It was back in 2010 when I was first approached about publishing a novel. I was a lighter shade of Latina actress who had met the frustration of waiting for casting directors and agents to notice me, and see me as Latina enough…so I decided to write my own stage play. It was my autobiographical, coming of age story, that would show people once and for all who I was, instead of waiting for them to see and find a place for me. My one-woman stage play (Brownsville Bred) took the festival circuit by storm and within one year I was performing it Off-Broadway and to critical acclaim.
The book packager, who shall remain nameless, was absolutely wonderful, experienced and best of all she loved my story and believed in me as a writer.
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My book packager sat me down and told me how it “Usually” worked. It seemed that “usually” they (the packager or publisher) hire a GHOST WRITER–someone who comes in, listens to your story, and reads your work, before diving in to write their version of your story. The ghostwriter never gets credited as the Author, but they are still the person who is actually writing the book.
“Hold up…wait a minute,” I said. “I am a writer!” But it wasn’t that easy. I had to prove that I could write in prose and that I did. One sample chapter later and I proved to her (and to myself) that I was able to write prose just as well as I wrote for the stage. I was handed the STANDARD publishing contract–which is…to put it delicately…HORRIBLE. For the most part, it says you get about twenty-five cents per book, and you give up your rights to the book, TV, and Film.
As a writer/filmmaker, the cents didn’t matter to me nearly as much as the TV and film rights did, and luckily for me, she quickly took it out of our contract. So we had the deal and now it was time to write the book, right? Kind of. I learned the lesson that most book publishers only want a package that would include an intro, an About The Author page, and about three or four sample chapters–this because anyone who picks it up will want a hand on the direction they want it to take.
Long story short, within three months we had a great package, sample chapters, and people willing to bring it into their publishing house pitch meetings. I was never in on those meetings so I can’t tell you exactly how those went. But I can tell you that my packager described these folks as “LOVING” the materials. I even got the words, “No one could love it more than her”…but still, it was rejected by the ultimate decision-makers. That process repeated a few times and before long, my one-year agreement with my packager was up.
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It was also around the same time that the publishing world was changing. Kindle was managing to do to the book publishing world what Napster had done to the record industry. The world was changing and my story, about a Puerto Rican girl growing up in the welfare projects of Brownsville Brooklyn, proved “too dark” for the YA readers they had in mind for it.
With that, I took the experience and told myself that it had veered my journey away from the on-screen journey that I had hoped for the story. But I am a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason…moreover a GOOD reason and it’s up to us to find that reason.”
Fast forward a few years later, I was in the thick of filmmaking. I had a few episodes of a web series that I’d written, produced, and directed and found filmmaking to be my greatest passion. I knew I wanted to make my stage play into a feature film. It was then that I sought the advice of a great feature film director, Rashaad Ernesto Green, who told me that if I wanted to direct a film I should, “Make short films”.
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It was while at the Official Latino Film Festival in late 2019 that I received the next big great piece of advice. During a panel of professional writers–people who had all of the experience of being in a pitch room, I asked, “what is the number one thing that gets projects sold?” The answer sent bursts of colors through my brain– “I.P.”–Intellectual Property. Intellectual Property like a book lends any story credibility.
The writer went on to say that he had an idea for an alien series, and so he wrote and self- published a graphic novel to support the idea. When asked where the story came from, he simply took out the book and said, “this graphic novel”.
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I dug up all of the chapters I’d written and spent the next two days immersed in what I had and figuring out what was missing. I looked to my stage play and then to my new screenplay’s beat sheet. I added some parts that would reinforce the decisions I had made for the screenplay version. Within a week I had my first manuscript.
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My eyes were strained from reading, and so I uploaded my manuscript into Speechify and listened to it read back to me over and over again as I noted the errors to correct.
I googled everything I could about self-publishing…and it wasn’t the first time I’d done that but 2019 proved to be the year when technology would finally catch up to me, without the demand of financial investment. It took me a few weeks to consume the self-help videos and seminars made available through KDP Amazon. Yes, people, we have to thank Jeff Bezos on this one.
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After you’ve gotten through the editor’s changes you should get BETA Readers. These can be hired or just ask people who you know are avid readers if they’d give you feedback on the manuscript. I recommend creating a questionnaire specific to your book.
It should have questions like:
- “What was your favorite part?
- What confused you?
- What would you tell someone about this book?
- Who would you want to read this book?
- Did you feel that anything was missing?
In my case, I had added a whole end chapter to my book, after a friend who had seen the play, told me that she very much missed the end of the play where I gave a recap of the real people the book was based on and shared where they are today. Now in retrospect, I can report that, at my book-club readings, I am often asked to read that very chapter aloud.
Link to the rest at Stage32.com and thanks to Judith for the tip.
PG will note that, just like literary agents, book packagers are not licensed and are not subject to any effective regulation. A high school dropout on drugs can promote her/himself as a book packager or literary agent.
One difference between the two is that the literary agent typically doesn’t get paid until you receive some money from your book (although there are those agents who charge “reading fees” for scanning your ms.).