Posted On March 28, 2011 by Print This Post

My Path to Publication; or, How I Hacked and Slashed my way Through the Uncharted Jungle of Novel Publishing

We’re pleased to welcome debut author Al Leverone as our guest today.

I’m really excited to be here today. My invitation to appear at Romance University stemmed from a post I read at Vicky Dreiling’s blog written by your very own debut author, Adrienne Giordano, regarding her path to publication; a post which struck a nerve with me the moment I read it. I emailed Adrienne relating some of my own debut experiences and she very graciously invited me to share them. So here I am!

“The path to publication.” It sounds so civilized, doesn’t it? Four words that make the journey seem like a bucolic Sunday stroll through a quiet rose garden, tea cup in hand, bees buzzing in the background, hummingbirds . . . uh . . . humming. Masterpiece Theatre. Sir Lawrence Olivier. Dignified. Scholarly. In reality though, at least for me, the journey was less a Sunday afternoon stroll along a quiet path than a confusing, terrifying trip through the Amazon. With no guide. And no machete. And definitely no map.

I decided about four years ago that I wanted to write fiction; genre novels, specifically. I’ve always been an avid reader and a good writer. In fact, writing might be the only thing in this world at which I truly excel. How hard could it be, right? 

So I wrote a manuscript. I figured I would finish it, polish it, send it out to all the major publishers and wait for the offers to come rolling in, then pick from the best one. And to answer your question, Yes, I really was that naïve. Once I discovered the major New York publishers don’t take un-agented manuscripts and haven’t for decades, I shook my head in frustration and decided to do the next best thing: get a literary agent.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to snag an agent? It was like being back in high school trying to get a date again, only worse. Because now, all the guys were trying to date all the girls, and to top it off, you couldn’t just ask her out, you had to submit a query letter first, and if she decided your query letter measured up, then she would allow you to ask her out.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer. And, oh by the way, the answer is no. Usually delivered via form letter.

The activities in those last two paragraphs represent roughly three years worth of struggle, during which time I wrote three complete novel-length manuscripts and parts of three others. And I was getting nowhere. Oh, I would receive the occasional request for a partial from the occasional agent, and every once in a while—woohoo!—a request for the full manuscript, but the end result was always the same. While their responses indicated I definitely had the skills, there was always something that kept the agents from being interested enough in my work to commit. Like I said, it was high school all over again, only without getting stuffed into my locker.

That was when I decided to try a different tactic. I would begin submitting to smaller, independent publishers, most of whom have no qualms about receiving work from authors without representation. And my thriller titled FINAL VECTOR, about an air traffic controller who gets tangled up in a plot to assassinate the President of the United States, was almost immediately received enthusiastically by this really cool Indie outfit outside Chicago called Medallion Press. They liked FINAL VECTOR. They wanted FINAL VECTOR. They would release FINAL VECTOR as a mass-market paperback in February, 2011. And just like that, the kid who couldn’t get a date was on his way to the prom.

Cue the violins and sappy music, cue the walk into the sunset, cue the happy ending, roll credits, fade to black. End of story.

Except that wasn’t quite the end of the story.

I signed my contract with Medallion for a mass-market paperback release of FINAL VECTOR in late December, 2009. In mid-March, 2010, I was upstairs working on another manuscript when the telephone rang. I have three children, ages 22 to 18, and it’s not an exaggeration to say the telephone is never for me, so I ignored it. But this time it was for me. It was a representative from Medallion, calling to tell me that due to the rapidly-changing environment in the publishing industry and the lack of profitability in mass-market paperback as a format, Medallion was exiting the MMPB world completely.

Their plan was now to release an ebook edition of FINAL VECTOR. I had a long talk on the telephone with Medallion’s Director of Sales and Marketing regarding this new plan and I was left feeling less than enthusiastic. My dream since I was a young child had been to one day hold an ink-and-paper book in my hands which said “Allan Leverone” on the cover; I had never once imagined myself holding a portable hard drive with a reading screen.

So I agonized. I went back and forth over whether to request a reversion of the rights to FINAL VECTOR from Medallion. I had a signed contract in my possession stipulating a mass-market paperback release of my book, so I was quite certain I could walk away, no blood, no foul. But was that what I really wanted?

By March, 2010 I had owned my own Kindle for six months and loved it. I’m an avid reader of thrillers and horror novels and in that half-year had probably downloaded and read at least a dozen books on it. I had done a lot of research and knew that the ebook market was exploding on an unprecedented scale, basically keeping the publishing world afloat while simultaneously scaring the crap out of “traditional” publishing. So would an ebook release of FINAL VECTOR really be so bad?

