Jenna Black's Blog Experiment

Wherein romance author Jenna Black plunges into the terrifying new territory of blogging . . .


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Alternative Publishing Venues

First off, let me say that I'm really excited to have received a comment on my very first post when I've made practically no effort to promote the blog yet. (I'm still adjusting to the idea that I actually decided to take this step!) I'm even more grateful that the comment sparked a thought about something to talk about, so thank you Amy.

Amy talked about publishing with rather than with a traditional publishing company. Although many authors will argue against taking this path, there are times when it can be helpful. You just have to know what you're going into. And, more importantly, why. So, here's my own story of publishing through an alternative venue.

Several years ago, my husband decided he wanted to start his own small press publishing company, publishing science fiction and fantasy (which, not coincidentally, was what I was writing at the time). He'd been editing my books (not the pathway to domestic harmony, by the way), and he'd seen how close I'd come without actually selling. He figured (correctly) that there had to be plenty of other writers out there like me, and he was going to help them out.

Thus Aardwolf Press was born. His first acquisition was a brilliant collection of short stories, called The Best-Known Man in the World, by Daniel Pearlman. Now if any of you read science fiction and fantasy, you know that story collections are a really hard sell, so Mr. Pearlman was unlikely to find a mainstream publisher. The book was a critical success (even getting reviewed in the Washington Post), but wasn't exactly a cash cow, because publishing a book in one thing, and marketing it is another.

After he found that first manuscript, my husband was eager to put out another book, even if he wasn't making money from the venture. But a year or so went by where he couldn't find a submission he liked enough to publish. And that's where I stepped in.

I'd written a dark fantasy novel, called Hamlet Dreams. It was my fourth novel, and at the time, I decided I'd search for an agent rather than sending it directly to publishers. And for about the only time I can remember, I got consistent feedback--this book was not commercial enough for a first novel. What's more, I could see why the agents thought so. The book was quirky. And my lead characters were both meek people. You don't see a lot of commercial fiction featuring meek characters.

I decided to let my husband publish Hamlet Dreams, figuring small press was the right place for it, and if I was going to go with a small press, I might as well go with his. I didn't go into this venture seeking fame or fortune. I knew that we wouldn't sell many copies. I knew I wouldn't make money off of it. But what I hoped was that I could get some good reviews that I could put in cover letters when sending other books to commercial publishers. I was looking for anything that would make my submissions stand out.

It worked. I got reviewed in Booklist, Library Journal, Midwest Book Review, Asimov's Science Fiction, and many other places. Did the book sell like hotcakes? No. Neither my husband nor I knew much about promotion and marketing, so figuring out how to get sales was not our strong suit. One thing I definitely did get was validation--hey, all these reviewers thought my book was great! That must mean that I'm not some pathetic hack who should give up on her unrealistic dream. It was a great feeling, and an infusion of hope.

Strangely enough, that publication indirectly led to me hooking up with my agent. I'd exchanged books with a fellow romance author in my local RWA chapter. She read Hamlet Dreams and loved it, so when she went to the Romantic Times convention and met a hungry new agent just starting out, she recommended us to each other. And that's how I came to sign with Miriam Kriss, of the Irene Goodman agency.

The moral of the story: there's more than one way to skin a cat. I went into my small-press publishing adventure with a very definite goal, and focused my attention on meeting that goal. For me, it worked out. Each writer has to make these decision for him/herself. There is no one right way.

P.S. Aardwolf Press has gone on to publish three more wonderful books. It's still a project done for love, not for money, but if you enjoy literate, intelligent science fiction and fantasy, check them out at


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