“I’d pull my pants down on Times Square if I thought it would get me an audience—”
–attributed to Orson Welles, film maker, magician, wine seller
Earlier this year, this correspondent decided to join the swarm into the brave new world-hive of independent publishing—to publish my novel Dragon’s Ark myself, under my own imprint (Ambler House, named after the great spy novelist) and to my odd and stringent standards, shortcomings and all.
Dragon’s Ark, the writing of which I’ve discussed before, is a Dracula novel, a sub-genre of the vampire tale, which is a sub-genre of horror. It imagines that Dracula, instead of fleeing back to Transylvania from England to die, as he does in Bram Stoker’s fever dream, jumps ship for America. There, in the slow blink of a century, the Superman of Evil adapts well to his new world and seems to have carved a cozy niche for himself in the starlit and stormy heights of the Eastern California Sierra (or maybe not . . . ).
Dragon’s Ark sounds like a sure-fire ripping yarn that would soar off the bookshelf; or skate smoothly across the reflective surfaces of e-readers everywhere. (I imagine readers feeling a
smiling discomfort as they see their shadowy faces reflected within my cover monster’s impish countenance).
At least it feels like a big seller to me. The mostly muffled silence that my enthusiastic, painstaking queries have received from the dozens of agents I’ve approached in the last year or so
indicates otherwise. They signify that times have changed.
Only ten years ago, I will dare to say, Dragon’s Ark would have been published. Maybe to minor fanfare and gaping yawns, but nonetheless, its uncracked spine would gleam like moonlight from bookstore shelves across America.
I’ve collected my share of rejection slips over time, but, nowadays, I detect a new tone in the more substantial ones, an anxious tremble, a new facet of regret, an unspoken message.
Some of my rejection notes used to say, “I’m sure this will find a home somewhere.” Not any more.
It’s not that these agents and publishers don’t like my book. It’s not that they wouldn’t love it. It’s that the pressures emanating from the new world they operate in, the world that casts an iron shadow across their days, won’t even let them consider it.
Obviously, the rise of digital technology is responsible. Now that we can download and read any book we want with a few taps n’ clicks for very little outlay—even for “free”–the profit motive that’s always spurred the publishing world has been dealt a violent downward blow. Too many goods, sold cheaply, chasing too few customers.
Factor in certain other economic reasons—for example, corporate shareholders’ demands for profit percentages far in excess of what the publishing industry was ever able to produce, even in its golden days–and there you have a perfect steel trap of ideological capitalism snapping on the ankles of the major houses. Once the proud keepers of much of humanity’s cultural memory, they now may be forced to rely exclusively on guaranteed bestsellers by known quantities only, a likely vain, self-destructive business plan.
Strangest of all, though, a new ironic scenario is now playing: Not only are traditional literary agents and publishers accepting fewer and fewer new writers, new writers—like this one—are rejecting them.
Both parties are walking away from the table. But as we turn away from one game to find another ready to play.
To many writers, this new world of independent publishing sounds like straight sailing under clear skies. Even a growling skeptic like myself fantasizes lounging in my reading chair, admiring my reflection in my fingernails, patiently listening as the desperate mainstream agent/publisher pleads for the rights to publish Dragon’s Ark under their imprint.
“Mmmm,” I sniff. “I sold 20,000 copies of my book and got to keep 80 percent of the money . . . uh, what was that offer again?”
Fantasies, of course, tend not to come true. Even now, as I hack my way through this virgin jungle with only a handful of other pioneers—and mountains of confusing information–to guide me, I already detect new obstacles and challenges rustling in the undergrowth ahead.
These I’ll discuss in upcoming essays. And for those of you struggling alongside, don’t worry. I’m going through the same thing.
My contemporary Dracula novel, Dragon’s Ark is scheduled to be out at the end of the year from Ambler House. More essays and other ephemera can be found at my page the Red Room website for writers, while my comic screenplay Whackers can be downloaded at Smashwords.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (ThomBurchfield) and Facebook.
Causes Thomas Burchfield Supports
The Nature Conservancy; Africare; Capitol Public Radio