After three weeks of soul-searching I decided, no, it would not be so bad. I bought into Medallion’s new plan and let FINAL VECTOR ride with them, and, boy am I glad I did. In the year since receiving that disheartening phone call, ebooks have continued to be the ten ton elephant in the room, assuming a bigger and bigger profile in the publishing landscape. It’s exciting to be part of a revolution that represents the first real change in how books are packaged and consumed since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the fifteenth century.

All of which brings me back to my original point: that the “path to publication” isn’t really a path at all. It’s more like a meandering, dried-out riverbed, and you have to pick your way over the boulders and through the mud, sometimes striking out through the jungle for a while but always making your way back to that riverbed in the end. And, oh yeah, by the way, watch out for those flash floods, because they just might wash you away if you’re not ready for them.

But nobody said it would be easy, and what fun would that be, anyway?

Al, thanks for sharing your experience with us today.  Ever have to choose between a traditional print publishing versus an e-publisher? Any thriller writers out there? If you have questions for Al, ask away!

Be sure to join us on Wednesday, March 30th for our two-day pitch workshop with Diane Holmes from Pitch University.

* * *

Allan Leverone is a three-time Derringer Award Finalist for excellence in short mystery fiction as well as a 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee. His short fiction has appeared in Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Shroud Magazine, Twisted Dreams, Dark Valentine, Mysterical-E and many others, and his debut thriller, FINAL VECTOR was released February 11 by Medallion Press. Learn more on Facebook or at www.allanleverone.com.

Website: www.allanleverone.com

Publisher’s website: www.medallionpress.com

Blog, “A Thrill a Minute”: www.allanleverone.blogspot.comVideo

Book trailer for FINAL VECTOR: www.youtube.com/watch?v=86g7_negT8o

 

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25 Responses to “My Path to Publication; or, How I Hacked and Slashed my way Through the Uncharted Jungle of Novel Publishing”

  1. Hi Al,

    So nice to see my ITW pal at RU!

    I’m so glad everything worked out with FINAL VECTOR. What’s on your agenda next?

    Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | March 28, 2011, 4:23 am
  2. Hi Al! Congrats on your release. I don’t write thrillers and I’m still chasing the print dream, but one day that may change. I’m curious – will you still try to go the traditional route at some point with a new manuscript or are you sold on epub forever?

    Good luck with your publishing career and many happy sales to you. :)

    Posted by Kat Cantrell | March 28, 2011, 6:42 am
  3. Hi Al. Thank you for being with us today. I loved this post. I think you’ve summarized what a lot of us have gone through trying to make our publishing dreams come through. This is a brutal business and we have to want it bad (really bad!) to deal with the ups and downs.

    I’m curious if you had ever considered submitting to an e-pub while you were shopping the traditional print market?

    I’m off to download Final Vector on my Kindle!

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | March 28, 2011, 8:06 am
  4. Morning Al!

    Great post! How have your sales been in the ebook world so far? Doing well I hope! =) Do you feel like you’ve made the right choice for your future books as well, or are you still wanting to hold that print book in your hands?

    Thanks for posting today! Great read! =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 28, 2011, 8:13 am
  5. Hi Al,

    I was a book in hand person myself, until my e-book came out last year. I like seeing my name on a computer screen. There is no yellow brick road to getting published, more like a single lane through mountains and valleys.

    Congratulations on your book.

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | March 28, 2011, 8:28 am
  6. First of all, I’d like to thank Jen, Tracey and Adrienne and everyone at Romance University for making me feel so welcome! With this post alone, I’ve accomplished two things no who knows me would ever have believed: 1 – That I know anything at all about romance, and 2 – That I can teach someone about something.

    Tracey, I’m close (I hope) to a deal with another Indie to release my next novel, a thriller titled THE LONELY MILE. I don’t want to identify the publisher yet, just in case they come to their senses, but I’m very excited about the opportunity to work with them. I’m also a big horror fan and am extremely excited about signing with Delirium Books for a September release of my novella, “Darkness Falls,” as part of Delirium’s acclaimed collectible novella series. There will be a limited number of hardcover collectible books printed, and it will be available in ebook form as well…

    Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 8:56 am
  7. Hi Kat,

    Your question is the one everybody who writes books is struggling with, isn’t it? I definitely would still consider a traditional print deal – I’m not in any position to turn my nose up at any opportunity – but I think it’s clear digital is the growth market to aim for, especially for genre writers. I think ebooks will be the new mass-market paperback, with the superstar authors getting most of the hardcover deals…

    Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 8:59 am
  8. Hi Adrienne,

    There are a lot of blood, sweat and tears summarized in my post, and any writer who has attempted to sell his/her work can probably identify. I never really considered e-publishing over the years, mostly because up until the last year, maybe even just the last six months or so, e-publishing was considered the red-headed stepchild in the publishing world. It was for people who couldn’t get a “real” deal. But now, with the unbelievable explosion in the market, you have traditional superstars like Barry Eisler passing up a half-million dollar advance to e-publish! We’re truly in the middle of a revolution.

    Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 9:04 am
    • I read about the Barry Eisler deal last week – what’s your opinion on that? Sounds like a scary step!

      carrie

      Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 28, 2011, 10:29 am
      • Carrie, I blogged about it just a couple of days ago. It was interesting that the same week Barry Eisler turned down big money from a traditional publisher to self-publish his next novel, self-publishing sensation Amanda Hocking ACCEPTED big money from a traditional publisher to release her upcoming four-book series.

        I’m sure it took a lot of thought for Eisler to take that step, but he caries a well-established following and he clearly feels he can earn more by releasing the book himself than he can through the deal with St. Martin’s. He has a fascinating conversation with JA Konrath on the subject at this link – http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/ebooks-and-self-publishing-dialog.html – if you’re interested in checking it out…

        Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 11:19 am
        • I’ve been reading a lot about the self-pubbed market because a few friends are self-pubbed. There is definitely a middle ground where an author self-pubs books in between their traditionally pubbed books. It really is fascinating.

          Posted by AdrienneGiordano | March 28, 2011, 1:56 pm
          • Adrienne, that was one thing Amanda Hocking specifically addressed in her post about taking the traditional deal with St. Martin’s. She said she still intends to self-publish other titles; so obviously she hasn’t forsaken self-pubbing completely, or even mostly.

            Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 4:37 pm
  9. Hi Carrie,

    Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to comment! That sales question is a tough one. FINAL VECTOR is my first book and I’m very much an unknown, so I had no idea what kind of numbers to expect. I would love to tell you I’m selling thousand of books a day, but that would be a bold-faced lie. Plus, I’m sure you wouldn’t believe me.

    I’m pleased with my sales, understanding it is not easy to build an audience when nobody knows who you are. I’m in it for the long-term, and if I can begin building a following and then add to it with each successive book, I will be very happy.

    Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 9:07 am
  10. Mary Jo,

    Thanks so much, and congratulations on your book! Millions of ereaders have been sold over the last couple of years, and they are showing no signs of slowing down. I said in an earlier comment, and I really believe, ebooks will soon be, if they aren’t already, the mass-market paperback of the future.

    Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 9:09 am
  11. Good morning, Al.

    As you can see, RU is an equal opportunity blog as genre writers have so much to learn from one another.

    Could you share a little about the promo strategies you’ve used to launch your first book and your career as an author?

    Thanks so much for being here!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | March 28, 2011, 10:01 am
    • Kelsey,

      RU is awesome! I’m just finishing up a two-month blog tour in support of FINAL VECTOR

      Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 12:44 pm
    • Sorry Kelsey, computer glitch. Either that or I’m a complete loser when it comes to technology, you can take your pick. Anyway, what I wanted to say was that in two months of blog-tour, this has been the best and most enthusiastic reception I’ve gotten.

      Promotion is kind of a mystery. I’ve done a little bit of everything and really can’t say what, if anything, would have been the best strategy to focus on. I did the video trailer – check. Social networking – check. Blog tour – check. Web presence – check. Book reviews and blurbs – check.

      But as I’m sure you know, name recognition is critical when it comes to asking people to spend their hard-earned money on your product, and when you don’t have any (name recognition, that is) you are facing an uphill battle. That’s why I say I’m hoping for solid sales, and an upward trend after that with any subsequent releases.

      I wish I could be more specific and say, “Focus your efforts on Area X, that’s where you’ll have the biggest impact,” but unfortunately it’s mostly a big mystery.

      Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 12:51 pm
      • Al –

        I’d much rather have honesty about the promo efforts :). It’s just such a big topic right now going hand-in-hand, I think, with all the discussion about different publishing routes.

        Oh, and once I read your response to Jen below, I think we might need you to come back sometime to talk about the fascinating world of air traffic control. I’ve been interested in launching a “career series” here at RU for a while now!

        Wishing you the best (and thinking my husband might need a copy of your book for his iPad – then I can read it too :))!

