Monday, May 09, 2005

The home stretch

When I came up with the idea of writing a book about local baseball last July, I never envisioned it growing into the project it has become. Since that first interview last summer, I’ve conducted an additional 32 more and have created my own personal oral history archive on town team and semi-pro baseball in Maine.

When you are new to any process, you inevitably make mistakes. In my enthusiasm for the subject at hand, I probably got ahead of myself at times. Being new the publishing game, there was a certain naiveté that permeated my process. With nonfiction books, rather than risk writing an entire book, only to find out you can’t sell it, the recommendation is to shop a couple of sample chapters as part of a proposal. While I put together a proposal back in early January, I also continued to write, hoping for a favorable response. My hope has been for a regional publisher to take a gander on the book and that I might have found a publisher at this point in the process. Instead, I’ve received rejection letters, some personal, most others of the form letter variety. One very nice personal note from a publisher said, “…thank you for you patience while we hemmed and hawed over what to do with your book…we have gone back and forth several times in editorial discussions and, while everyone agrees the book definitely has engaging possibilities, ultimately we just didn’t think we could market it as effectively as we’d like, so we are going to have to decline your offer.”

At the suggestion of a writing acquaintance, I sought out an agent that might be able to place a niche book of the sort that When Towns Had Teams is, so I sent off a number of proposals to book agents—meanwhile still hammering away at my manuscript. That brought replies like this one; “Many thanks for your submission. You have an interesting idea for a book, and there's a lot to like about your approach. I'm afraid that in the end I just didn't come away from it quite fully convinced it was something I'd be able to represent successfully. I'm sorry not to be more enthusiastic, but I do wish you luck in placing this with the right person.”

So, as I prepare to add the final two chapters to my manuscript, an ode to the players, as well as the towns and teams that made small town Maine special, I am faced with a dilemma. I have one small publisher who is interested in reading the manuscript. If they read it, like it enough to want to publish it, then they’ll obviously suggest changes and if I’m lucky, I’ll have a book out on baseball at some point in 2006, but it could end up being 2007! For the prestige of putting it out on someone else’s imprint, I turn over control of my product, get paid a very small advance and will be lucky to come away with much of a profit at all.

More and more, I’m looking towards going the independent publication route, where I take on the initial risk for the book, but retain control of the product and can market it to the niche audience that I believe exists for it. There is an enthusiastic group of people who will buy a book like this one. This audience consists of the former players who played town team and semi-pro baseball and many of their family members. In addition, I think there are those who enjoy reading about history and culture from the past. The problem I have at present is waiting around to get the book out and seeing the enthusiasm cool from many of the people I have interviewed and spoken with over the past few months.

Sometimes when I look back over the process, I question if I have gone about it the right way. I suppose if this book was something other than what it is—primarily a labor of love and a paean to small town America and the men that I grew up idolizing—then maybe there would have been another way to do things. If I had stopped with the sample chapters, I never would have put together this far-from-perfect manuscript. While certainly flawed, I get a sense that for those who will read it however, there will be a nostalgic quality and hearkening back to a time that has long since disappeared. Whatever one has to say about the limited market for a book like this, I’m happy to at least have been the one to write a book that captured a part of Maine that no one else has bothered with. Publishers and agents be damned! Sometimes, you’ve got to just follow your heart and suffer the consequences.

I probably won’t make much money at all on the finished project, although I’m hopeful that if I can sell 2,000 to 3,000 copies, I’ll have done well for a first-timer. It will at least keep me in the game and I’ll be so much wiser for the experiences of book #1. Then again, I can end up being an abject failure like many others who tackled projects that are out of the mainstream. That fraternity is certainly large enough to welcome another member to its club.


Listmaker said...

count me in as someone who wants to read it. and i haven't ever even been to maine.

Jim said...

I certainly think there are many people like Listmaker (thanks for the vote of confidence, LM!) out there, hence my confusion when publishers tell me they "don't know how to market the book".

As the publishing world has consolidated, most publishers are only concerned with books that are guaranteed to sell large quantities. There is limited chance-taking on books that are questionable merely from a sales standpoint.

That's why I'm not so skittish about going the independent route if I need to. Often, it's the only option available for a book like mine, which is targeted towards a niche market.

weasel said...

There has to be a way through the crowds of the timid: I read your synopsis on the masthead of this site, I read your writing, I see you in depth knowledge and empathy for both small town Maine and baseball, I want to read "When Towns Had Teams". QED.
When I used to work in radio and used to be told that our stations would never succeed by suited radio pros, our catch phrase was "fuck 'em if they can't get the joke". I hearby humbly suggest it as your mantra and advocate you self publish and self-publisize (sp).

Jim said...

Weasel wrote,

"There has to be a way through the crowds of the timid: I read your synopsis on the masthead of this site, I read your writing, I see you in depth knowledge and empathy for both small town Maine and baseball, I want to read "When Towns Had Teams". QED."

I really appreciate the validation that people like yourself provide. Sometimes, one knows the right path to take intellectually, but remain frozen for a variety of reasons; emotions, societal constraints, etc.

The independent path is becoming more realistic with each passing day.

Without going into alot of detail at this point, two phone calls this week have given me hope that we can get this done sooner, rather than later, going the independent publisher route.

Listmaker said...

Word of mouth is the most important thing anyway for a book like this. Obviously, you don't have the name recognition of Jim Bouton but I'm guessing that his latest book that he self published sold fairly well. Who knows how much it would have sold if it had been picked up by a major publisher but it seems to me that books like his and yours eventually find the right audience - it just takes a bit longer.