What If Duty Calls but Doody Lies in Wait?--Reb MacRath
Doody goes by many names: kaka, poo, poop, dog do or shite, to give just a few of the faves. And one thing we all have in common is that we come to fear it throughout our lives in different ways. When you’re trying to write a first novel, you’d damned well better fear going out to market it with doody all over your shoes: typos, grammos, hackneyed phrasing, slothful pacing, etc. Then, when it’s time to pitch the book, be sure: it’s frighteningly easy to send off a query that’s reeking of poop.
Enough of generalities. Here’s my true scary story.
For over thirty years, I’ve had a thing for the ancient Roman and Greek classics. As I wrote in last month’s blog, I grew more and more intrigued by the study of different translations and theories on the subject. Okay. This year I stumbled back onto one of the more obscure and difficult Latin poets, one with a passion for filling his poems with mythical allusions that drive today’s readers elsewhere. I saw a way to simplify and streamline his work in a bold and original way. Not all of it. Maybe 6-9 poems with critical sidebars.
To what end? I faced a veritable minefield of shite.
--No mainstream publisher would touch it because past versions, by experts, have failed. This isn’t one of the hotter Roman authors.
--Despite my three decades of interest, I lack a degree in the Classics. Scratch any hopes for an academic press edition.
--A home Latin student, I’m not even fluent in Latin.
--As for my writing credentials, I’m a genre fiction writer.
--Etc., etc., etc.
Then again, despite all that and more, I couldn’t stop myself. I found myself on almost a mythological quest: to give a long-dead writer new life—not through boring literal translations but through what I saw as a pocket-sized rock celebration of the essence that no one had seen.
But even if I scored, and I believed I could, what then? Would I publish it on Amazon where three readers with 10 years of Latin amongst them, would demand their money back because I’d done exactly what I’d said I’d do? And worse:
--There’d be no attracting online reviewers.
--And giveaway books on Amazon tend to attract trolls.
–Pricing it would be a problem, considering its small size: 50 pages, maximum, including an Afterword, Notes, and a long Bibliography. A $.99 price point usually signifies trash. Anything more for a pocket-sized special edition could be taken as a rip-off.
After spending a couple of months on just two short poems by this author, I began to feel that the odds against me were insurmountable. It would take me a year to complete this short, maybe unsalable book.
But something kicked in within me: the memory of how I promoted my first published novel when the publisher failed to list it in their catalog. I went to marketing war, designing a promotional post card and obtaining extra author’s copies to gift wrap and send out to writers I liked in my genre.
Though the particulars were far different now, had the ruling principles changed?
1) Identify the readers most likely to get the word out. In this case: classics students.
2) Identify the powers that be who might be willing to read and blurb an outrageously different book in their field. This time: notable instructors and/or department heads.
3) Devise a high-class postcard that introduces me and my project, providing a short teaser of the rock celebration in store.
4) Find a new, ingenious way of sending out free copies with no strings attached.
5) Show respect for the academics' standing: a bibliography showing that I've done my homework: top studies and Latin trots and other translations consulted.
Color me on fire again in a dual blaze of creativity and marketing wizardry. My heart is pure. I want one thing: to get this tiny book in the hands of those readers willing to be blown away by something entirely different...and yet right as rain in its way.
This is my report.