One of the most pervasive beliefs in American publishers has been that readers will not be interested in humorous novels or in novels about Latin America. So I wrote The Better Part of Valour, a comic novel set in Columbia.
Again and again, American publishers turned it down; in fact, few if any of them bothered to read past the introductory sketch. Consequently–and after a number of rejections–I decided that the European audience might accept a protagonist modeled on Falstaff who is caught up in the madness of a South American rebellion while pursuing his dream of making the Jonestown massacre site into a theme park.
Fortunately, the first press I sent the manuscript to accepted it: Tirgearr Publishing, located in Ireland. “Valour” was brought out on 6 April in e-format, and is available through all e-book vendors. Should it sell well enough as an e-book it will also be published in trade paper.
Like many small presses, Tirgearr relies on the author to market his or her own book; unlike a number of such presses, Tirgearr also offers a community of authors, advanced and new, who share information about that marketing. Moreover, the editor is generous with suggestions and is knowledgeable about the art of marketing e-books. Good thing, because I found myself at the bottom of a tall ladder of learning.
I was impressed by the wealth of information fellow writers provided about generating publicity for one’s book–the variety and focus of various blogs and chat rooms, issues raised when dealing with Amazon (US and UK), recommendations for and against various publicity services, and the various adventures met while swimming in the turbulent and crowded waters of e-publishing. Anyone thinking of e-publishing might want to find out if the publisher under consideration provides such a website.
My first step in this new environment was to comb through the manuscript under the guidance of a copy editor and with the goal of turning a manuscript designed as a printed book into one designed for an electronic format. The fundamental principle was to envision the presentation of the page as it would appear on the screen of a reader.
I had to learn to cut my Faulknerian sentences into shorter lines and to break long paragraphs into smaller but clearly related paragraphs. Paramount among stylistic demands, transitions had to be scrutinized, pronouns placed in close proximity to their referents, and description compressed into pithy phrases that left an emphasis on action.
I was also advised to shorten whole chapters to no more than 15 pages because many readers approach an e-book piecemeal–they read on a commuter train or coffee break, or before falling asleep at night. It wasn’t my style, and I had reservations about using my prose for hypnagogic purposes. But I had entered a different world, and it was interesting to measure the effect of the electronic reader on my old leisurely style of printed copy. Though the re-write took time, it wasn’t difficult; and as long as I kept my ego out of it, it went smoothly.
I hope this note reassures writers who may be hesitant about entering the world of e-publishing: if I can do it, anyone can. Yes, printed books are comfortably familiar, and an e-reader will never capture that magic aroma of fresh ink found on opening a brand new print copy. But as Tirgearr‘s editor pointed out: sales of its e-books are ten times more than the number of its print copies sold.