The Book That Refused To Die!
edited: Saturday, July 27, 2002
By B. R. Montgomery
Posted: Saturday, July 27, 2002
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An E-Book Learning Experience
I guess a more appropriate title of this tale of Writer's Woe would be along the lines of, "Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Publishing."
A long time ago, in a small town far, far away, I attended a workshop. Most of the other attendees were either struggling through their first book or looking for editors willing to read their latest one.
Actually, I hadn't even started my first. I didn't know if I could. I went as a lark, nothing more. I got lost after the luncheon and ended up in the wrong room. But I stayed anyway. Couldn't hurt, right?
I sat listening patiently to a very nice lady from New Jersey describe her New York Times Best Seller. The book consisted of not much more than a series of child-like sketches and grammatically incorrect descriptions of the clothes she'd worn at significant moments in her life.
I listened and thought, "I paid $40 for this?"
Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I bought her book, read it and again thought, "I paid $14.95 for this?"
The experience, and the expense, left me with one thought in mind and one goal for the future.
If a little old lady from Newark can do it, so can I.
A few years and four or five manuscripts later, I finished what, in newby naivete`, I considered the ultimate Great American Novel. A book destined to take the publishing world by storm and make a record-breaking climb to the top of every Best Seller list in the country.
The characters were vivid and unforgettable. The story line raced through mysterious plot twists and unexpected turns, and roared to an absolute edge-of-your-seat finish. Man, oh man, this is great!
I had visions of appearances on the Today Show and Phil Donahue. I'd be interviewed by everyone from Bryant Gumble to Barbara Walters.
Oh, yeah. This was gonna be the greatest thing to hit the publishing world since Gone With the Wind.
"If you write it, they will come!"
Oh, they came, all right. Rejection letters. "Thanks, but no thanks," notes from agents. Rewrite and revision suggestions from junior editors who couldn't find a coherent sentence with a two million watt flashlight and a dope-sniffing beagle. Even a couple of postcards that said simply, "You have GOT to be kidding!"
Some writers count their rejection letters. I weighed mine.
My poor little newby heart shattered into a G-Zillion pieces. My critique partner, bless her heart, tried to console me without success. I was totally devastated.
The doubt demons had a field day, using my self-confidence for a trampoline. The tears flowed relentlessly. No Bryant Gumble. No Phil Donahue. (Well, maybe no great loss there.) No one would ever hear the valiant story of a small town girl who made good. But the thing that devastated me most - the biggest loss of all -- was that I'd never get to meet Barbara Walters!
Oh, the agony!
I vowed never to write another word. I promised myself that never again would I let some faceless stranger throw my heart and soul back at me and giggle.
I downloaded all the manuscript files onto a diskette, tossed it, and the 400-plus printed pages of my Great American Novel, in a pale blue box and slid it under my bed. My wonderful characters could join the wonderful characters of the other wonderful novels in dust bunny soccer game for all I cared.
The little old lady from Jersey be hanged. I was done!
But, as with so many New Year's Resolutions, that lasted about three days.
You writers know how it is with your characters. They develop personalities of their own. They push you and prod you. They send their vibes up through the mattress and invade your dreams. They keep at you until all you can do is type what they tell you to type and hope your fingers can move as fast as your brain can think.
Such is the curse of fiction writers. Haunted by our own creations.
Finally, after the fourth sleepless night in a row, I'd had it! I jumped out of bed, threw my pillow across the room and said, "Okay! If that's what you want, that's what you'll get!"
I pulled the now dust-covered pale box out from under my bed and dropped it on my desk. I popped the diskette into my A-Drive and opened it up. I took another look at the rejection letters I'd received. Maybe there was something there that would help me figure out where I'd gone wrong.
Now, you have to get a mental picture of this. I'm sitting at my computer at three o'clock in the morning, having had less than three hours sleep in three days. Wearing little more than a red silk nightgown and a determined grimace, I began to pour over every little sentence of the book that wouldn't die.
