"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Friday, November 21, 2008

What should I write about?

Everyone knows about my book that's with Echelon Press and will be published whenever it's ready, whatever that means. All I know is that I've been through the editing rounds. Perhaps we're on to the swimsuit competition next. And if you've read even one of these blogs, you know about the accidental romance locked up in a folder on my laptop (yes, and on my backup drive).

But what you don't know is that there is a third book out there, and I don't mean the one I'm currently writing.

Every week, I write an essay for my very local newspaper, the Placentia News-Times. It's a mostly humorous look at my life in and around Orange County, and what my husband and son do to frustrate me. I've been doing this for almost four years now, and I enjoy it, which is why I still do it. I have a small, devoted following, some of whom ask why I don't put out a book of my columns.

Well, why don't I?

I haven't (yet) for a few reasons. The first is because I don't want a book of columns that looks like every other book of columns. The second reason is that there are lots of books of columns out there and I'm not certain I could be competitive enough. The third is that the traditional publishers I have approached with my idea of a book of columns have all said, "Um, no. No, thanks."

That being said, the idea still festers in my mind, so here is how I've been mitigating all of these obstacles:

1. Instead of tossing a bunch of columns together and calling it a book, I've written a sort of memoir that takes the reader through my journey as a columnist. It begins with why I wanted to do it in the first place, goes through how I landed the gig, and ends somewhere around my third editor. It's a chronological look at how I come up with ideas, how I deal with hate letters, etc. I've tentatively named it, "What Would Erma Do?" (Subtitle: Adventures of a First-time Humor Columnist)

2. I've considered self-publishing this book. Several experts, including Gordon Kirkland (humor essayist and author) and Michael Steven Gregory (director of Southern California Writers Conference) have encouraged me to look into this option, instead of trying to find a traditional publisher. The problem with this genre is that most publishers don't know how to market it, unless you are a FAMOUS essayist. So, Dave Barry shouldn't have any problem. I know that makes him feel better.

3. How do I make it competitive enough? Here's the really hard brick wall I've got to find a way around. I suppose I've got as strong a platform as someone like me can have, trying to claw my way out of the millions (billions?) of bloggers/websites/twitterers and make my voice heard. But a traditional publisher supplies that extra "oomph" that self-publishing does not. It's not just Gayle walking the aisles of the bookstore and handing out bookmarks. It's Gayle's publisher telling everyone, "Hey, read this! You'll like it!" Granted, I don't believe that it's the publisher's job to do all the publicity, but I do see it as being able to stand up to the neighborhood bully because your big brother is behind the door.

Lately, I've been throwing everything I've got into my novel, which is probably driving Karen Syed, my publisher, crazy (from 3,000 miles away, I can hear her thinking, "Gayle, relax, will ya?") but in February I'll go to the SCWC conference in San Diego. There will be some agents there who are looking for nonfiction works, so naturally, I'm tempted to submit my book of columns to them. Because at the end of the day, I'd like to get it published traditionally, by a reputable press.

Who thinks I'm insane? Can I see a show of hands?


Dana Fredsti said...

You have to be insane to be a writer, so I'm waving my hand wildly here!

ERm...wanna kitten?

Anonymous said...

Nice blog, Gayle. I actually envy you your columnist gig. Wish I had one. (smile)And of course, blogging is a sort of column writing. But it's way cool you get your articles in print. Ahm, I'd go for the memoirs version of a book. then of course you have to market the bejeesus out of it yourself if you go self-pub. Not the end of the world, it can be done. Best wishes on your career, and stay in touch. First time over here, followed you over from Free Spirit. I'll be back.

Marvin blogs at Free Spirit: http://inspiritandtruths.blogspot.com/
Eye Twitter 2 - http://twitter.com/Paize_Fiddler

Gayle Carline said...

Dana - While the dog would appreciate another squeak toy, our kitty would not appreciate having to compete for lapsitting and backscrathes. So thanks, but no thanks, for the kitten offer.

Marvin - thanks for checking in. I read your blog quite often. The column is a lot of fun. I'll keep poking around at that book version. Best wishes to you, too!

Morgan Mandel said...

I enjoyed freelancing for the local paper, but gave it up because it took me away from writing fiction.

So, now I'm blogging instead. Can't win!

Morgan Mandel

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.