PUBLISH OR . . . ?

(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, January 10, 2007)

In 1990, a novel I wrote in the late ‘80s was honored in a Texas-wide writing contest and was later represented by a high-powered New York agent. Excellent writing, great plot, interesting characters, etc., etc., etc. That’s what everybody said about the book--yet over a period of several years, dozens of editors turned it down. As a result, Lion's Pride has yet to see the light of a bookshelf.

The reasons are varied, but certain ones stand out. Perhaps the biggest problem was the fact that the subject seemed more than a little off-the-wall, at least in those days. I mean, who knew that for over a century, the western United States has been home to numerous colonies of renegade ex-Mormons who force teenage girls to “marry” men much older than they who already have numerous other “wives”? And who would have thought that priests don’t always live up to their vows?

Well, I’ve known about those things for most of my life. By the age of 10, I’d read about the 1953 raid on Short Creek, when U.S. marshals rounded up most of the men and sent them to prison, and the women and children were housed in the equivalent of a “re-education” camp. Two years later, both groups were released from federal custody and most returned to the town that was later renamed Colorado City, Arizona. And the nine years I spent in parochial schools gave me an insider’s view of some of the odd behavior that goes on, in spite of those Roman collars and wimples.

Still, I shouldn’t be surprised that most people in the publishing industry were either ignorant of such things or simply didn’t want to deal with those issues. That’s one reason so many editors said that despite the quality of my writing, my story just didn’t fit their editorial needs.

I have a bad habit of writing about social issues before they become popular. One book in my files is a romance between an ambitious executive and a man who works for her temp agency. The hero of Harbor of Love uses most of his resources to help people in need, and he’s also an on-call volunteer for a disaster relief team.

People who dedicate their lives to helping others were not popular as protagonists in category romance books when I wrote Harbor of Love. In the 1980s, the national obsession with greed was personified by “Gordon Gekko” in the movie “Wall Street.” (Remember when Michael Douglas spouted his mantra: “Greed is good!”?)

In another novel in progress, my protagonist inherits a fortune from her long-lost uncle but does not go crazy buying all sorts of flashy “bling” and bedding a bevy of super-hunks. Such a sensible character will never fly with New York editors, which means I have to find another way to say what I want.

In short, I don’t write what everyone else writes. Neither do I write the same novel twice. Once a publisher accepts one book, the author is expected to reproduce that book over and over again, only with different characters and situations, especially if the first book sells well. In fact, publishing houses have what they call “lines” or “imprints.” All the books with the same imprint usually follow a standard plot formula.

These rules generally apply to romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and many other genres (which is a French word that means “genus,” “kind,” or “style”). If you’ve ever noticed the amazing number of cookie-cutter products spewing from the majority of established publishing houses, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

That factor doomed Lion's Pride, which has elements of historical, mystery, and romance but doesn’t fall neatly into most of the standard formulas. This is also true of several other books I’ve worked on over the years.

The other two big problems with getting my work accepted for publication fall under a single category: my disability. Any type of disability affects many facets of a disabled person’s life, and chronic illness is even harder than most disabilities to deal with. Add the fact that my condition has generally progressed as I got older, and my capacity to perform many tasks is constantly waning.

Authors are expected to publicize their books, especially through interviews and autograph sessions. The fact that illness severely limits my ability to travel or make public appearances means that most editors are unwilling to risk publishing my books. After all, why put money on a horse that can barely even reach the gate in the first place, much less leave it on time? Add the fact that many people just don’t want to deal with a disabled person anyway, and my chances of selling a book that’s not about my disability to a traditional publisher are extremely small.

But over the years, I knew I would one day find a way to get my books published. I thought about self-publication, at least for my nonfiction works, but for years I’d heard few good reports from people who’ve turned their work over to most self-publishing companies.

I’d almost given up hope until three things happened. The first two exploded into the media several years ago with all the news reports of errant Catholic priests and Fundamentalist Mormon polygamists. Then I finally found a publishing company I can trust, one that came highly recommended and survived close scrutiny.

In my next article, "Writing for Myself," I explain a little about how I came to this decision and how the experience progressed in the early stages. Obviously, the upshot of this story is that I did get Lion's Pride published, as you can see on my home page!


Debbie Jordan