I updated, revised and re-titled it. I spell-checked it to within an inch of its life. I added tags and removed two out of every three 'was's. A few weeks later, I felt ready to take on the publishing giants again. I sent out queries to all of the publishers and agents from whom I'd received rejections.
Once again, I began the mailbox patrol. Daily trips to my local Mailboxes, Etc. yielded another series of rejections and suggestions. Not enough of this and too much of that. Change this and "Are you kidding me?" that.
Over the next several months, I shortened the book to 50,000 words for Precious Gems. I lengthened it to 75,000 words for Kensington. I added a love scene and took out a dead body for Silhouette Special Edition. I took out a love scene and added a dead body for Harlequin Intrigue. I threw in a couple of four-letter words for Doubleday then removed them again for St. Martin's.
Hell, I even wrote a screenplay version of the damned thing and submitted it to an agent for Dreamworks!
Finally, I asked myself if enough was truly enough!
Just as I was about to enter my stubborn characters into the Dust Bunny World Cup, a multi-published friend asked what I'd been writing.
Without a millisecond's hesitation, I launched into the story of the book that wouldn't die. She asked to read it and I asked which version she'd like.
We finally settled on the one that most closely resembled the original manuscript. She took it home to read and I promptly moved to another outline.
About a week later, she called to say she loved the book and would I like it if she recommended it to her publisher.
Would I like it? Does a grizzly bear like salmon? Does a four-year-old like cookies and ice cream?
"Of course!" I shouted into the phone. I jumped up and down with glee, not even thinking that I was most probably rattling the chandelier of the grumpy neighbor in the apartment below mine.
She said she would and I thanked her. She did and I received an Email from the publisher. Would I forward the book to him? I did so. IMMEDIATELY.
Two days later he Emailed back that he only had to read the first few pages to know he had to publish it.
Now, those of you who have received THE CALL know what I felt at that moment. After all the agony and ecstasy and sweat and tears that a writer pours into his or her work, the thrill of hearing the words, 'I'd like to buy your book," cannot be described. Not by Roget's Thesaurus or even by the Romance Writer's Phrase Book. It has to be experienced to be understood.
The book that refused to die was not only published but also destined to become an entry into the newest medium in publishing. The E-Book Revolution.
The publisher invited me to offer cover design suggestions, which I did eagerly. I don't think there's an author alive today that doesn't imagine what the perfect cover would be for their book.
He offered no rewrite suggestions. He liked my cover design but couldn't use it because the book had been scheduled as one of the premier entries of a brand new series. He proudly announced that the book would be available through Amazon.com.
Wow! Barbara Walters, here I come.
I so basked in the wonder of changing my description from writer to author that I forgot one of the most important aspects of publishing.
The words, "THE END" doesn't mean the works stops. They mean it's just begun.
Some call E-Books, "The Future of Publishing", myself included. There are some so-called purists who subscribe wholeheartedly to the belief that if you're not on the Broadway stage, you're not really in the Theatre. Or if you're not in Hollywood, you don't make REAL movies. But those of us that live in other parts of the country know better.
Fine theatre and outstanding performances can be found not only in New York City, but also in Chicago and Los Angeles, and even in little-known communities like Rifle, Colorado and Bristol, Indiana. Independent film studios in North Carolina and Florida are producing some outstanding, Oscar-caliber films. Entertainment is entertainment, no matter where you find it.
The same adage holds true in publishing as well as film or television or theatre. Just because a writer's work is not available in paperback with a sexy cover or in hardcover with a glossy jacket, many people do not consider the work a real book. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"Those who believe that a shift in reading habits is at hand have things only slightly wrong," reports a recent article in Fortune Magazine. "Americans have been doing part of their reading on screens ever since the age of silent films. Add the personal computer, closed captioning, portable electronics and the Web, and you enter a world in which the written word is no longer synonymous with the word on paper."
