Monday, May 13, 2013

Taking the Plunge

"After the Barn is a gripping story of how a family deals with tragedy, and with secrets. But it is also a testament to the bravery inherent in seeking the clues to one's intimate past." – Daniel Okrent, first public editor of the New York Times and author of Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center and Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

“Richard Pollak, in his irresistible and affecting memoir, takes us on an odyssey in which we discover how tragedy extends far beyond the event itself to a lifetime of aftermath, of ripplings and reverberations hiding and appearing in unlikely and astonishing places. This is a beautiful book.” – Jenny McPhee, author of the novels A Man of No Moon, No Ordinary Matter and The Center of Things

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Publishing your own book is like diving into an icy lake. The very prospect gives you the shivers. After endless hesitation, you screw up your courage and take the plunge. Just as you expected, you get an instant ice cream headache and the water threatens to freeze your capillaries. Then, to your astonishment, you get used to it, and pretty soon you're splashing about, shouting to the ditherers on shore, "Come on in! This ain't so bad." 

And it isn't. Yes, I sometimes miss the cosseting I received at the houses that published my previous books: the generous (sort of) advances, the checks picked up by hand-holding editors at extravagant lunches, the sharp-eyed copy editor who gently noted that the semi-colon goes after the quotation mark, the forgiveness (grudging) after the third missed deadline. But managing your own fate has its virtues, as more and more writers are beginning to discover.

Among them is the Pulitzer Prize-winner David Mamet, who is self-publishing his next book, a novella and two short stories about war. "Basically I am doing this because I'm a curmudgeon," he told the New York Times last month, "and because publishing is like Hollywood–nobody ever does the marketing they promise." Seconded!

As followers of this blog know, I serialized After the Barn here beginning last fall, under the title A Brother's Version. When I shopped the manuscript around, several editors and agents gave it high marks, but all then dove under their desks, crying, But, oh, the market for memoirs is just terrible! This initially made me grouchy, but then Diane told me about Book Baby.

Diane is the Intrepid Wife who led the way when we traveled the globe in 2011 (see posts in archive, left). She is also a concert pianist whose recordings have been digitized and distributed by CD Baby, which now, through its Book Baby arm, does the same for writers. They made my Word manuscript e-book worthy in a week; once I approved the proofs, they zapped After the Barn to Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, iPhone, iPad and half a dozen smaller retailers.

I set the price at $4.99 and get 70 percent of all sales, compared to a fifth of that from a conventional publisher. True, there's no advance, but my initial outlay was small, and, who knows, maybe the book will go viral (Twitter and Facebook, please note). While waiting, I'm more than happy with the results so far.

When I wrote for Newsweek, my pieces went out weekly to millions of readers. I never heard from any of them, save for my parents, whose main reaction was irritation that the magazine didn't grant bylines. Since launching After the Barn into cyberspace a few weeks ago, I've heard from dozens of readers, friends as well as strangers. Most of them have liked the book, which is reward enough.

If you haven't given After the Barn a try already, I hope you will. Details here.