Sunday, May 4, 2008

Quillery Press: What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings (publishing a novel online)


I have just set up an online press called Quillery. I am in the process of publishing What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings, my own novel about what happens when my chunky protagonist attends her family reunion.

And YOU are invited to Samantha's family reunion!

So if Quillery is an online press, what is a nice editor like me doing publishing my own work? Doesn't that fly in the face of conventional wisdom?

I'll tell you why I am posting my novel on this site:

------1. Charity begins at home. Besides, if I don't believe in my own work, who will? I do believe in Samantha, my sexy fat lady, and she will get her day in cyberspace.

------2. Apparently no one else is going to publish my novel, and why should years of work languish in a drawer?

------3. Conventional wisdom is vastly overrated. Who says self-publishing isn't a real publication?

------4. Most small presses are simply variations of self-publishing anyway; If I start a small press and publish your work, you start a small press and publish my work. That's the way it works--a dirty little secret in the writing biz. A "publishing co-op" is simply a euphemism for subsidy publishing, all dressed up to look good for the colleges and universities who are looking to hire published MFA'ers. I simply refuse to play that game. I'm self-publishing my novel online,

So There!

------5. Some distracted editor or agent might stumble upon it and actually like it. I could also win the Powerball Lottery (No, I haven't done that either).

A Short History of The Fat Lady

I wrote What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings as my creative thesis project for my M.F.A. program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.

Shiny new M.F.A. in hand, I, 43 years old, graduated in February 1994. At that time, the internet was still rudimentary and mostly a fearful place, filled with strange computer codes and even stranger geeks. It wasn't a place I ever expected to inhabit. Obviously, I was wrong, but I'll come back to this later.

A copy of my thesis novel resides in the Eliot D. Pratt Library Thesis Room, gracing the same room as David Mamet's undergraduate thesis, which, I must admit, I have perused.

I knew my novel was rough around the edges, so I set out to revise it. From 1994-2001, I revised it several times. In between revisions, it was rejected several times by various agents and publishers--a familiar story for most writers.

A few agents liked it but didn't feel they could take it on because it wasn't a mass market kind of book. Besides, it was "too long." And I was an unknown writer.

In 2001, What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings came very close to being published by a small press. But in the end, the editor felt that the novel was too long and unwieldy, and we couldn't agree on where to cut and other terms. So we parted ways.

In 2003, I decided to lift some of the chapters from the manuscript and develop a thematic short story collection. I carved out a 249-page collection, which retained some of the flavor of the original, but lost much of the tour de force. Thus, it was a muted version of the original with lots of gaps. But to make up for for that, I worked on creating individual stories that could stand alone. I believe I was mostly successful.

I sent it out the collection, facing yet again a round of rejections. My favorite one: "I can't sell this."

I'm not sure what she meant: in her mind, did the book simply stink or was a fat middle-aged woman not likely to appeal to a mass audience?

Well, it doesn't matter; she wasn't about to represent my work.

I seethed for about a year (well, not continuously), but in 2004, I decided to self-publish the collection. After doing a thorough search of self-publishing companies, I chose Infinity Publishing, mostly because the company didn't retain my copyright, and that was (and still is) important to me.

Are You EVER Going to be Thin? (and other stories) was released in July 2004 and is still available on Amazon.

The book has sold in the low three figures; I'm just a poor marketer of my own work; I'd rather write and work on the computer than go out to hustle book sales. It's my fatal flaw, I'm afraid.

The summer I published my book, I also discovered blogging; my first blog Ask eFatLady still exists, but I haven't posted much there lately.

Last year, I branched out into domaining (learning enough tech stuff to set up blogs with real domain names and add neat features, like Feedburner and StatCounter, but not enough to earn a living), and now I am in the process of developing into an online literary magazine. Be sure to visit the forum, which exists solely because some poetry sites would rather censor unpopular viewpoints rather than engage in constructive debates.

I'm not a poet, per se, but I like reading it. However, I'm finding that I'm not liking much modern poetry, which seems pretentious, boring, and self-aggrandizing. Anyway, that's another story.

But I started to think about the writing field in general; I have concluded that, overall, the literary gatekeepers, more interested in profit, haven't been doing all that well discovering great literature. Three recent great books come to mind: Angela's Ashes, The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns--a pretty pathetic record.

A few weeks ago, an idea popped into my head: why not simply post my novel? Create another blog, slap some ads on it, and I'm good to go. Publish a chapter or two a week and forget about offending some unknown gatekeeper. Instead, become a queen of my own domain.

I'm not going to go out on a limb and say that my work is great--it's not. I just want a break, but if I wait around for someone else to give my work a chance, I'll grow very old, and What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings will remain in the drawer for my heirs to toss away after I die.

At least here in cyberspace, perhaps someone will find my novel and read all or parts of it; a small audience is better than no audience. My work will be out there.

One thing I have learned as a domainer:

Fresh content, even ordinary content, is king--in this case, queen?

And What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings IS 750 pages of unused content--a domainer's heaven.

So, for better or worse, each week I'll be posting (from the 2001 version) a chapter (or two) per week--until all 175 chapters have been posted, the cyber version of a serial.

I will not be revising (except to run the posts through a quick spell check), so it may be be a wild ride, indeed. Since 2001, my style has changed somewhat.

Will I eventually be publishing the longer works of other writers?

Maybe, maybe not.

This little press may end up being a one-trick pony.

However, I will soon be setting up an e-zine called Quill Distillery. In that 'zine, I will be publishing the best work (fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and drama) I can find. Publication will probably be irregular because when I don't find quality work, either by friend or foe, I won't publish. Period.

Check back here for new chapters of my novel.

Meanwhile, if you haven't already, read my Open Letter to Literary Agents.