I kind of got a magical shortcut to a first book by winning a contest. I guess it's as good a way to get a book published as any. The nice folks at Washington Writers' Publishing House put together a pretty nice package for me:
-They pay for the printing of the book
-They publicize it on their website and social media
-They got me a couple of readings for the fall at D.C. bookstores
However, there are a lot of ways in which I'm kind of on my own. Not totally on my own: they'll give me advice. But there are some steps related to publicity that are my responsibility:
-Contact venues for reviews
-Set up my own readings outside the ones they set up
-Get papers to publish announcements (papers? honest to god newspapers? who would read the announcement?)
-Generally promote myself
One of the suggestions they made was to get a Kirkus review. What's Kirkus? They used to be the book reviewer. From what I can gather, they kind of went belly up in 2009, but then re-emerged by selling their services to authors. They seem to especially market themselves to the self-published, suggesting a Kirkus review will make the book look more legitimate. It's $425 to get a review in seven to nine weeks. That review then shows up on Amazon and...other places? I'm a little hazy on this. Basically, it will increase the visibility of my book, I guess.
Okay, fine, but it's $425. That's on me to pay. No wonder the head of the publishing house said, when she told me I had won, "You're not going to make any money off this." They were expecting that $1000 would go to stuff like this, I'd guess.
Here's the thing. I kind of already told WWPH that I would donate the $1000 back to them. (I hasten to add that I did this on my own. They are allowed to advertise their contest in certain places because they offer a prize, and they didn't at all ask for the money back. I just was really impressed with this small, cooperative publishing house, and this was something I wanted to do. Everyone who wins is then supposed to help out the publishing house for a while. This is my way of helping. I don't have a lot of other talents. It's unlikely I'll be able to do much else for them of any value. )
The upshot is that $425 is a lot of money to me. Mrs. Heretic and I have had a kind of crappy run of luck money-wise, with unexpected bills popping up here and there this last year. That's a lot of money to me. (I apologize to my anonymous reader, who dislikes when I complain about money problems.) Kirkus can't really promise that the money spent is going to result in a lot of sales. Or any extra sales, really. The last several winners of this contest said they used Kirkus. So far, only one winner has sold at least 1,000 copies of her book, and that was because it got picked up for D.C. schools, who bought a few thousand copies.
My former advisor from graduate school--with whom I had a nice conversation, including a post-mortem of what went wrong in graduate school--has promised to get the book reviewed on American Book Review. Another member of the publishing house will help get it reviewed at the Washington Independent Review of Books. I think I'm going to just call that enough. The book is just not going to sell that many copies. Most of the people who buy it are likely to be people who know me. I don't know that many people.
Another issue is that the review Kirkus gives you, about 300 words, is typically about 200 words of plot review. I have a book of 12 short stories that don't go together at all. Fuck they gonna say bout that? Nothing that will convince people to buy the book.
In other words, I don't know really what I'm going to get for my money. I'm okay with the fact that this book isn't going to sell a lot. There's no way, though, that I'm going to pay what would be the first $425 of my son's college fund on some vanity project for myself.