Sunday, December 21, 2008

At a recent meeting with writers, editors, and agents, we heard a story of a fellow whose novel had just been taken by a major press. He was elated and could hardly wait to tell us the good news. But then one of the agents began pouring cold water on the proposition by explaining how much of his advance would have to be spent on promotion and how little the PR department of his publisher could actually do on his behalf.

In other words, promoting the book was up to the author. One thing he could do is make the rounds of bookstores at his own expense and pray that for whatever reason he might have an audience and some of them might buy the book. The last author I spoke to about this gave a reading to 22 people and 4 bought the book. That’s a very good ratio, and the truth is that the profit on his books did not pay for his gas to get to the book store.

Advances these days are not given out like bonuses. They are expected to stoke the fires of a professional PR person and a vigorous campaign to get the book noticed. How that happens is different for every author and we know how hard it is to stand out in a crowd that is also peopled by celebrities and scoundrels, who manage to hog the headlines.

Harper Collins is said to be experimenting with a line of books that have no advance. For some writers that represents opportunity because whatever happens these days the job of helping the book get some sales is on the shoulders of the writers no matter who publishes the book.

The advantage, for fiction writers, of Harper Collins’s deal over self-publishing is clear. Harper Collins has distributors that put the book in bookstores; having the Harper Collins imprint would make it easier for an author to publicize the book and get some local press coverage; and finally, having someone else design and print the book without involving the author’s expense makes life a little easier for the author. But in the final analysis no matter how one publishes, the author must do the work of getting the book noticed and reviewed.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Can Quality Writing Prevail in Publishing Today?

The New York Times’s Timothy Egan complained that Samuel J. Wurtzelbacher, known as "Joe the Plumber" in the current election campaign, has come out with a book. He also mentioned that Sarah Palin may command as much as seven million dollars for a book under her name, although it is clear from her general communiques to the public that she is a hopelessly inadequate writer. However, that never stopped celebrities from "penning" tell-alls.

Egan's complaint is based on some simple painful facts. There are many fine novelists who cannot get agents or publishers, just as there are fine poets and memoirists who have no hope of finding space on bookstore shelves. So many good writers will never command an audience on the scale of fabricated books of the kind Egan condemns that it makes us realize that self-publishing is not just for vanity seekers.

Quality comes in many forms, and right now it is very hard for good writers, writers of literary quality, to place a book with a publisher unless there is some previous media blitz or unless there is some powerful person who can promote the book with a powerful editor. Even some very fine novelists whose early books showed great promise tell me that there is no market for their current work. No commercial press will touch them because the early books did not sell well enough for them to take the risk. Of course one reason they cannot take the risk is that the publishers have lavished advances on non-book books. The result is that writers of quality prose will not have the chance to develop their talent in the open marketplace.

Maybe it has never been much different, but today with fewer "big" publishers and with many editors and support people losing jobs in publishing, things certainly feel different.

The end result is that the idea of founding a publishing house whose mission is to bring out good books that don’t fit the commercial mold seems more and more appealing. Hammonasset House Books is an artists’ cooperative dedicated to publishing a few good books. For people who like good books.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Good Books for People Who Like Good Books

The Basilisk Solution

One of Hammonasset House’s new books, a celestial thriller called The Basilisk Solution, combines suspense, comedy and satire in a hilarious fantasy.

In Heaven, souls create virtual domains to suit their heart’s desire, and share Paradise with mafiosi, religious zealots, literary characters, pagan gods, and monsters.

They also face the threat of Satan unseating God and ruling Heaven. The Midwest Book Review calls it "A satirical romp through the afterlife. . . .wittily composed and highly recommended to community library fantasy collections and to those who love the genre."