        Kelsey

        Posted by KelseyBrowning | March 28, 2011, 2:47 pm
        • Thanks so much, Kelsey – I’d be happy to come back any time. It’s kind of unfortunate that the only time you hear about a controller is when he falls asleep on the midnight shift in Reagan Tower. There are a whole lot of very dedicated people working hard every day to make sure everyone in the air gets to their destinations safe and sound!

          Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 4:27 pm
  12. Hi Al!

    Thanks you (and to Adrienne for inviting you) for joining us today.

    I have to say, I loved your post, especially the high school analogy. I can’t imagine what went through your mind when you got Medallion called to advise they wanted to go the e-book route. Like you, I have dreams of seeing my name in print one day.

    The events from last week have generated a ton of interest in e-pubs. I’m sure there are other authors out there who are sitting on the fence and decidiing whether to go the e-pub route. Ah, this is just the beginning! Remember how people poo-poo’ed cable news? Heh.

    I’ve followed Joe Konrath’s blog for a while now I read the exchange between him and Barry Eisler. I also saw on Twitter that there’s a live chat between Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler. That should be interesting. :) In the NYT article last week, Ms. Hocking cited her reasons for signing a contract with St.Martin’s. I thought she made a compelling argument. Now, I’ll go check out your blog. :)

    Can you give us an idea of what a typical “writing day” for you is like?

    Again, thanks for being with us!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 28, 2011, 12:43 pm
    • Hi Jen, and thanks again for having me! I was just telling Kelsey that this has been the best response I’ve gotten in two months of bog touring – you guys rock.

      I remember the phone call from Medallion like it was yesterday, rather than over a year ago. I quite literally experienced a sinking feeling. It’s not an exaggeration to say I felt sick about their proposed change. I had dreamed for decades of walking into the local bookstore and seeing MY BOOK on the shelves. But being on the leading edge of a revolution is extraordinary – how many people can say they’ve done that?

      I read Amanda Hocking’s blog post regarding her reasons for signing with St. Martin’s, and as I said in my own blog on the subject, I sort of feel for her, as much as you can feel for someone making fistfuls of money. She strikes me as someone who is more than a little bewildered by the intensity of the reaction to her success from both sides of the fence, and she owes no one any justification for her actions. We all have to do what we believe best for our careers, and just as Barry Eisler did what he thinks is best, so did Ms Hocking.

      Anyway, to answer your question, I don’t really have what anyone could consider a typical writing day. I work full-time as an air traffic controller, so I always look to get some writing done on my breaks at work. Some people watch TV on their breaks, I grab my laptop and disappear. On my days off, though, I always work for several hours per day. I’m extremely fortunate to have a wife who doesn’t begrudge me the time spent writing. She’s supportive and understands how much work it takes to build a career from scratch.

      One thing about writing, there doesn’t seem to be any one way to do it. For me, as for probably most of us, it’s catch as catch can, writing whenever the opportunity presents itself. On the back of a cocktail napkin, if necessary…

      Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 1:04 pm
      • Al,

        Since Medallion decided to e-pub your book, was the release date earlier than the proposed print release?

        Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 28, 2011, 1:44 pm
        • Jennifer, actually no. In fact, the release got delayed because of Medallion’s switch to the electronic format. My original release date was scheduled to be February 1, but it ended up getting pushed back to the 11th. The way it was explained to me, Medallion’s titles are distributed by IPG, and the formatting house used by IPG is so backed up, thanks to the explosion in e-pubbing, that they couldn’t get my book formatted in time.

          Apparently there is a pecking order. If Stephen King or Dan Brown decided they wanted to release an ebook tomorrow, it would be formatted by tomorrow, but because no one knows who Allan Leverone is, and Medallion is a smaller Indie publisher, my title got pushed back. And it’s getting worse before it gets better. Another Medallion author, EJ Findorff, was supposed to have his debut released on May 1, but that has been pushed all the way back to July.

          I guess the moral of the story is if you have any extra cash lying around, open up an ebook formatting company!

          Posted by Allan Leverone | March 28, 2011, 4:34 pm
  13. Hi Al,

    I’m glad the feature of Adrienne’s path to publication on my website provided a link-up with her & Romance University. The publishing world has certainly gotten very interestingly lately, but I think it’s cool that there are more options available to authors and readers. I know I love my Kindle.

    Wishing you all the best with your books.

    Cheers!

    Posted by Vicky Dreiling | March 31, 2011, 12:38 pm
  14. Al’s joining us again on May 30th!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 31, 2011, 2:53 pm

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