I’d assembled a “Best of…” collection of tales and spent more than a year trying to find a publisher for it. All of the stories in that collection, titled Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination, had been previously published, some in pretty prestigious publications. A couple had aired on CBC Radio and I’d even received a generous grant from the Canada Council that helped pay for writing part of the book.
See, the widely held view is that single author short story collections, regardless of the stature of the writer, just don’t sell. Sadly, I can tell you from personal experience that this is not an urban legend, for some reason contemporary readers shun the short story format. God knows why. Regardless, publishers tend to shy away from anthologies and such and my little offering was no exception.
“These stories are well written but as you know in today’s marketplace short story collections do not attract significant sales, etc….”
Heard that one a number of times.
But, curiously enough, the one sentiment repeated over and over again was this: good writing, exciting plots and themes, but we don’t publish this type of thing.
What exactly was “this type of thing”?
My own bizarre concoction, a spicy stew of science fiction, horror, fantasy and mainstream, literary prose. A mash-up of every genre under the sun, defying categorization and safe niches. Which didn’t help matters. As far as Canadian presses were concerned anything with the slightest taint of genre was out—more than one Canuck editor gave me the impression that my stories weren’t, well, Canadian enough, didn’t conform to some weird, unwritten cultural checklist.
And as far as the Americans and Brits were concerned, I was a young, emerging writer, no following, and while my work showed originality and creative spark, it wasn’t worth risking a significant investment of time and resources.
So my book was effectively dead in the water.
But I couldn’t help thinking about a fellow I’d heard about out east, a guy who’d made it his mission in life to stick a pin in the Canadian publishing industry and, in general, make a nuisance of himself. Crad Kilodney’s best stunt, in my view, was submitting classic stories by Kafka and Hemingway and others to a national literary contest and then publicly embarrassing the judges and administrators for failing to recognize their literary merit.
Crad, understandably, found it difficult to place his work so he started publishing it himself and selling it as limited edition chapbooks on the streets of Toronto. My wife brought me back a copy of one he dubbed Bang Heads Here Suffering Bastards in the late 1980’s and I was immediately impressed by the author’s chutzpah and creative passion.
When my Sex collection was passed over by every publisher north of the Rio Grande, I recalled Crad and his fuck you, DIY mentality and thought to myself, shit, I can do that too.
It took me months to put it all together, find the right cover art, a printer and bookbinder, and the final price tag was (gulp) just over $3000 to print 500 copies. Money I did not have.
Fortunately, the entire print run sold out in about five months.
It was astonishing.
I think my old chum Mark Ziesing sold at least 70 copies through his small mail order company alone. The Regina bookstore I worked for at the time also moved a lot of copies and every time Sherron and I travelled somewhere, we always took a box with us, nabbing consignment sales in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.
There were no returns.
The crowning moment was when our bookstore staff had dinner with Canadian literary icon Timothy Findley. Once he heard I had a new book out, Tiff generously asked to see it. After reading it, he sent me the most beautiful blurb possible. I was unable to use his kind words on that edition of Sex and promised him I would never employ them on any other title except the one for which they were intended. And so when I re-release Sex and Other Acts of the Imagination on its 25th anniversary early next year (2015), it will finally feature Tiff’s warm praise:
“This is a book of hot dreams and frozen nightmares. It floats on a plane few writers achieve, where the imagery is raw but the insights are tender. The people in these stories will stay with me for a long time to come.”
Thanks, Tiff. You dear, sweet man.
I’ve published a couple of short chapbooks and a collection of novellas (Righteous Blood) through other small presses but I have to say none of those experiences came close to the joy I felt writing, editing and publishing my own work. No middle men, no editorial interference, no bullshit. Controlling all the creative and aesthetic decisions, right down to the choice of font and margins.
I was hooked.
I released books through my imprint, Black Dog Press, in 1994, 1995, 1997…but that last title (another short story collection!), The Reality Machine, cost me close to $7000 and put a serious strain on our finances. It took us awhile to recover and then I embarked on a 3 1/2 year odyssey that became, eventually, my occult thriller So Dark the Night.
The completion of that novel coincided with the arrival of print-on-demand publishing, the biggest change to the book biz since Joe Gutenberg opened his first copy shop in Mainz. Thanks to POD, publishing on a smaller scale has become much more affordable, plus I now have access to the international marketplace I’ve always coveted. Physical book or digital version, it’s up to my readers.
