You always remember where you are when you get really bad news – the moment is burned into your memory. On the last night of my family’s spring break vacation, we were walking over the footbridge at Broadway on the Beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. There was a lovely balmy breeze, the sun still bathing us in its glow even in the early evening – an idyllic setting if there ever was one. My three boys had just finished feeding the hungry catfish mobbing a spot of gently rippling water beneath the wooden bridge. We were light and happy, heading to dinner. And then – well, then I glanced at my phone after snapping a photo and saw a message from my book manager asking me if I knew that my publisher, Booktrope, would be shutting down at the end of May.
My hand flew over my mouth. “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god,” I stood motionless, repeating the phrase over and over and then I burst into tears. Right in the middle of a throng of tourists on a footbridge in South Carolina, I burst into tears.
“What happened?” my kids and husband chimed?
I was barely able to get out the words. “My publisher is going out of business next month,” I whispered.
My son blew out a sigh of relief. “Oh, I thought someone died,” he exclaimed.
“Something did die,” I wailed. “My dreams!”
You see, in addition to my novel, Goddess of Suburbia, I had a second book coming out soon from Booktrope – Boys, Dogs and Chaos. It was in the proofing stage and I expected it to be published by July. I was planning launch celebrations in Boston and New York. It has been my dream to publish a collection of essays for years, but no publisher was willing to take on an essay collection from an unknown voice – no one, that is, until Booktrope. Other publishers required a writer have an established platform as a prerequisite to accepting a work of non-fiction. I have a decent platform now – just over 3,640 followers on Twitter and just about 600 Facebook likes. It’s not huge, but perhaps it’s enough for my book to be considered. But truthfully, I have no idea what to do with this book that’s just waiting to be published, because after the fall of Booktrope, I feel like I’m adrift at sea without a life raft at times.
I will be honest, I wrote that line six days ago and haven’t been able to finish this essay until now, though I’ve gone back to it several times. It’s not entirely that I didn’t quite know what to say after admitting that I feel like I’m adrift at sea without a life raft. I also was really busy with a completely craptastic week. I spent all of Monday at doctors’ offices with my son who had a terrible eye infection. (And he had appointments with the nutritionist and the psychologist, as well – four appointments in one day sucked up any writing time.) The week continued with a death in my extended family, and of course the funeral and shiva calls (a Jewish condolence call) for this and another passing. During this time one of my dogs had a very messy stomach bug (sorry if that’s TMI); I volunteered at my son’s school and I tried to catch up on the post-vacation detritus – half unpacked bags, mounds of laundry – all while my husband was in Las Vegas for a conference. (He got to see Duran Duran and Lenny Kravitz in private concerts – my envy sucked up energy too). So, I had plenty of good excuses for not finishing this – and they all played a part. But… I also wasn’t quite sure what else to say.
I needed to let my feelings percolate a bit – I didn’t want to post when my emotions were running high. I wanted to process everything and make sure my words are measured – I’d never want to speak ill of anyone. Could the closing of Booktrope have been handled better – rather than announcing it on a Friday evening with the weekend stretched ahead of hundreds of us who were left pondering suddenly very uncertain futures? Yes, it could have. But, I’m not going to even try to guess why it was done that way. I’m sure there must have been a valid reason. Although some speculated otherwise in first days of high emotion, I don’t think the owners of Booktrope enjoyed dropping this bomb and watching the ripples of dismay, anxiety and sheer unbridled panic spread out – not even one bit. This was their dream, their baby, and it’s crashing – just as much as it is for the rest of us. I understand that they tried to do something revolutionary and sometimes revolutionary ideas fail. There is inherent risk in doing something that’s never been done before.
Now, the future is spread out before me and I have no idea where to head next. Some authors already have their books waiting to be reissued – all laid out and just waiting to be self-published. I’m so impressed with them. I however need a bit more time to figure it out. Do I want to self-publish? Do I want to throw my book back into the traditional publishing ring? It garnered some amazing rejections – an oxymoron, if there ever was one. But more than one editor loved it, it just didn’t fit into the publisher’s acquisitions list at the time – or their marketing scheme.
Goddess of Suburbia is a tough book to market – no billionaire playboys; no vampires or otherworldly creatures; no sexy star athlete. No one seemed to know what to do with a book about a tired forty-something mom on a journey to living more authentically, even though they all found it well-written. This is precisely why I fell madly, deeply in love with Booktrope when they accepted Goddess of Suburbia a mere two weeks after I submitted it.
The editors – and agents – before tried to meld it into a marketable property (some of those changes were for the better – it’s A LOT steamier now) or simply rejected it, but Booktrope took it on as it was, not worrying about how to market it, only worrying if the book was good. Perhaps Booktrope was doomed to fail – choosing quality over marketability is so very noble, but probably not the best way to succeed in our Fifty Shades of Gray world. People love brain candy – crap that’s flashy, but lacking in substance. Actually, as bad as I feel saying this, I have to be honest – it was a bit of a relief to realize that my book wasn’t the only one with suffering sales. I worried that I didn’t do enough, but I have put so much effort into marketing that I’ve hardly written anything new in ages, besides the few essays that rounded out my essay collection. Do I regret working that hard for no return – or at least no monetary return? No, not at all. Do I regret being a part of Booktrope – never. Goddess of Suburbia would have never gotten out into the world – and I might not have had the confidence to finish my essay book, if I didn’t think I had a publisher ready and willing to put it out into the world too. I don’t regret anything, not one bit…
I know my essays need to be in front of more eyes than just my blog audience. I know that they will make a difference, so I need to find a way to get them out there – whether that means self-publishing or trying to sell to a traditional publisher or even maybe another indie publisher. (I’ll admit, I’m now a bit gun-shy when it comes to indie publishers, but if a publisher has been around for a decade or more, I’d feel safer. My two novellas are out with The Wild Rose Press – they just celebrated their tenth birthday and I don’t think they are going anywhere. Knock on wood!!). Wherever my book ends up, it’s a new page in my writing career, and I’m going to make the most of it.