Little did I know when I casually entered a writing contest in early 2000 that by the end of the year, I’d have a book published. The winner of the contest got the trip to New York to meet an agent, and the rest of us slobs who were runners-up got the opportunity to claim a $99 printing contract with a relatively new print-on-demand publisher named iUniverse. The “claim it” window had a fairly short fuse, and if you claimed it, you had to get a manuscript submitted also in a fairly short amount of time. To “qualify” the manuscript had to be longer than 110 pages.
The $99 contract (which is now unheard of at iUniverse, with the minimum contract now close to $1,000) was bare bones–no editorial review and you had to correct the proof, but if your corrections numbered more than 200, you got charged for author’s alterations.
I decided I would give it a try. Yes, it was self-publishing, but I could justify doing this by the fact my story was good enough to be a runner up and get the consolation prize. The problem was, I didn’t have enough short stories lying around to constitute 110 printed pages. I started writing and/or finished a few pieces that I’d started and never concluded. I spent most of a night proofreading the manuscript and made the deadline for submission. I figured I could fix any typos or obvious editorial gaffes when I got the proofs.
The proofs arrived, and it didn’t take long for my corrections, i.e., edits, to approach the magic number of 200, and I had to go back and decide which were the most important–typos, obviously, and as many edits as I could get in under the magic number. The proofs went back, and a few days later came the cover for my approval. It was one of those seminal moments when you wish every loved one who had passed on was there to see such a beautiful thing. I had given a very vague suggestion for the cover–a house, a woman in old fashioned clothing, and a fence, which was based on one of the stories. The cover was perfect. I’ll let you judge for yourself:
I approved the cover, and about a week later came the proof copy of the book. That was another seminal moment, and I couldn’t help but be sad that my father, who was always amazed by what he called my “way with words,” wasn’t there to see it.
After the proof approval, here came my box of complimentary books, ten of them, and I had the pleasure of going on Amazon.com and seeing my book for sale. iUniverse at that time had an agreement of sorts with Barnes and Nobles book stores, and I used a couple of the free copies to hand off to events managers at the stores near me. That resulted in my books being on the shelves of a book store, several book signings and readings over the next year, and a guest speaking engagement on the benefits and pitfalls of self-publishing.
The biggest pitfall for me was the fact I had to do my own marketing while working a full-time job. I managed to score a couple of radio interviews, but this was in the days before the current social media. If I wanted press releases to go out, I had to create them, stuff the envelopes, and mail them. iUniverse gave you free marketing materials, i.e., graphic files of bookmarks, postcards, and small posters, but I can to print them and distribute them.
But that’s no different from what many authors published by small presses experience. I was lucky that I had media and professional contacts I could use. In fact, the organizer of a large aviation conference gave me time at the conference book table even though the stories (except for one, peripherally) had nothing to do with aviation. I sold thirty-six books in two hours.
In the twelve years since its publication Rarely Well Behaved enjoyed very modest success, but to me any sale was a success. A couple of years the royalties were less than $10, but the sales were consistent.
Yes, it was a self-published book, but I was damned proud of it. Still am. I’m a much better writer now than I was twelve years ago, but the stories still resonated. When I moved to my new hometown, I ended up being able to put copies in a local bookstore and a museum shop. At a book event in 2010 I sold eleven copies of it, more than any of the other authors there. I got e-mails and Facebook posts from people who told me what the stories meant to them.
My book may not have met the criterion for a New York Times bestseller, but it was my own bestseller.
When the time came to consider making Rarely Well Behaved an e-book, I gave it considerable thought and decided now was the time to improve those stories. I gave each of them an overhaul, but I vowed the central plot and characters of each wouldn’t change. I did combine two into a single, long story, almost the length of a novella, but each story is crisper, better honed, and contains fewer -ly adverbs.
Since I was doing that, I decided to break the one print book into two e-books, so that the espionage stories could be in a volume to themselves. Fences and Blood Vengeance were published in April, a few days before my birthday, and that was the best present. (You can see the e-books in the sidebar to the right. Just one click, and you can own them. No, the marketing never stops.) Then, I made the decision to take Rarely Well Behaved out of print. Mostly, I didn’t want people to buy all three books–and some did–only to discover the, well, similarities.
On May 26, Rarely Well Behaved went out of print, and I was a little sad; but I was also very grateful for the opportunity to hold in my hands a real book with my name on the spine.