Friday, November 13, 2009

The Changing World of Publishing

Okay, I am a troglodyte of technology. I have an iPhone and the bells and whistles remain virginal. I have an iMac and I can’t figure out how to delete files except from the desktop. The basic problem is—I don’t care enough to spend the time to learn it. In a day where there are 22 animals to care for, 4 dozen students whose work needs to be read and discussed, a book due, edits waiting, promotional ideas that need to be developed or canned, and a grocery list that is becoming a necessity instead of a “maybe I’d like that,” I don’t have hours to spend fiddling with a gizmo.

But I have been paying attention to the changes that technology has brought to publishing. Things happen fast and furious, but e-readers, price wars between and, shrinking shelf space—these are things even I can’t ignore.

Long ago, when the Internet first kicked into gear and e-mail was a black screen with white type and no illustrations, I worked in the PR office at a university. The advantage of this was a T-line connection to the World Wide Web. (I hope I am saying this right!)

I met a cluster of writers who had a unique and original idea. They called it The Author Studio (TAS) and it was a group of boutique publishers who would function, basically, as a collective. Each publisher would do his/her own thing, focusing on the genre or type of book that he/she loved best and wanted to publish. The WWW would make it possible for us, as a group, to direct market to our various audiences. Cross-pollination if you will (okay, I grasp farming concepts better than technology).

What an exciting and heady time. All of the TAS members were multi-published authors. It was not self-publishing or vanity publishing. It was a group of authors exploring the business of publishing.

I have always been a huge supporter of regional publishers. The potential for a publisher who doesn’t have the horrific overhead of a big New York office, who can focus on a few books and do each one with the love and attention it deserves—without expecting a 200,000 print run or paying huge advances that seldom earn out—it was a heady idea. This is such an opportunity to take a risk on a new voice or idea.

Unfortunately, I failed to take into account that not only am I a troglodyte of technology, I am totally incapable of attending to the necessary details of running a business. There were licenses, taxes to pay, so many things that made life a living hell for me. But working as a member of TAS, I produced two books. One was a comic thriller I wrote under the pseudonym Lizzie Hart, and another was a non-fiction “collection of memories” about a wonderful Mobile, Alabama writer named Eugene Walter. Rebecca Barrett co-edited this book, MOMENTS WITH EUGENE.

I’m very proud of both books, but I also have to acknowledge that I totally lacked the skills to market and promote these books. Web advertising wasn’t as easy as I thought. There weren’t the big search engines or viral communities. Distribution was a nightmare. Other members of TAS went into publishing with better info, better ideas of marketing, and better business acumen. Not surprisingly, they had more profitable results.

But what I got from the experience was, possibly, worth even more. I learned a lot about a business I love. And I never stopped believing in the power of regional presses.

I have the pleasure to be affiliated with two such regional presses today—both of them are run by people who have an eye for unique and original fiction but also that necessary ingredient of good business sense.

This spring, an anthology of short stories, DELTA BLUES, will be published by Tyrus Books, a new publishing company started by Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen, former publishers at Bleak House, another highly regarded regional press. They specialize in and have developed quite a successful reputation for publishing award winning crime fiction. With Tyrus Books, they’re spreading out into new areas. Check it out at

In DELTA BLUES, I took on a new role for me—that of editor. Wow. It was a terrific experience to be affiliated with some of the finest writers working today. You can check out the line up at

The book will be available in March 2010. And with this anthology, I’ve seen publishing shift into yet another dynamic. For every copy of DELTA BLUES sold, Tyrus Books is donating $1 to support literacy in my home state of Mississippi. This is publishing with a direct link to community.

The second press is Busted Flush (
owned and operated by David Thompson, one of the owners (along with his terrific wife McKenna) of Murder by the Book, a fab bookstore in Houston. Busted Flush has reissued out of print books that David and McKenna love, and they’ve also produced some original and highly regarded anthologies and fiction, among them the DAMN NEAR DEAD collection of “geezer noir.” I’m proud to have a story in the upcoming second volume.

I love this crazy business of publishing. At heart, I’m a writer (who had a great editing experience with DELTA BLUES). I’ve learned that I’m not an accountant or distributor or packager or artist. I’m a writer who has had the extremely good luck of experiencing publishing with such fine houses as St. Martin’s Minotaur, Tyrus Books and Busted Flush. I even had my moment of “total control” with Kalioka Press. (Trust me, this is something all writers dream about.)

I’ve learned my limitations in this business. What I love is writing. My joy is the story.

Now, if I could just work up that kind of enthusiasm to learn to use my phone. Can anyone offer tutoring?

Carolyn Haines is a former journalist who began her fiction career writing short stories. Her latest book, DELTA BLUES, is a compilation of stories which she edited, and will be published in March of 2010. Haines is an avid animal activist and cares for 22 animals: horses, cats, and dogs. Visit her on Facebook at or check out her website at and be sure to sign up for her newsletter.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Interesting post! I'm sure that your experiencing in editing and publishing gives you a fresh perspective in your writing, too. It must be similar to an actor learning the art of directing.