Some in the print publishing industry seem unwilling to accept this concept as fact. Beware, I say. Without learning to adapt to the changing times, you may look up one day and notice the readers and writers you depend upon for your very existence have moved on without you.
At the turn of the 20th century, the idea of space travel lived only in the minds of visionaries such as Jules Verne. As we celebrated the birth of the 21st century, we stared at live television pictures from the Mir Space Station and watched in awe as the Internet presented us with spectacular images of a meteor crashing into Jupiter.
Fifty years ago, the computer was only a gleam in someone's eye. Today, 30% of American shoppers will do their Christmas buying via the Internet and one computer software CEO has amassed a personal fortune that could nearly pay off the national debt.
As technology grows and mankind adapts, so also must the publishing industry follow suit.
Some major bookstore chains are still turning a deaf ear at the mere mention of an E-Book. Why they do this is a mystery to me. After all, when I was going through the dictionary the other day, I found the word "E-Mail."
Can you believe it? Right there in today's Webster's II! How marvelous. If electronic mail is considered part of today's language, why not "E-Book?"
When my author copies arrived, I just sat there and stared at the CD cover. A little too generic for my tastes, but there it was, in black and white.
B. R. Montgomery. Wow, again.
The sight of my name on a CD-ROM cover was exceeded only the joy of announcing to my circle of friends that I was officially an AUTHOR! "That's great," they said, "Where can I buy your book?"
If my name was Danielle Steele, then my publisher and my agent would work overtime setting up personal appearances and talk show spots and book-signing tours all over the place. But I'm not the incomparable Ms Steele.
So I let my fingers do the walking through the yellow pages. I made a list of bookstores and booksellers from San Juan Capistrano to La Puente to Reseda to San Bernardino. I wore out a brand new manicure punching in telephone numbers. I walked the proverbial streets, stomp the book-selling bricks in an effort to get my book on the store shelves so I can honestly answer my friends’ questions.
I called every published author I knew asking for suggestions and tips. I picked so many brains until a couple of them refused to take my calls any more.
There have been a number of authors who have begun to blaze the trail for those of us to follow. Carol Givner, best-selling E-book author made the crossover to Barnes & Noble last year when her E-book "Bing, Bang, Boom!" showed up on the new-releases table beside John Grisham's newest hardcover.
"I never imagined my book would wind up there," says Givner. "There's no E-book section in any of these stores yet."
But I guess maybe I was a season late with my release. The novelty had worn off and I couldn't give the danged thing away.
I quickly discovered that the major booksellers hadn't jumped on the E-book bandwagon as predicted. I couldn't find a store that would put me on their schedule because the home offices had no allocations for E-Books.
I had store clerks look at me in wide-eyed confusion and say, "Oh, if it’s on a CD, then we’d have it over in the music department."
I'd given a copy to a friend only to have her call back three days later to tell me it didn't work.
"No," she said. "I put it in my CD player so I could hear it on the way to Vegas and it didn't work."
Although I love her dearly, I figured that if she didn't know the difference between an audio book and an E-Book, there was no way I could explain it.
The book that wouldn't die, did.
Or so I thought.
I proposed my problem to an agent friend of mine. He read the book and enjoyed it very much. But in order to do anything with it, we'll have to wait until the E-contract ran out. Then I'll retitle again and revise a little and let him do his thing.
All in all, I look upon the past 3 years as a learning experience. E-Publishing will someday come into its own. I have no doubt about that. Maybe in my lifetime; maybe not. But the thrill is still there for me and always will be. Something I created out of my own imagination has been purchased and enjoyed by at least a few faceless readers out there. And if I can do it once, I can do it again. If I can do it twice, I can do it three times. If I can do it 3 times, I can do it 33 times!
The book that refused to die may have been my first foray into the publishing jungle, but it won't be my last.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of publishing, I shall fear no editors. Thy red pens and rejection letters will not dissuade me. My hard drive overfloweth with new outlines. Surely, 'Writer' and 'Author' shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the creative family of writers forever and ever.