Last month, I announced that my serial novella collection Zeppelins are What Dreams are Made of was picked up by a small press. Yesterday, I learned that small press was closing, the contract is void, and all rights to the collection have reverted back to me. Since the publication process stalled before I even received an advance, the situation is like I never sold the novellas at all. A slate wiped clean.
So what now?
That’s the problem, really: I’m not sure. Since I wrote the first story in 2010, I’ve submitted it to various magazines. I had a few near-misses where editors held onto it (sometimes for quite some time) but ultimately didn’t accept it. Even that first story is over 7000 words long, meaning it’s too lengthy for most sff magazines. If I had sold that story, the rest in the series probably wouldn’t have followed: you just don’t see serial characters that much anymore.
It was never an easy sell. This small press was unique in that it was one of the very few places that specialized in novellas, serial fiction and short novels, as well as providing professional cover art, editing, favourable contract terms and an advance on sales. Other presses don’t fit nearly as well.
These are my options:
1. Wait for an anthology to open up with a compatible theme
I really have exhausted all magazine venues for that first story, which is also the only one of the three novellas that can stand alone. Sitting on it waiting for a submission opportunity isn’t appealing to me; I feel like I’ve collected enough magazine rejection slips already.
2. Approach other small presses
See above. I can only ever hope for an e-book only deal on this–the finished work is still a mere 37,000 words long. I’m kind of wary of the other small presses I’ve run across: at least one would not pay royalties until your novella paid off its production cost (this effectively means “never” in the hands of creative accountants), another had a firm “no review copies” policy, others offer minimal editing, terrible cover art, strange business plans involving sole reliance on crowdfunding campaigns, and little if any promotion.
If a publisher isn’t willing to invest anything (time, energy, or money) in my fiction, I see no reason why that publisher should make any money from it.
This means the choices are limited. I was turned away from one press for not being a New Zealand author, despite the guidelines intimating it accepted international submissions, and the rejection letter I got from the Tor.com novella imprint indicated the editors would mostly draw work from agented authors…again, without this stated in the guidelines. The number of likely publishers is even smaller than I’d thought when I started trying to get these novellas published as a collection.
3. Self-Publish (for money)
My day job involves mucking about with territorial government publications; I’m pretty sure I could put together a clean, well-formatted EPUB file, create decent cover art and interior illustrations, and not embarrass myself in the process. The technical and design elements I can handle.
But then I look at “Author Promo (Share Your Stuff!)” section on the Sword and Laser forum and see thread after thread of self-published authors trying to promote their stuff…and these are long threads with multiple posts, then you click on them and realize the author him/herself made all those posts, that very few if any people on the forum actually read those threads. This is just a small example of the vast amount of noise you contend with when just about anyone can release an ebook if they really want to. The other sour point is seeing endless discussions on pricing and tips on getting reviews and a thousand contradictory pieces of advice on how to get people to buy your book. Nothing you think would work does.
I am not good at promotion or sales, I don’t think I ever will be. My great fear is releasing Zeppelins only for it to go unread. Because no major review venues will review a self-published book except under unusual circumstances, and because, ultimately, it’s hard enough to get immediate acquaintances to read my fiction for free anymore, let alone convincing someone to buy it.
In other words, without some confidence that readers will pick up something I release without the backing of a publisher to vet the thing first, I don’t see much point to self-publishing the collection.
4. Release the novellas as a serial on my blog
For free. Then I’ll know at least someone who isn’t in my immediate circle of friends (since they’ve already read these, and demanded more, and were the reason I kept on writing them) will get to read them and possibly enjoy them.
I keep on thinking of doing this with my other unpublished stories that I really do believe in, only then I keep thinking maybe I can get them published eventually after all, and the internet’s memory is short while a print magazine can last effectively forever…
5. Some Combination of all of the above
But what combinations? Toss some suggestions in the comments, if you like. I’d appreciate it.