Our guest today is Deborah Batterman, author of Shoes Hair Nails (short stories) and Because my name is mother (essays). She is a Pushcart nominee and took 3rd place in the Women’s National Book Association 2012 Short Fiction Contest. Her stories and essays have appeared in anthologies as well as various print and online journals, including Akashic Books Terrible Twosdays, Every Mother Has a Story, Vol. 2 (Shebooks/Good Housekeeping), Open to Interpretation: Fading Light (Taylor & O’Neill), and Mom Egg Review, Vol. 14. Her Kindle Scout novel, Just like February, is a coming-of-age story framed by the passions of the 60s and the AIDS crisis of the 80s.
The road from completed manuscript to publication is more often than not a long and winding one. If ever there was a leap of faith that got me thinking outside the box, it was this foray into reader-powered publishing. I may not have gotten the desired result, but unlike those rejections which writers are no stranger to, this one comes with an affirmation of readership: in a word, if I build it, they will come.
American Idol for Book Lovers?
Writers are nothing if not gamblers. Hours and hours of hard work, draft after endless draft, characters who live inside our heads until, one day, we say, “Out!” in the hope that someone, maybe lots of people, will take a chance on what we’re offering.
Self-publishing, especially via print on demand and digital books, certainly has opened a world of possibility (not to mention gratification of a more immediate kind) for writers tired of and/or impatient with traditional channels. At the same time, there’s every good reason that legacy publishers, large and small, maintain a certain allure, even if a publishing market in flux has forced them to take adaptive strategies for survival. Then there’s that hybrid mode, otherwise known as vetted self-publishing. And now reader-powered publishing.
Do I dare? I asked myself when I first got wind of Kindle Scout. It had all the feel of a kickstarter campaign—i.e., drum up support for a book before it’s published—with more than one big advantage: you’re not asking for funding and you have the power of Amazon behind you from the get-go. I weighed the pros: my book featured on Amazon for 30 days; a chance to ‘unbox’ myself from the routine of submitting queries and excerpts/waiting for responses from agents/editors, get a direct sense of reader interest. The cons? Even if there was no escaping the “American Idol” for Book Lovers sense of it all, could I bank on literary merit in a contest more designed to rack up votes for genre fiction?
Get Out of your Comfort Zone
More to the point, I reasoned, getting out of one’s comfort zone is always a good thing for a writer. Day-to-day tenacity may be what we rely on to get the job done, but fresh insights so often happen when we step away from routine. Case in point: I thought I had really nailed my pitch. Until Kindle Scout asked me to put those telling details into a 45-character one liner and a synopsis/description of 500 characters or less. No room for even a wasted syllable here, it’s an exercise that forces your hand, demands getting a real handle on what you think your book is ‘about’. Isn’t that question we all hate being asked? If you’re anything like me, you start with an idea/an image/a sentence that pops into your head. You have a sense of characters who, at their best, take on a life of their own. You think about the underlying themes, the story you thought you were telling that took a 45-degree turn somewhere along the way. Now you’re being asked to reduce it all to pithy details, catchy phrases. Can’t help but call up a phrase from a Cold Play song: Nobody said it was easy/ No one ever said it would be so hard.