. Enjoy yourself. It sounds like you've paid your dues.

Julie Smith said...

Thanks, ladies. Liz, in answer to your questions, we aren't yet accepting queries; instead we're commissioning work from writers we love. However- we're going to have two kinds of monthly contests that can led to publication and MONEY. As to the second--you never know--Skip Langdon might come back one day.