How Billy Boy Found a Home (or Four)

The road from the point of finishing a book to seeing it into print or pixels can be a long or a short one, largely dependent on factors that can seem out of a writer’s control.

For Billy Boy the road was at first a long tedious one, then unexpectedly it became fast and scenic.

Initially I went the usual route. I canvassed agents. I already had an agent for another book of mine, and before that had had an agent for my third science fiction novel (the first two were published by mass-market houses). Anybody in this business, if “business” is a way to describe it, knows that finding and then waiting on an agent is a nerve-wracking and long-drawn-out affair. Eventually it became clear that the novel was not going to find a publisher via the traditional route. It was too hard to categorize (at that time the term for a mystery, romance or sf book was “category ficiton”), neither fish nor fowl, fell between two stools…pick your metaphor.

It certainly isn’t a mystery novel, because you know who “done it” right from the git-go. And it’s not a detective story

Click on image for more about Billy Boy

because the main character is the criminal–petty criminal though he may be. There’s a murder, all right, and the story turns on it. But that’s because our hero Billy Conover did not do it, rather than because he did.

Believe it or not, after a long and inauspicious experience the book had with agents, I eventually found not one but four publishers for the book.

The first was in Britain and looked very promising. They made me an offer, but the terms were not something I could live with. At that point I wanted badly to see Billy into print. It had been more than a year in the writing, and I had invested not just my imagination but a good deal of material that had been stewing inside me ever since I had spent several years as a Narcotic Parole Officer with the State of New York. But I didn’t want publication at any cost. I decided to bide my time. Meanwhile a raft of new Internet publishers were popping up. One of them made me an offer, and I took it. A CD and online version of the book appeared just a few weeks later.

And then the crash. At least of that particular publishing venture. Poof. And then it was time to look for another home for Billy. Thanks to a publishing venture of my own, an online magazine for writers in the third world, I came upon a small publisher in New England that functions as a kind of writers co-op. They produce superbly turned out books, and I was delighted to hook up with them. Billy Boy was finally in print, dead-tree print, and for good.

Technically, the book was available as well as an ebook, but it never got off the ground as such. Besides, the more reputable reviewing venues were and are still loathe to take on books that exist only electronically. But the ones who did review Billy Boy, in print or pixel, took to it with gusto. To this day it has never gotten less than an enthusiastically positive review. Which has got to make you wonder why traditional publishers are so averse to stepping outside the hidebound genre categories. If a book is a good read, it should be a successful business venture to publish, no? But publishers and their gatekeepers the agents tend to stick to the tried and true.

Or maybe they’re smarter than I give them credit for. After all, readers, genre readers, tend to like their fiction in predictable plot formats, and for good reason perhaps, just as a fan of Star Trek doesn’t pay to watch Captain Kirk get mixed up in an involved romance that eats up most of the movie.

The fourth home Billy found has been with a publisher primarily of science fiction and fantasy titles, the same that has republished my old mass-market titles as well as that third sf book that was “too low-tech” for the biggies in Manhattan. The publisher there in fact now shares Billy with the small publisher which brought out the print version. In effect, Billy has two mommies, or daddies, now. And I get checks from both.

Was it all worth it? The mailings of canvass letters to potential agents, the endless market research to see who was publishing what, the rejections…the rejections, the rejections, the rejections.

The answer is yes, and not just once but every time someone tells me how much they enjoyed the book. Cash is nice, but knowing you’ve created something that has entered another person’s imagination and found a welcome there, even made a difference in their life in some small way, is priceless.

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