Let’s begin with what I liked about it. The process of turning the manuscript into a printed book was simple and direct. Although I must admit that maybe this was because I have prepared a whole lot of novel mss for publishers over the years. I am happy with the cover design; although again, I offered a description of the cover design and all they had to do was find an appropriate picture and do some layout. It was easy to make changes to the cover when necessary, and I made a few — moving the author photo from the back jacket to the back inside flap, moving the author bio also to the inside back flap, and filling the back cover space with critical commentary about previous novels.
It also did not take much time; about two months from the start to the finished book. I am more used to a year. Every person I had contact with at the publisher was friendly and helpful, although some were more knowledgeable than others. As an author, I was treated both respectfully and seriously at every stage.
The print versions — it is available as both a trade paperback and hardback — were professional and at least as nice as any of my traditionally published books. The digital, or eReader, versions were vastly superior to the ones I did myself a few months ago.
There is one thing I do not like about the print books: the size of the font. It is too big. I think it is 12 point and should be no larger than 10. This is partially my fault, because I proofed and approved the mss before it went to print. This font problem came about because I did not proof paper galleys, which I have always done before, but an electronic or digital version of galleys. I could not judge how the font would look on the page by looking at electronic pages on a computer screen. I can live with this.
They take care of a lot of the BS that goes with publishing a book: ISBN, cataloging data, and copyright.
It was not cheap, and I am simply not used to publishing like this. I am used to the publisher paying me, not me paying the publisher. It took a serious adjustment in thinking and attitude for me to accept and deal with the significant differences between how traditional mainstream publishers operate and how the vanity presses operate. An offensive term, but there really isn’t another. Yet, I will say that I believe I got everything I paid for and do not feel cheated. AH did far more than simply set up a book for POD printing from an electronic mss I sent to them. They have a distribution agreement with Baker & Taylor, which dramatically eases the process of getting the books into bookstores (the last two or three left), and AH offers a 90-day return guarantee to bookstores as in inducement to stocking its titles. AH sets up both the Amazon and Barnes and Noble distribution (digital and print), and provides an elaborate and extensive pile of marketing tools to help authors arrange readings and appearances — which in my case was wasted since I do not live in the States or a place where people read books in English. But I have the package anyway. I could paper my office with some of it.
What I did not like. To be fair, much of the negative feelings I had during this process resulted from my history with traditional publishing, and the expectations it provides. I kept having to remind myself that AH is not a charity or a service to the world of literature; it is a business (and apparently a very successful one), and like any business, its fundamental raison d’être is to make as much money as possible. I believe they will print anything at all, perform exactly the same service for the price to any person sending them anything written. They are not editors, critics, or gatekeepers. This is a very big pond, and one lily pad is pretty much the same as all the other lily pads. I had to build a kind of wall around my ego in order to get through this.
Specifically, I did not like the none-too-subtle hustle to buy more packages at much higher and ever increasing prices. There was a lot of used car salesman feeling. Some of the marketing packages offered beyond the basic package for producing the book cost well more than $10,000. Recommended combinations of these “extras” would easily push the cost to double that. So what looked like a pretty reasonable deal in the hundreds of dollars could go well into the thousands. It was this hustle I most disliked, and I went for none of the extras.
Okay, again in fairness. I write non-genre literary fiction, notoriously the most difficult form of the novel to market, and almost always with the lowest sales figures of all the various categories. There are types of books that respond well and easily to some kinds of marketing campaigns: books about how to cook something, or how to fix something, or how to fuck something … bodice-busters, thrillers, romances, mysteries, any kind of writing that can be put on a shelf with a recognizable label on it. It is not too difficult to determine and reach the individual markets for these kinds of books, although a lot of work is involved. This is what AH is offering and charging big bucks for — to do the hard part for you, to reach the specific market for what you have written, to flood that market with information about your book, to do the nitty gritty BS work of setting up readings and appearances, flooding the Internet in appropriate places with publicity about you.
To earn back the money I could have spent on the AH marketing packages, I would have to sell more copies of Blossom than double the total number of sales combined for my last two novels. That would have been pretty stupid.
The only other thing I did not like about the process is the feeling that once the book was done, and once I had rejected going for any of the extras, AH’s interest in me dropped away rather quickly. It is a business, and I, as a customer, had spent all the money in their business that I was going to spend. Next customer!
Would I do it again? No. Rather, probably not. (Never say never.) Am I satisfied with having done it once, this time? Yes. Blossom is a story I have wanted to tell for two decades, or maybe much longer, since the events occurred on which the story is based. It made the rounds of traditional publishers and nobody wanted it. It was worth it to me to have this book in print and available to any audience that wants to read it. Otherwise, it would just be a stack of notebooks in a drawer and an electronic file taking up byte space on my computer.
PS: When I write that none of the traditional publishers wanted it, I have to clarify that Random House and the three million other publishers that company owns, will not look at anything I write, so a massive chunk of the market for the book was not available.