Since the 2010 publication of So Dark the Night, this press has released 5 more titles, each of them professionally designed and formatted, featuring eye-poppingly gorgeous cover art. You’ll find them in my bookstore and, I think you’ll agree, they look as good as any offering you’ll come across in your favorite book store. The writing isn’t bad either.
So that’s the story behind Black Dog Press, my eccentric little publishing venture. Twenty-five years and eleven titles later (two more in the pipeline), and we’re still going strong.
I may never get rich but at least my work is out there, available to readers who seek prose that veers from the familiar and mocks the very notion of consensual reality. In this era of corporate publishing, a profit-mongering environment that encourages the proliferation of sub-literate, derivative fiction, independent presses like mine offer hope and inspiration to those of us who revere the printed word and refuse to kowtow to the mediocre and witless.
Thanks for your support over the years.
The best is yet to come.
I’m referring to a recent post over at Mediabistro (why do I continue to subscribe to them, they only depress me) crowing that over 235,000 self-published books were released last year. That’s physical books and their digital cousins.
Sturgeon’s Law would have you think 90% of those titles are complete crap but, based on my own investigations, I would say the actual figure is closer to 99.8%. Which means, according to my very rough calculations (I’ve detested math all my life), less than 500 of the aforementioned books are worth even glancing at.
Nearly a quarter million books, only 500 possessing any kind of literary merit. Pretty grim, huh?
But when was the last time you walked through a Chapters or Barnes & Noble book barn? Of the thousands of books your eyes passed over, what percentage looked intelligent enough to warrant a closer look? I’m guessing it was a very tiny proportion. Crap is crap, whether it’s produced by a bad cowboy poet from Dubuque, or issues forth from Random House, with the full weight of their publicity machine behind it.
I’ve just about given up on the big box stores. This past week we were visiting Edmonton and I had the great fortune to spot Old Strathcona Books, a wonderful used book place on Gateway Boulevard. The selection was amazing and the two gals behind the counter friendly and welcoming, real book-lovers, with in-depth knowledge of their wares. My kinda joint.
Get out there and support first rate bookstores like Old Strathcona, marvel at the wide selection of titles they offer, hard to find tomes and marginalia that highlight the diversity of fine fiction available to discriminating readers, unheralded authors waiting to be discovered. Because despite the flood of offal being spewed out these days by traditional publishers and the self-publishing gits, superb works of literature are still being produced…you just have to dig around and search for them.
Don’t be discouraged, steel your nerves and have at it.
The reward, finding a book that changes your perspective, alters the way you think and look at the world, sends seismic shockwaves through your soul and soma, makes all those tireless efforts worthwhile.
I was talking to someone recently and spoke of the pressure I feel as an independent writer and publisher to ensure my work achieves professional standards. I’ve been an indie guy for over twenty (20) years and I can tell you I take what I do very, very seriously. I labor without respite, without consideration to either health or sanity, to release volumes of the highest possible caliber, painstakingly conceived and lovingly produced.
To me, it’s important to present readers with a complete package: a book that’s lovely to look at and hold, the formatting easy on the eyes and, most important of all, the quality of the writing is in evidence in every line.
Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover.
Self-publishers, especially those who primarily favor the e-book format (for cheapness and ease), select the most generically ugly covers imaginable. Artless, crude, formulaic. And, chances are, those adjectives can also be applied the prose they excrete at an alarming rate. It’s amazing how many books you can churn out when you don’t edit or proofread. Or spell check.
I look at these efforts by my “colleagues” and shudder. And feel an even greater motivation to somehow separate my fiction from the terrible slop that people are constantly releasing thanks to e-books, blogs and print-on-demand (POD). How can I convince readers that my work is the exception that disproves the rule: not all independently produced writing is sub-literate, juvenile, asinine tripe?
That question has bedeviled me for a long time, my friends. I can’t describe to you what a downer it is to walk into a bookstore with some of my books and see the manager’s face fall when I tell him/her my work is released under my own imprint. Book employees are constantly being approached by people pushing their dreadful poetry, memoirs and cookbooks on them, demanding precious shelf space, while simultaneously giving every impression of enduring lives of endless persecution and unacknowledged suffering. But I have to say, the book people I’ve dealt with usually do an abrupt volte-face when I pull out a copy of a Black Dog Press release and show it to them. The covers are always eye-grabbers and that helps, then they spot the glowing reviews and blurbs, open the book, feel the pages, glance over the formatting…more often than not they end up taking a few copies. And not begrudgingly either.