William J. Kelly was an English professor at UCONN, Groton, and editor of Mystic Aquarium’s natural history magazine. His nature writings and humorous pieces appeared in national and international periodicals. $15.95 ISBN 978-0-9801894-7-6

As described in the Ingram Catalog:

Astral travel to the afterlife by two retired cops begins a tale that is both a ciffhanger and comic opera. After a lackluster career as a detective, Benny Spielmacher disappears during an impulsive astral journey to Heaven in search of inspiration for a musical version of Paradise Lost. His former partner, Roscoe Duffy, risks the deadly perils of Chaos to find him, and the two soon find themselves in a life-and-death struggle to defeat a colossal conspiracy that threatens God Himself. To complicate matters, Roscoe falls in love with the late Rose Trautman and must figure out how to conduct an affair with a dead woman. In this witty romp through Heaven and Hell, the damned get limited air conditioning, a college education, and virtual sex. Those in heaven create virtual domains to suit their heart’s desire, and share Paradise with mafia dons, crackpots, villains, literary characters, and pagan gods and their monsters. The Basilisk Solution serves up mystery, mayhem and belly laughs as once-mediocre gumshoes finally become the heroes they always wanted to be.

The reviews on Amazon are enthusiastic for this wonderful comic novel. Order it at:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hammonasset House Books

Lee A. Jacobus, William J. Kelly, and Norman Weissman, all distinguished as educators, writers, editors, and filmmakers, began Hammonasset House Books as a cooperative artists' press to publish our books and keep them in print.
We write short fiction, novels, memoirs, and poetry. In later posts, I will include some sample work in addition to discussing the ins and outs of establishing a publishing house.
Later posts will also include a description of each of our current books and how to obtain them. All our first four books are softcover and are priced at $15.95. All may be ordered through your bookstore or ordered directly from or B&, or any other online bookseller.

Volcanic Jesus: Hawaiian Tales is a collection of short stories that both Hawaiians and world wide visitors will treasure. It offers a vision of the Hawaii that most people might not notice, a Hawaii that is rich in spiritual significance and lush with touches of paradise.

These stories are set on Maui, Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island, Hawaii. They tell the tales of natives, haole, and tourists alike.

A Rochester reviewer said, "Clear, clean writing reminiscent of Hemingway's best. A must read for those who admire short stories with bite and sensitivity."

ISBN 978-0-9801894-4-5

This book is close to my heart. I started it on my first visit to Hawaii when I saw a woman with a black eye. Her story became the first in the collection, "Pi'ilani, the Girl with the Heavenly Eyes."

Subsequent visits brought me in contact with marvelous people whose stories I knew I needed to tell. I used a technique that Nadine Gordimer describes as "inhabiting the character" while I wrote.

Other stories started from such germs--to quote Henry James. For instance, Keezu Breen, the bell hop in "Why Not Live in the Hokole" came to me when I was staying in Maui and saw a young man in a native costume running around lighting the tiki lanterns in preparation for an evening party.

"A View of the Water" came to me when I reflected one day in one of the new hotels in Kaui on the fate of the people whose homes were sacrificed for the sake of commercial progress. Camille and Lawrence Tanaka were those people, and their fate was a mixed blessing.

The title story derived from my walk along the slopes of Kilauea on the Big Island and up to Volcano Inn where I saw the steaming caldera and smelled the sulphurous residue. That was an experience I shall never forget because it awakened in me images from the first book of John Milton's Paradise Lost when he described Satan in Hell.

Volcanic Jesus is not, however, a hellish story.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Writers' Cooperative

In a recent writers conference in New Canaan, CT, people talked about ways to get published in the twenty-first century.

After listening to some really bright and creative people talk about how they got their books accepted by mainstream publishers, and after hearing an agent who does not want any new clients explain what agents do, I was very glad that I belong to a cooperative artists' press.

We created Hammonasset House Books early in 2008 after a couple of years of talk and research. Our books are literary and personal, but not really commercial in the sense that the people in the writers conference revealed. We write literature, fiction and memoirs, but not self-help books, not young adult, not really any of the niches that seem to be in demand at the present.

When a member of the audience at this conference mentioned that his book had been taken by a major press, the agent described some of his potential journey. His book would be promoted for a month, then it would be on its own. The publisher will probably demand that he invest his advance in a book publicist and advertising. The real job of promotion, in other words, is on the author's shoulders. In six months his book will be old news.

Well, Hammonasset House can keep promoting our books on the web and through email and snailmail for as long as we wish. We are the PR people and the creative people, and we don't abandon our books. And most important, our books never go out of print.

Right now, this option represents an opportunity. Not only are our books out there and in people's hands, but they are being read and we control all the phases of production and pricing.

To me, this sounded like the best way to get published in the twenty-first century.