Sunday, August 30, 2015

Book Publishing Secrets with Author Florence Byham Weinberg

Name: Florence Byham Weinberg
Book Title: Dolet
Genre: nonfiction novel; historical fiction
Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Thank you for your time in answering our questions about getting published.  Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to become an author and pen this book?

Florence: I wanted to be an author from the time I learned to read at age four. I published a poem (four lines) in a children’s magazine before I was five, and wrote a novel about a kingdom of cats (Ywain, King of All Cats—[the name came from the sounds cats make, not from medieval French literature]) when I was, probably, seven. I also illustrated the “book.” My writerly ambitions were frustrated during my years of schooling, but after I because a college/university professor, I wrote four scholarly books. I retired at 65, not because I had to, but because I could at last begin my career of writing fiction. The first book I wrote was a history of the 18th-century Franciscan missions in San Antonio, how they were founded and why there are five of them in one small area. The book is not only historical fiction with a well-researched background, but is also a fictional romance between a Franciscan friar and an Apache woman warrior. The present work, Dolet, carries on my preference for historical fiction. In it, I use the erudition I accumulated during my professional career, since, as a university professor, I was a specialist in the Spanish and French Renaissance periods—especially in France, when the Reformation and Counter-Reformation took place.
Is this your first book?
Florence: No, it is the ninth, although it was written in rough draft already in 2002 as the third book. It lay in a drawer for these past thirteen years, and I finally pulled it out and reworked it. There is still a tenth book, set in the French Renaissance, lying in a drawer waiting for me to edit and rework it. It was written in 2003.
With this particular book, how did you publish – traditional, small press, Indie, etc. – and why did you choose this method?
Florence: I publish with Twilight Times Books, a small, independent press that has been written up twice in Publishers Weekly for its excellence. Getting accepted was more by accident than by design. I had been rejected by agents over 200 times by the time I decided to seek out an editor. By that time, I had written four novels and had joined a literary critique group. The president of the group suggested that I contact Gerald W. Mills, a professional editor and college teacher of creative writing.* She had done so, and her book had subsequently won a literary prize. I contacted Mr. Mills, who took me on and began to teach me how to transform my academically-tinged prose into truly novelistic writing. He took my book with him when he presented his own to the publisher of Twilight Times Books and voilĂ ! Both books were accepted. I have remained with TTB ever since. The press works very well with the author on every aspect of the book, including the cover illustration, and the resulting products are often beautiful, and always professional.
*Gerald tragically died of a stroke earlier this year.
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey?  The pros and cons?
Florence: Most of my journey has already been described in answer to the previous question. But along the way, I learned—from my perspective at least—something about publishing in the USA in general. When I began in 1999, big corporations, oil companies and the like, had bought up most of the top names in publishing, most of them the “Madison Avenue” crowd in NYC. Big corporations are interested in one thing. The bottom line. Suddenly, NYC publishers were no longer interested in furthering bright new talents, discovering innovative new authors, but in peddling guaranteed money makers like Stephen King or Nora Roberts.
A Diane Rehm show, probably in 2002, mentioned publish-on-demand as a possibility for authors like me. After my 200+ turn-downs by agents, one “agent” took me on. I was thrilled. This fellow steered me to P… A…. a foreign owned POD publisher. Ignorant as I was, I thought he and the publisher were legit. I published two books with PA and my name was forever tarnished because this agent, who was as duped by that publisher as I was, steered me in that direction—and PA is known to publish unedited works as cheaply as possible, just to make what money they could off sales to friends and family. Then I joined a critique group and hired Gerald W. Mills, and my fortunes changed. That is not to say I have become a best-seller—far from that, but hope springs eternal.
Twilight Times Books requires the author to do his/her own marketing (and I’m not great at that). I have tried since then a couple of times to interest someone in NYC in one book or another with absolutely no result. The situation, however, has evolved. The e-book revolution began as early as 2000 and has now boomed. TTB recognized that potential from the beginning, and all their books are both e-published and in trade paperback. 
Then there’s the self-publishing route. There are many avenues nowadays for self-published books that are professionally produced, if not professionally edited. That is a hang-up. Writers: if you want to be taken seriously, have your book edited by a professional. The advantage to self-publishing is that you have total control over the number of copies in your inventory and the number of copies sold and exactly what are your debits and profits. You may end up with a garage full of expensive unsold copies, however, so beware. Of course, there is now the phenomenon, in which they do advertise their own authors and perhaps even make a little profit not only for themselves but also for the authors…. The situation is in flux, people, as is always the case. As a famous newscaster often says, “Watch this space.”
What lessons do you feel you learned about your particular publishing journey and about the publishing industry as a whole?
Florence: See the above rant.
Would you recommend this method of publishing to other authors?
Florence: Yes and no. If you want to make it big, try the NYC route. Probably 1% of you will be taken seriously. If you have a good product, try a small publisher like TTB. Or self-publish. There is little stigma attached these days to self-publishing. But think before you choose that route. I prefer a small publisher that will do most of the “leg-work” for you, and TTB is one of the best.
What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?
Florence: Read the text above. Think about your options. Write your heart out. Self-edit. Join a critique group. Let others who know the field you write in read your work. Pay attention to what they say and edit. Be thick-skinned, don’t let hurt ego get in your way. But most of all, stick to it, create your own writing space and schedule. And don’t give up!

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