Friday, March 22, 2013

Some thoughts on trade publishing: Kelly Hand (@khwriter), and the virtuous circle (part II)


Kelly Hand's novel, The Au Pair Report is self-published and available on Amazon as well as SmashWords. Hand's novel, about the trials and tribulations of a Washington, DC au pair coordinator (with a dollop of dysfunctional family life thrown in) is a delightful book and a great read. It covers that area, a "little bit (two inches wide) of ivory" made famous by Jane Austen, but in this case it's not Austen's early 19th century England, but the gentrified/gentrifying areas of DC, Capitol Hill, and Upper Northwest. Narrated from perspective of the 30 something Liza Hart, au pair coordinator, mother of a toddler, and daughter of a bi-polar mother, there's some good insider stories of life in Washington as well as enough universal truths to make us all glad we are not au pairs with Host Families from Hell. 

Having met Hand at a party, I know that she had approached various publishers with The Au Pair Report with - sadly - no success and had turned to an option, self-publishing, that is both more respected and viable than in the past. Correction (See Hand's comment below). She had went directly to self-publishing after a previous project.

2008-07-06-dscn4792Now, Hand's charming novel is unlikely to give James Patterson (whose industrial style of writing was described in part I of this topic) a contest for the top of the charts, but is a strong entry in category of literary novel that, with the rare exception, ever strikes the fancy of a mass audience. I could easily find comparisons to (traditionally) published Washington authors Mary Kay Zuravleff (The Bowl is Already Broken and The Frequency of Souls) or Susan Richards Shreve (The Train Home). What made publishers turn down Hand's book? I'm sure there were many reasons, but by turning down this well-crafted book, the gate-keeping function of publishing was keeping a good book out of the hands of interested readers. 

What would a traditional publisher have offered Hand and Hugh Howey (discussed in Part I of this topic)? A few things come to mind:
  • Editing (well, certainly not needed in this case; my only quibble with Hand's work in the story editing was an overuse of pseudonyms for obviously real public figures that was just distracting)
  • Access to markets (certainly not the big non-bookstores; possibly the network of remaining independent bookstores; maybe Barnes and Noble); but then would the amount of print sales increase readership (and revenue for the author) in any significant ways?
  • Publicity (well, I doubt that a publisher would take out ads on the Washington Metro for Hand's book -- as they do for the Pattersons, Grishams, et al.); increasingly, publicity from publishers is just marketing to a pre-sold audience. Howey himself has fully taken advantage of social media and in creating his own publicity machine, builds excitement and audience for his work
And so, while we wait for the publishing industry to reboot, we can enjoy books such as written by Hand (pun intended).

1 comment:

khwriter said...

Martin--Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments on the book and on the publishing industry! One correction about my journey to self-publishing: I did not try very hard to secure traditional publication and only sent out a handful of queries to literary agents, partly because of an experience I had with a prior project. After writing an earlier, quirkier novel, I queried dozens of agents, and many read part or all of the manuscript, but ultimately feared they could not sell the book. That process took so much of my time for a full year that I did not think I had the time and energy to go through that again--although Au Pair Report seemed more marketable to me than my first book. The problem with the whole querying process is the assumption that you are supposed to find your ideal "reader advocate" who will love your book so much they will fight for it. One must do endless research to find the perfect agent, write the perfect pitch, etc. It's demoralizing, although I wonder now if I should have tried again in earnest. The challenge I see now is that for independent mainstream literary novels such as mine, there are few support networks--so it is a challenge (and very time-consuming) to reach out to the readers I want to reach. The idea of working with professional editors, marketers, etc. does appeal to me also--if only one it weren't for the 99% (or higher) rejection rate literary agents advertise in their role as gatekeepers to the publishing industry. Marketing is now part of an author's job, but it's a little easier to market a book with the publishing industry's seal of approval. I truly appreciate it when people like you help me to get the word out!