Dealing With Book Deals


Oprah’s Book Club

From Gay Mag:

As my own publicist, I researched book contests and entered a couple, because that was all I could afford. Small presses often don’t have print galleys to offer six months prior to publication, so like many other small press books, Excavation was not covered in publications like Kirkus. Contests, too, needed multiple copies of the book for their judges, and I didn’t have multiple copies in advance to send. When venues like the Los Angeles Times Book Festival invited me to be on a panel, they required copies of my books, which forced me to scramble. Small press authors are limited in what they can achieve with such forces at work.

Meanwhile, I had no agent again. One was courting me, though. She was a junior agent at a big agency, and I was flattered. For nearly two years she checked in with me intermittently, asked me how my writing was going. When she went on maternity leave, she told me I could send her assistant any writing I wanted her to look at, give feedback on. In 2015 I felt energized by how Excavation was performing. People were reading it, sharing it, taking photos of the book by the ocean. I was so heartened I asked the agent to commit to me, or I’d go seek another agent. We signed a contract, and I told her I wanted, more than anything, to see Excavation get a reprint at a bigger publisher. Because she was a good agent, she did what I asked. She put Excavation up for auction to be reprinted in Spring 2015 to radio silence. The book remains with Future Tense. In the aftermath, I moved on to another agent.

Since then, I spend a good amount of time traveling to colleges and universities around the country to talk to students, and more often than not it’s Excavation they want to talk about. I have judged book awards and I’ve been asked to nominate other writers for major national awards. I’m asked to mentor by national organizations and I’ve been invited to talk to a District Attorney’s office to help attorneys who deal with victims of sexual abuse understand why victims don’t come forward, and when they do, how best to communicate with them and get them resources. I teach workshops, do readings, help other writers as much as I can. Meanwhile the book continues to have what’s often referred to as “a long tail” — as in, even though it was published in 2014, people are still reading it, borrowing it, buying it, talking about it. My ultimate hope for Excavation, still, is that it will eventually be reprinted by a bigger publisher so it might find its readership beyond the one it currently has.

When I learned of the book My Dark Vanessa, via synopsis online it sounded so much like Excavation I thought I was going to pass out. Stephen King had blurbed it, so I knew immediately it was a book that had been given a major book deal, because that’s when the big guns like King come out. I felt faint with disappointment and rage. Readers of my book reached out to let me know they saw it, too. The similarity of the stories, and how the book was being marketed, were too obvious to ignore. As much as I would like to avoid a book that fictionalizes an experience I lived, it will be difficult to — the publishing machine will make sure as many people know about it as possible. It will be placed, sponsored, touted, “dementedly praised” and more, because it has to — there was a seven figure deal.

As we watch what’s taking place with American Dirt — demented praise, the Oprah effect, border wall centerpieces at book parties! — I can tell you that similar celebrations will happen around My Dark Vanessa. It has to, in order for that advance make any sense.

“Adventures in Publishing Outside the Gates”, Wendy C. Ortiz, Gay Mag