I’m learning to accept that I can’t do much about the silly, deluded people who are determined to foist their unpolished, inept scribbles on the world, flooding the market, reproducing themselves with the prodigious energy of hormone-laced hares. I must keep on keeping on, positioning myself before this keyboard every single day as I have for the past quarter century or more. Seeking no fame or recompense, wishing only to improve my craft, grow and develop an an author. Clinging to a kind of belated faith that there are still serious readers out there, bibliophiles avidly seeking out literate, well-honed prose.
If I keep at it long enough, remain devoted and true to my calling, they’ll eventually find me.
It’s kind of like believing in God, only the evidence is far more tenuous, the suspension of disbelief even harder to maintain…
You’ll find all the relevant biographical info about me here.
I offer a sizable batch of my stories for free reading and downloading, you’ll find them here.
A number of my books are available for purchase and you can find ordering info here.
I know some of you (many of you? most of you?) view indie/self-published writers with a great deal of misgivings. I don’t blame you. The advent of blogging, print on demand and e-books has led to an explosion of self-published novels and volumes of poetry and the vast majority of them are unbelievably horrible. So bad, I wouldn’t wrap fish in them (real or virtual). In my view, when it comes to self-published offerings, Sturgeon’s Law is too kind—at least 98% of the self-published efforts I’ve tried to read are embarrassingly juvenile and inept. Derivative, tuneless, execrable drek.
I acknowledge that.
Now I want you to pop back to my roster of professional credits, scroll down until you get to the blurbs appearing below them. I think it’s pretty clear I’m no dabbler. For the past twenty-five (+) years, day in and day out, I have been putting words on paper. Writing is my obsession, an essential article of my faith, the activity that keeps me from absolutely losing my mind. Have a glance at one of my stories, a tale like “Daughter”. If that one doesn’t have you hooked within about ten lines, kid, you’re reading it upside down.
I became an independent author and publisher by choice. Producing and releasing my own work allows me to present it in the manner I intended; every choice is left to my discretion, from the cover art to the layout. It’s time-consuming, frequently maddening but, in the end, worth it for the control it gives me over all aspects of book production, promotion & distribution.
I hope you’ll take a chance on an author who has taken advantage of the new technologies to present an alternative to the rather dreadful crop of books the trads (traditional publishers) have been releasing since they went corporate and lost their souls. My stories and novels are thrilling, original and literate. They transcend easy genre classification; years ago, someone referred to my odd oeuvre as “Twilight Zone on acid stories” and I suppose there’s some truth to that. I draw inspiration from the surrealists and my work frequently displays more than a passing affection for the macabre.
If you’re feeling a bit flush this month, experiencing a craving for a much-needed mental goose, give some thought to picking up one of my books or downloading some of my stories. It’s simple, just a matter of a few clicks of your mouse. Remember how bored you were the last time you walked through a bookstore? Unable to find anything that spoke to your particular zeitgeist. Now’s your chance to veer off the beaten track and discover an author who makes no attempt to cater to the marketplace or kowtow to editors and agents.
But be warned: here there be tygers. My writing takes a toll on readers who have been lulled into lazy modes of thinking. My fiction is a wake up call, a warning klaxon, a condemnation. You can do a lot of damage with a steady hand and a sharp scalpel.
Time to check out some of my work. Go ahead. What are you waiting for? You’re not scared, are you?
The latest communication from Lightning Source indicates the proof of my novel So Dark the Night will be printed tomorrow (Tuesday, April 20th) and, if there are no obvious glitches, sent off to me a short time afterward.
(Sound FX: Fingers drumming anxiously on desk top.)
In the meantime, I’ve decided to post more of my strange, ambient music—it’s on my “Audio” page, just scroll down past the spoken word stuff and you’ll get there. Really love these pieces, which I’m calling (collectively) Intervals. There’s been a big progression since my first offering and one tune from this latest batch in particular stands out for me: can you guess which it is?
