Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wiprud walks Crooked Path
to Publishing Success
Brian Wiprud traveled a long and winding road to acquire a traditional publishing contract. The Brooklyn author managed to ride a straightaway stretch with iUniverse and drive his mystery novel, Pipsqueak, from POD to a deal with Random House’s Bantam Dell Publishing Group.

Dell published Pipsqueak in June 2004, and Stuffed followed in 2005. His third book, Crooked, hit the shelves in August 2006, and a fourth, Sleep with the Fishes, will be out in October of this year.

Wiprud recently discussed how he made the jump from POD to traditionally-published author.

How did you feel when Pipsqueak first got picked up by Dell?
Suspicious. Dell kept wanting to see the manuscript of the next book—as did a lot of people at that time, so I was sort of like ‘get in line.’ But a number of publishers and agents had requested Pipsqueak and a manuscript for Stuffed, and none had gotten back to me. Sending out my work became just a process with no goal. So when Dell said they wanted to offer me a contract, I didn’t know what they were talking about. They had to say the words “we want to give you a two book contract” to make me realize that they wanted to publish me. But I still was suspicious. I mean, this must be some kind of mistake, right?

How did it all come about?
When I published Pipsqueak with iUniverse, I sent it to everybody who was anybody in the mystery publishing biz and it snowballed. People read it, recommended it on the Internet, and next thing I knew, I was not only nominated for a Lefty Award, but I also ended up winning and being nominated for a Barry Award. Talent and perseverance can actually work!

Did you shop Pipsqueak to agents and traditional publishers before going to a POD company? If so, what kind of reaction did you get from the agents/traditional publishers?
I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 660 rejections for six novels prior to Pipsqueak—the actual letters are in a box in a barn being eaten by mice. By the time I penned Pipsqueak, I’d more or less given up on traditional publishers and agents. Some of the editors and agents I’d been submitting to for fifteen years, so they probably saw my SASE and thought, “oh dear—not Wiprud again.” I even tried changing my nom de plume and mailing address, figuring I was a marked man. But when I saw what was possible with POD publishing, I said,”Tthe heck with them. They don’t get the privilege of rejecting Pipsqueak. I’m just coming out with it”.

You first published Sleep With The Fishes with another POD company before coming to iUniverse with Pipsqueak. What prompted the move and what was your iUniverse experience like?
I published a previous book, Sleep With The Fishes (coming out again this fall as a Dell mass market paperback) with Xlibris, and I don’t mind saying that they were terrible. Aside from pre-publication nightmares, when my book came out, they jacked the price up by a third, and it proved almost impossible to actually buy for three months after my launch. It was a disaster. Who is going to pay $24 for a trade paperback that takes months to arrive? iUniverse was the complete opposite with an utterly smooth pre-publication process. When it was ready, it was actually available and people bought it. The rest, as they say….

How much different is the Dell version of Pipsqueak from the iUniverse version?
Nothing huge in a narrative sense, but there are textural improvements that as soon as I saw the edits I said, “Of course!” I can’t stress enough the importance of having a professional editor. It’s great. Anybody going POD should hire the best freelance editor they can afford.

How did you go about marketing the book while it was with iUniverse?
I could go on for quite some time about that topic. Fundamentally, I found on-line reviewers who read and reviewed my book. I went to conventions, got involved in my genre, and listened to what published authors had to say about what you as an author can do to promote your books.

What kind of marketing are you doing for Crooked?
The last two years I took myself on tour. The first year I drove across country visiting independent bookstores and the second year I did a circuit of Florida bookstores. I’m taking a year off from touring this time around. I made bookstands for mystery bookstores that like my work and sell it so they could get the books off the shelf and closer to point of purchase. Buyers have to see your book, and if it sits spine out on the shelf, they are less likely to notice it.

What are the differences between marketing a traditionally-published book and a POD book? What are the similarities?
Again, I could go on and on, but for the new author even at a traditional publisher, you have to do a lot of your own promotions, so it's really very much the same. You have to get out there to the conventions, to the stores, and to the reviewers. Your publisher will send out advance reading copies, but the rest is up to you until your sales warrant them putting more bucks behind your product. Makes perfect sense. It’s a business.

Crooked came out on August 1 and you have another book, Sleep with the Fishes, coming out on October 1. What's the thought process behind releasing another book so soon after Crooked?
A one-two punch—sustained and expanded shelf presence.

Another former iUniverse author, Jennifer Colt, mentioned you on her Web site and in my interview with her. Is it important to network as an author?
Important? It’s essential. A lot of other people have traveled the same path: learn from them. Most authors are pretty generous with their time, although I limit myself to helping humor authors.

What are you reading right now? Who are some of your favorite authors and your biggest influences?
My biggest influence would be Donald Westlake. I just finished two of his Dortmunder books. I love his work and his work ethic. His advice to new authors is taken from the Nike ad campaign, “Just Do It.” He means that writing classes and all that can help, but the most important thing is to write a lot and become a better artist. You can’t expect to paint the Mona Lisa on your first try. This requires honing your craft, which can only come by “doing.”

What advice would you pass on to an author considering POD publishing?
I was fortunate to ride the first wave of POD publishing, but right after my wave came, a tsunami of authors with half-baked novels inundated reviewers and booksellers with crap. No doubt there were some decent novels in there that got washed away by the flood, books that with a little more work and polish may have stood out and survived. As you can imagine, people in the book business are now very picky about which POD books they will even consider reading. New authors contact me regularly, and they seem to think that it’s not so much about the book as about promotions. But it’s almost ALL about the book. You get one chance to be "new" to reviewers—don't blow it by pushing around a mediocre book. Your novel has to be terrific, a stand out, to make a splash, to be wildly original and at the same time embody a commonality to which readers gravitate. Have your book professionally edited and create a bold, pellucid opening chapter. Make the prose clean, and have a sharp cover done by an artist who does book covers. Amateur book covers scream POD mediocrity. It’s no secret that this market is very tight, and profit margins are slim. The big publishers have to be shrewd about what books they publish and what authors they decide can continue to produce a product that sells. For them to invest money in you, your work has to look like it will pay off. So expect to invest a lot of your time, and not a little of your own money, into becoming a professional author. This is not a get rich scheme. This is a career that requires diligence, practice, and fortitude, just like any other career.

Read more about Brian Wiprud and his books at http://www.wiprud.com/.