I started my historical novel The Blitz Business in graduate school at Queens University of Charlotte. A very early draft formed the thesis for my MFA in Creative Writing. Of course, the book went through many iterations after that in response to various nuggets of feedback I received in conference workshops and from agents who were kind enough to say something helpful. Indeed, some of the changes turned out to be seismic, others resulted in me taking a character off In another direction – particularly one, who I decided had not been murdered after all. I started submitting to agents too soon, as I slowly came to realize.
When I started writing this book, I knew two things: I would set my book in England during World War Two, and my protagonist would be a teen who was intellectually challenged. I served for ten years on the board of an organization that provides residential support services for such individuals. I wanted to show this young man as a fully rounded character who had dreams, fears, needs, talents and flaws just like everyone else.
When I felt I had a finished product, I sent it to an editor for copy and line editing and restarted the submission process. I knew enough to check the website of every agent first, to make sure they hadn’t jumped to another firm (which they do like fleas these days), and also to double-check the submission guidelines. It’s a tough business, especially in the U.S., I think. Major publishing houses number around four – all the other names you see are imprints under a very large umbrella and the bottom line is their top priority. I probably should have tried querying British agents, since the book is set in England. I tried a few Canadians, but Canadian writers take first bite up there as the government gives certain benefits to publishers who favour their countrymen (I’m not sure of the details).
Finally, I tried small publishers as they will accept un-agented manuscripts, unlike the big houses. I found one online whose owner did a lot of ministry in his church with the intellectually challenged. Aha! And he liked it.
The first thing I had to do before getting a contract was fill in a massive questionnaire, wanting to know the target audience, marketing plans, etc. They also wanted to know how I envisioned the cover – which I described in detail. I got the contract.
As my editor did a great job, the changes the publisher’s editor wanted were minor. They submitted six cover designs to me. One was exactly what I wanted. But the publisher wanted me to pick two and put it to a vote on Facebook! A marketing technique, I guess. Anyway, my choice got the most votes. I would have insisted on it anyway. The publisher set up a phone conversation to talk about publicity. I could have opted to pay for his person to be my publicist, but it would have been costly. I have to admit that misguided faith in my own marketing prowess led me astray, too. I did hire someone to do social media posting – Instagram, Facebook author page, an Twitter. According to received wisdom, she did all the right things for several years. This month I ended our association as this has not translated into sales. A conference panel I recently attended asserted that social media is a waste of time and podcasting is the way to go. I have yet to dip my toe into those waters!
After I’d approved the galleys, the publication was set, although it was delayed for a couple of weeks – annoying because I cut short a trip to accommodate it. I set up a book launch at a local independent book store, for which I paid a fee. Over 50 people attended and the store sold all the books. They declined to keep the books in inventory, though, because small publishers often make returns difficult.
Then it was all down to me. My publisher did nothing further. No publicity, no recommending for awards, no nothing. In fact, he seems to have run into difficulties, because early this year he dropped 50 or 60 of his authors, including me. I had to pay him a hefty sum to have my book transferred to Ingram Spark. I could have taken the book back and self-published, but that would have meant losing my ISBN and losing my Amazon reviews, and losing the wonderful cover.
So, if I find a small publisher for my new novel Sleuthing with Mortals (an urban fantasy featuring a Norse goddess turned private detective – yes, really!), I will look very closely at services and contact other authors for feedback. For now, I’m querying agents and hoping for a new deal with a larger publishing house.
My poetry chapbook Long in the Tooth was also published by a very reputable small press that specializes in poetry and doesn’t have the resources to provide much support. But poetry is a different animal, at least in the U.S., so I didn’t have great expectations.
Marketing is an ongoing challenge. I will post to my website blog much more frequently so as to maximize my place in search engine queues and keep looking for the best way to promote my work. I do appear on writing panels at various meetings and conferences and am a reviewer for Washington Independent Review of Books, so that helps name recognition.
About the Author
|D. A. Spruzen earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and teaches writing in Northern Virginia. Her poems and short stories have appeared in many online and print publications. A historical novel, “The Blitz Business” (Koehler Books), a poetry collection, “Long in the Tooth” (Finishing Line Press), and other novels are available on Amazon.com.
You can find out more about D. A. Spruzen by visiting her website www.daspruzen.com.
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