Welcome to the very first stop on the Larry Closs Blog Tour!
I am thrilled beyond words to introduce you to Larry and his stunning debut novel Beatitude. Here's a little secret...It was my fear of this incredibly poignant, beautifully complicated novel going unnoticed and unread that instigated this blog tour. As I cracked the cover and began reading, I realized I was holding a book that had the potential to slip between the cracks... to fade away before it had found its chance to shine. And I panicked.
Published through Rebel Satori - a very small, virtually unknown press - Larry found most of the marketing, publicity, and (believe it or not) galley printing, falling onto his shoulders. It was Larry's review pitch that alerted to me to the book initially. Had he not pitched me, Beatitude would very likely have slipped right by me as well!
And therein lies the rub when publishing with an indie, right? If you guys know me at all, you know how obsessed I am with small presses and the amazing literature they continuously crank out. Awesome books with unique stories that appeal to specific sorts of readers. But these publishers also tend to have smaller wallets, which translates into limited funds, which translates into a limited reach. As of today, Larry has not yet toured to promote his novel, which released back in October. So I took the reigns, took action, and decided to launch a tour of sorts for Larry, to help spread the word about Beatitude and get his book into the hands of more readers.
I am so happy you decided to pop in and check it out! And I am extremely grateful to Emmet, Mandy, Patrick, Jenn, Erica, and Tara for offering up their blogs as additional stops. I am also immensely grateful to Larry for his enthusiasm and willingness to work hard behind the scenes to help us prepare for what you are about to see.
We have a great tour planned for you. So kick back, relax, and let us woo you and wow you with all things Larry Closs! For starters, I'll be sharing Larry's thoughts on what being indie means to him and how his unfailing devotion to this novel finally paid off:
By Larry Closs
Let’s be honest: Every author dreams of writing a book that’s groundbreaking and edgy and yet so insightful that it’s immediately signed by a major agent, snapped up by a major publisher with a huge and highly publicized advance (after a fierce bidding war) and simultaneously translated into a dozen languages. Naturally, the book debuts at No. 1 on the bestseller lists, and the combined sale of the movie rights and your screenplay adaptation earns you six figures (seven, anyone?). Then you start envisioning which A-list actors will play your protagonists on the big screen and who you’ll thank in your Oscar acceptance speech. Best of all, you’ll finally have enough money to ditch the day job and do nothing but write. Well, write and travel.
And then there’s reality.
You devote every spare minute for years working on your first novel, as pure a labor of love as there ever was, for both you and the family and friends who kindly endure draft after draft after draft as you agonize over every little detail. Final manuscript in hand, you research literary agents and start at the top. “I write a little like the guy who wrote No. 3 on the New York Times Fiction Bestseller List,” you tell yourself. “Who’s his agent?” But his agent isn’t interested. So uninterested, in fact, that all you get in response to your carefully crafted query is an email form rejection, with “sincere apologies and regrets” for sending an email form rejection. As you work your way down a list of a hundred agents and your inbox overflows with sincerity for several months, maybe several years, you have three choices: 1) Allow the rejections to convince you that your book really isn’t any good and banish it to a dark corner of your hard drive; 2) Damn the rejections because you still believe in your book—and then self-publish; 3) Skip the agents, change course and go directly to the publishers—the independent publishers.
I wrestled with No. 1, considered No. 2 but ultimately chose No. 3, because I still sought the validation that self-publishing doesn’t always provide. After much research, I arrived at Rebel Satori Press. The name struck a chord—a Zen revolution!—and the catalog of titles seemed to share my sensibility as well as an interest in the Beat Generation writers—Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs—who figure prominently in Beatitude. I queried the publisher, Sven Davisson, who asked for an excerpt, then the full manuscript. Six months later, he sent me a contract.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but though I had written a book and landed a publisher, my work had just begun. What does it mean to be an indie author? Here’s what I’ve discovered:
1. Literary Agent: When I told an author friend that Rebel Satori had accepted Beatitude, she said that I should get an agent. And that getting an agent would be easy. She was right. After all the rejections I’d received, I was shocked to discover that several literary agents were suddenly interested in representing me. Why? Because the book had already been sold, mitigating most of the risk. Why would I need an agent at that point? To help with the contract. I knew nothing about contracts. My agent helped me negotiate and retain both foreign and adaptation rights, the two most likely sources of any significant revenue aside from royalties. The agency receives a commission on those sales, but the agency has a dedicated foreign rights department and contacts in film and television that I don’t. It’s much more likely to sell those rights than I would be on my own.
