Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book editor selection is small step forward for my publication hopes

My long, slow effort to publish a book about our experiences in Italy has taken a step forward, as I recently chose an editor from among three that I was considering. All of them did a sample edit of about half of my first chapter, and I basically went with the editor that I felt was the most ruthless when it came to suggesting changes and additions.

The first editor to respond gave me glowing comments, but she didn’t really do much editing. The second editor made some good stylistic and grammatical changes, and she had excellent credentials. I was poised to chose her, but I decided to wait for the third editor, who had told me that she couldn’t get back to me with a sample edit for about three weeks because she was busy on another project. I told myself she would have to really knock my socks off to beat out editor number two, and then she did it.

Having been a journalist and journalism teacher for much of my life, I am accustomed to the editing process and know how much a second pair of trained eyes can improve a text. I know my own writing is not above criticism; in fact, every time I re-read one of my blogs, I find mistakes or wording that could have been more effective. I didn’t want to hire an editor who would tell me only what she liked about my writing.

However, the editor I selected, Lizzie Harwood, had other factors in her favor. She also has written a memoir about her experiences in a foreign land, Xamnesia: Everything I Forgot in my Search for an Unreal Life. I downloaded and read this while I was waiting for her sample edit, and it was well done. She is currently living in France and once spent part of a year studying in Italy, so I knew she could relate to our experiences of living abroad.

However, perhaps the most significant consequences of my choice may be that Lizzie is adept at book publicity and publishing through the new avenues of print-on-demand and e-books, and for a little extra, she will guide me through these experiences. I may well need this help, because I have almost given up on trying to find a publisher through the conventional methods of querying an agent and then a publisher.

I have resisted looking into any kind of self-publishing because of a sense that there is still some stigma attached to it. I would be saying, “My book isn’t good enough attract a real publisher.” But darn it, I’ve read at least 20 other books about foreigners living in Italy, and my book is better than most of them. How did they find publishers when I haven’t been able to?

However, in the past month, I made a list of books printed in the last 10 years about living in Italy and France and then looked at the names of their publishers. What I discovered opened my eyes: Nearly 90 percent were self published; most used Amazon Digital Services. A few found small or specialty publishing houses. Almost none were printed by mainstream publishers.

This is probably because mainstream publishers—and agents as well—are hoping to land something that has the potential to be really big. “99 percent of titles printed will never sell enough copies to recover all the costs associated with creating and publishing them,” book author Lee Ballentine wrote in Forbes magazine in May 2014. That means that the other books have to sell well enough to pay for the money-losing 99 percent that publishers have taken a chance on. The odds that my memoir about living in Italy is going to be a runaway best-seller are about the same as a pig flying over the moon. Travel memoirs are a niche field that have dedicated fans who will always generate some sales, but the novelty and fanfare that made Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun so popular has cooled.

I may still find a boutique or specialty publisher, but the odds are long, and likely I will have to find another way. Fortunately, views are changing, as the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published have noted: “The fact is, self publishing can be a ball. The onus of the ugly duckling is gone . . . people are publishing books on their own because they choose to. Because they see opportunities in the market and want a bigger share of the pie than publishers offer; because they want full control of their book; because they don’t want to have to wait for the sloooooow publishing machine.”

Now I have to wait for the editing process, and afterward I’ll have the difficult task of re-writing based on my editor’s suggestions. But I’m encouraged with the knowledge that I’ll come out with a better manuscript, that I’ve found a way forward that is ultimately under my own control, that I will eventually have a book to show.

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