Busy days around here: Sam, Liam and a number of their friends (shout out to Sean, Dylan, Jess and the rest of the crew) are deeply involved in a short film project that keeps getting bigger and bigger. I applaud their ambition. Sherron has her own film on the go, an abstract bit of business for which I’ll be supplying music. But the deadline for the local, library-sponsored film short film competition is looming, so I hope their post-production efforts go well or they’re gonna be scrambling.
Meanwhile, I’m fretting over the impending arrival of the proof, beating my brains out trying to find ways to better promote and distribute my independently produced books. I welcome your input and advice on both these points.
Let me know what you think of Intervals too. And keep watching these pages for more info on the release of So Dark the Night, a supernatural thriller with a heart of gold. Your summer reading is on its way. And I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
First of all, the cover and text files of my novel So Dark the Night have been uploaded to Lightning Source and we have been told to expect a bound proof of the book in the next week or so.
The process of prepping the book, getting the files formatted properly, meeting Lightning Source’s very complicated and detailed specifications, took some doing. Honestly, the folks at Lightning Source are great, helpful and quick to respond to questions. Full marks to them for that. But their process is so amazingly convoluted it would scare the living bejesus out of anyone with little or no tech savvy. Fortunately, my wife Sherron is fearless and possesses endless reservoirs of patience. She needed every last drop. She worked for hours on consecutive nights, trying to make sense out of the printed guide supplied by Lightning Source and then, God help her, doing her best to master Adobe Pro 9, which we needed to complete the process. She was a trooper, I tell you, plowing her way through while her husband (that’s me) had to take frequent “time outs” to maintain his composure and rein in his well-known impatience and incendiary temper.
And let me also single out our cover designer/graphic artist Chris Kent for praise, salute him for assistance and tolerance above and beyond the call of duty. When Sherron finally had to throw up her hands, he graciously agreed to meet with her and help her get those &$#@ing files sorted out. Chris, you da man!
So now it’s wait for the proof and see if there are any glitches that need correcting. This is computers we’re talking about, after all, semi-sentient creatures showing the first stirrings of consciousness. God knows what that proof will look like. Lightning Source has a promotional offer on right now–for the next month they’re waiving their set-up fee of $75. So I guess I should consider this, my initial shot, a freebie. Nothing to lose, right?
But if all goes well, we’ll get the proof, it’ll look fantastic and production can begin immediately. I’ll put in an order for 100 books and we’ll arrange a launch, peddle the books to Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton. Send fliers to the indie bookstores still out there (damn few of them) and prevail on friends in far-flung places like Vancouver, Toronto and Los Angeles to flog the sample copies I send them.
What else can I do? Newspapers have slashed their book review pages–and, even so, indie/self-published work constantly had a hard time getting any kind of acceptance from the mainstream media. No one in Canada reviewed Righteous Blood, despite the review copies publisher Peter Crowther supplied at my insistence (sorry, Peter!). Should I try my luck with their on-line counterparts? BookNinja and Bookslut, places like that? What think you, Readers? Where do you go to get your reviews, information on interesting new releases? Let me know…
I’ve checked into shipping and, hoo boy, have prices ever skyrocketed in the past few years. Mailing out copies of So Dark the Night is going to be a pretty costly proposition. Tentatively, here are the numbers we’re looking at:
So Dark the Night—$17.95 per copy (U.S. & Canada); £13 (U.K.); €14.75 Euros (Europe)
E-Book: $9.95 (U.S. & Canada); £6.50 (U.K.); €7.50 Euros (Europe)
$8.00 Surface (USA) $9.50 Airmail (USA)
$16.50 (Air) Overseas
I’ll be making half the book available as a free PDF and I’ll also be recording the entire book, which you’ll be able to hear (free) as an MP3 download or podcast.
And there you have it; you’re now completely up to date.
Besides getting the book ready, I’ve had to register Black Dog Press as a business ($110.00) and check on my PST and GST status (thankfully, neither applies to a micro press like mine). To keep myself sane, I’ve been creating more music, which I hope to post in the next few weeks. For those of you who liked my “Soundtrack For A Science Fiction Movie Never Made” (thanks for the kind words, by the way). Anyone who hasn’t popped over to my Audio page for a whole buncha free stuff to listen to and download should check it out.
I’ll drop a line or two when the proof arrives, maybe even include a few pictures. We’re on pins and needles around here. Nervous as expectant parents. Counting the hours and hoping for the very, very best…