2. Advance: What advance? Some things are non-negotiable.
3. Editing: With an indie publisher, you’re more likely to have final say on the final version of the manuscript, for better or worse. I’m a journalist, with many years experience as both a writer and an editor. Thanks to friend and fellow editor, Mindy Kitei, whose insightful advice helped me streamline the manuscript (“Yes,” “No,” “Ugh!”), my book was in very good shape with regard to structure, pacing and style. But having read great books from indie publishers that were undermined by rampant typos and grammatical errors, I hired a friend who’s a professional copy editor to review Beatitude. Taken aback by how many minor but irksome issues she caught, I realized that hiring her was one of the best investments I’d made.
4. Legal: Beatitude features lyrics from popular songs, excerpts from works by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and appearances by real-life, living individuals, all of which required permissions, licenses, releases and, in some cases, fees. I made a list of everything potentially problematic and consulted with an intellectual property lawyer for advice on the paths of least resistance. Obtaining permission to reprint song lyrics proved to be the most difficult and most expensive. I discovered that you can use a song title but even a line from a song will cost you plenty. Fair Use does not apply. As a result, I edited out all but one lyric. Brief excerpts from Kerouac’s books and Ginsberg’s poems were less expensive, but I still needed to track down who owned the rights and get contracts for them. Getting signed appearance releases from people whose real names I wanted to use was also relatively easy, because I knew the individuals and, ultimately, because every character in Beatitude is presented in a positive light.
5. Galleys: Media outlets that devote coverage to books usually want a galley—an uncorrected advance copy of the book, often without the final cover—six to eight months prior to the publication date. This is especially true of monthly magazines, where editors plan issues three months ahead of time and will only review a book on or near the pub date. After that, it’s old news. Many indie publishers do not print galleys because major monthlies and mainstream websites are less likely to publish reviews of indie titles, so there’s no return on investment. Rebel Satori doesn’t print galleys. So I did, believing that I needed reviews that coincided with the pub date to ensure the book’s success and hoping I could impress where others couldn’t. I researched printers and paid to produce 60 copies of Beatitude wrapped in a plain white cover with Helvetica text. I sent nearly all of them to editors and writers at magazines, book-related websites, bloggers and NPR. How many reviews coinciding with the pub date did Beatitude receive as a result? One. One very significant review. But, still. One. Looking back, I’m not sure I would do it again.
6. Book Cover: While negotiating the book contract, I retained the right—and responsibility—to oversee the cover design. I’m not a designer, but I co-owned a communication design studio for seven years. I studied thousands of book covers and decided on the aesthetic I wanted—simple, bold, graphic. A friend put me in touch with artist Anthony Freda, renowned for his gallery exhibits as well as his award-winning illustrations for Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Esquire, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, Playboy and many others. Anthony and I hit it off immediately. He read Beatitude, asked what I had in mind and produced a cover that exceeded every expectation. Simple, bold, graphic. Fantastic. I was doubly fortunate to have another amazing artist, John Barrow, design the equally important back cover and spine, playing off Anthony’s illustration for the front and adding a whole other dimension, the ying to the yang. All the times I’d ever imagined what the cover of Beatitude might look like, I never imagined the incredible result. But, being an indie author, I was able to choose whom I wanted to work with and have input, two things that wouldn’t necessarily have happened at a mainstream publisher.
7. Marketing: Author website, book trailer, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google+, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I really should be tweeting.
8. Publicity: Unless you hire a publicist—even if you hire a publicist—you will spend every free minute for months, networking, emailing and calling to promote your book and convince editors and writers that it is more worthy of attention than the 50 other books that were published the same day. You have to steel yourself to the silence—the response rate is about the same as finding a publisher. The good news is that there are thousands of book-related websites and blogs and if you focus your efforts on those that focus on the type of book you’ve written, you can get coverage—a mention, an article, a post, an interview, a review. In all likelihood, however, you will spend as many hours getting that coverage as you spent writing the book.
9. Reviews: You want reviews. You need reviews. To get reviews—hopefully, great ones—you need to stand out from the crowd while treading the thin line between being persistent and being a pest. Confronted by a daily onslaught of new titles, editors have to make quick decisions about what they will and won’t review, many times based on industry buzz, news of a huge advance, a ubiquitous marketing campaign or a bio that includes the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (which seems to guarantee a book deal and instant gravitas). How to tactfully stand out as an indie author? Prior to the pub date, I sent a galley, then, in consecutive weeks, followed up with an email, a link to the trailer and a large jpg of the book cover. After the pub date, I sent actual books and hoped for the best. Sometimes I scored, sometimes I didn’t. But the times I did more than made up for the times I didn’t.
10. Spontaneous Cool: In “Like Other Guys,” one of two previously unpublished poems by Allen Ginsberg that appears in Beatitude, the Beat poet writes that he should devote his energy to poetry and stop messing around with music because he’s a “rock star, automatically.” So are you! Despite all the challenges indie authors face, one undeniable plus is that being indie automatically confers a counter-cultural cool that Knopf cannot.
**Be sure to join us tomorrow over at ...I Can Stay, where the amazing Emmet hosts Day Two of the tour**