books, fantasy, Harry Potter, Lloyd Alexander, marketing, publication, Richard Adams, self-publication, Ursula Le Guin, YA fantasy
Some years ago I wrote a young adult fantasy novel called Stranger Bird. That book was my attempt to recreate for my young daughters some of the feeling I had reading fantasy literature as a boy.
I hope and believe I have accomplished that much. But whatever other hopes I nursed for Stranger Bird–publication, a wider readership, a little money–have been a fool’s errand: after the coming of Harry Potter and the Harry Potter Industrial Complex (HPIC), YA fantasy thoroughly changed (mostly, though not in every way, for the better). I wrote Stranger Bird to harken back to an older style of fantasy, more mythical, perhaps a little darker: the Earthsea books of Ursula K LeGuin, Richard Adams’ Watership Down and Shardik, the Prydain series of Lloyd Alexander.
For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to find a publisher for a book like that today. Maybe Stranger Bird just isn’t very good. However, I have several indications that the book hasn’t been rejected on the basis of its lack of literary quality. A couple of times the manuscript got to the desk of the head editor of the house, and one small house did in fact offer to publish it if I would change the style of the book (the changes were a bit much for me, so I declined). I’ve gotten some good external validation of my other work, stories that I consider no better than Stranger Bird: 15 of my stories have been picked up for publication; my work has been anthologized five times; I’ve picked up nice reviews in Locus and SFRevu and elsewhere.
It’s even fair to say that I started writing fantasy and science fiction short stories to try and gin up a name for myself that would attract the attention of an agent for Stranger Bird–the big publishing houses won’t look at anything not represented by an agent (I was late learning that it’s generally harder to find an agent than a publisher). And yet, after trying with seven publishing houses and 23 agents, I’ve not been able to sell Stranger Bird on my own terms.
I realize now that I’ve been too snooty, and too squeamish, about self-publishing.
My goals are modest. I’ll state them here: I want 100 readers for Stranger Bird. I’m willing to work to find them. And I’m willing to work to make them feel special. Any more than 100 readers will be gravy–I will consider the whole business enterprise a success if I can get 100 people to read the book.
I don’t know yet what I will call my imprint. And I know I have a lot to learn about the business end of publishing–that’s a side of things I have little talent for and almost no experience with.
But I’m committed. A couple of weeks ago I turned in my bio for my next story publication (a John Demetrius story called “Proteus,” appearing in Analog soon), and at the bottom of the bio I added a line I’ve never used before: his YA fantasy novel Stranger Bird will be appearing this year. It felt good, and it felt scary, to add that line. Keep watching this space; I’ve crossed a tiny, imaginary Rubicon.