Monday, July 19, 2010

Meet Paul Clayton

Today I'm happy to introduce Paul Clayton. Remember, during this author party, every author that you leave a comment or question for qualifies you to win the $50.00 gift card.  See contest details and more ways to win in the tab above.

First let me say thanks to Threeundertwo for letting me post to her blog and speak to her readers. My name is Paul Clayton and I’ve been writing seriously since college (graduated Temple University in Philly in 1976). I wrote a little as a child, just essays and poems, no novels or screenplays. I recall winning second place for an essay at our grade school. My sister won first place. Don’t know why, but she gave up writing after that and I kept at it. This probably worked out the better for me, as I don’t have to say, I’m a writer, brother to best-selling author, Anne Clayton. You see, I’m what’s known in the biz as s ‘midlist writer.’ We’re the ones that write most of the books that make the publishers’ profit, probably only high single or low double digit profit, but profit just the same.

The way I figure it, midlist writers are the backbone of Big Publishing. They’re a known commodity, good, steady producers, a good investment. And you would think that they’d be appreciated as such. But it does seem like Big Publishing is more concerned with finding and signing the next Harry Potter or Twilight author. But they take what we give them until that day.

The first novel I wrote was based on my experiences as a drafted Infantryman in Vietnam. I often say that it was Vietnam that made me a writer. I wanted people to know what that war was like. And I wanted to put some faces on that conflict. After finishing the Vietnam book I just couldn’t sell it. I put it away and went on to write another. This book, Cacique, a Shogun-like action adventure based on the Spanish conquest of the Floridas, was bought by Putnam Berkley and sold as Calling Crow (new writers do not usually get to choose their book’s titles). Unfortunately, they designed a cover for the book that would, in my opinion, repel the serious readers that I wrote the book for, and attract the folks that just wanted a good shoot –‘em-up type entertainment. Anyway, the book sold modestly. Well enough that the publisher requested two more. I delivered Flight of the Crow, and Calling Crow Nation over the next two years.

I should add that this was back before the internet really got going and the Indy movement started to gain traction. And, during this time, I was married, working full time, and raising a family.

I was never happy about the fact that my Vietnam book (Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam) hadn’t found a publisher. So I went on another sales campaign. No luck. Finally, out of frustration, I published the book as an ebook with a little business in Canada. Unbeknownst to me, the publisher submitted the book along with a few other titles to the 2001 Frankfurt eBook Awards. It was named a finalist along with works by Joyce Carole Oates (Faithless) and David McCullough (John Adams). I got a free flight to Germany on an almost empty plane (the awards were about a month after 911), stayed free in a first class hotel, and met a lot of nice folks. This really was a coup of sorts since my book was truly the only independent entry, the others being pdf versions of the major publishing houses biggest writers. But there was still no book deal.

It took me another three years to find a publisher for Carl Melcher. Finally, partially through the intercession of now-deceased Colonel David Hackworth, I sold the book to Thomas Dunne which published it in hardcover. Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam is currently available on Kindle and other ebook sites, and a paperback version will go on sale in approximately a week.

So, I like to think I’ve established some ‘street cred’ when it comes to the Indy book revolution, specifically, the ebook revolution. Big Publishing was in trouble before the current recession hit. It was becoming almost impossible to sell a book unless your last one sold in record numbers. Things have, of course, become even worse now. Now, it seems, agencies are pulling up their rope ladders and filling their moats with alligators. Some require potential authors to enter the moshpit of their own on-line writers critiquing groups. They’ll sit on the sidelines and see who emerges with the least amount of bruising. Other agencies will only accept queries (not book chapters, or manuscripts) from authors who are recommended (connected) by in-house authors. So you had better spend four or five years finding representation because now publishers will only look at ‘agented’ material.

But the ebook revolution is putting a few cracks in the wall agencies and publishing houses have erected. Hardly a month goes by without a story of an unknown Indy author racking up twenty thousand or more in sales and being recruited by a commercial house. This is certainly good news, but I don’t know if it will save publishing, or specifically, if it will ensure that the absolute best books will come to the fore. Time will tell. For now, authors must be, not only dreamer and scribe, but also entertainer, door-to-door salesman, gadfly, copy-writer, editor, cover artist (some of them) and, if they get lucky, the equivalent of the guy or gal who demonstrates and sells those nifty blenders at the State Fair. Some authors have all of those skills down, or most of them, (or some of them, as this writer likes to think of himself), and the readers and consumers will react accordingly. But some authors fail miserably in these areas. All they can do is dream and write. What will become of their strange, moving tales? So we won’t know for another ten or so years how this is all going to shake out. Stay tuned.

As far as my own books and writing is concerned, I am going whole hog Indy at this time. There was a lag of five years between when I signed the contract for my first book, Calling Crow, and when it finally showed up on bookstores. Five years! And this is not unusual.

Last year I sent out about fifty query email letters to agents about my newest book, White Seed: The Untold Story of The Lost Colony of Roanoke. About half responded in the negative. Two requested sample chapters. Nothing panned out. However, eight months later I received an email from an agent who had just gotten around to reading that query – eight months later! He requested a manuscript and I sent it. But he did state that it might be many more months before he gets around to reading it. Meanwhile, my birthday seems to be coming faster and faster, and I guess that means I’m getting older. And I don’t want to leave my work in the hands of people who will get around to reading it in a year or two, when they probably won’t even be employed at the same agency in a year or two.

By the way, I hope this is not discouraging anyone who dreams of writing and publishing. That is not my intention. I merely want people to know what to expect so they can realistically prepare themselves for a long slog. And, know, because it’s true, that the joy is in the journey.

Well, my struggle to make my books available to readers pales in comparison with the story of the early English colonists in the Virginias. I have attempted to bring their struggles to life in White Seed: The Untold Story of The Lost Colony of Roanoke. White Seed tells the story of the abandoned colony through the eyes of fictional character Maggie Hagger, an Irish serving girl, Manteo, real life Croatoan interpreter for the English, John White, real life governor of the ill fated colony, and many others. White Seed made it to the top one hundred finalists in the 2009 ABNA contest, winning a review from Publishers Weekly. It is 492 pages in paper.

I have made the ebook version available for $0.99 for the months of June and July. I’d like to teach Big Publishing a lesson. Who knows, maybe I’ll sell three million copies at $0.99 a pop? That would make me no longer a mid-list author, but rather a best selling author, and, with a profit of $0.33 a copy, a millionaire. What? I can dream, can’t I?


3 people stopped folding laundry to write:

Alisa said...

Here's hoping you become a millionaire off the $0.99 book process. I have to say that the way I whip through books, that is a most appealing price range for me.
My husband and I just had the ebook conversation while in Barnes and Noble the other day. It does seem like it levels the playing field for us readers to decide what we want to read instead of the publishing houses having that control. I am definitely a big ebook fan now.

Burbank Babe said...

99 cents? I'm in!

It isn't just publishing. I work in entertainment and all things went the way of the "agent before submission" some time ago. I can't even listen to a friend's idea without telling them they have to stop now. It is so hard to get your leg in the door now.

Carry said...

I just had the book conversation while in Barnes and Noble the other day. It does seem like it levels the playing field for us readers to decide what we want to read instead of the publishing houses having that control.

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