It’s no secret that Leicester Bay Books has just released my young YA ghost story Island of the Stone Boy, and that its available for purchase at Amazon.com or through the publisher at leicesterbaybooks.com. But its hardly widely known either. There’s not exactly large PR budgets with indie publishers, so I do what I can to spread the word even though it feels thoroughly weird to be doing so. Hopefully, a word-of-mouth campaign will make him happy he made the investment. Wait. Let me rephrase: Hopefully a word-of-mouth campaign will land Island of the Stone Boy on the best seller list. Yes, that’s better. So if you happen to see me and I look blue, its because I’m holding my breath for that day. Just keep your fists down; don’t punch me in the gut to force an exhale. Reality has always taken care of me.
One of my son’s twelve-year-old friends asked me if it’s true it’s harder to get a book published than it is to write. I wrote the early draft of this book in nine days. That was 13 years ago. Sure, I spent a lot more time than those nine days improving the text. I’ve pulled the manuscript out now and again and wiggled some words around. In truth, I put much more time into it than it probably warranted.
Early on, I tried very hard to get the book published. Its a slow process. A writer sends out a query letter to agents. Some agents will allow a few chapters to be sent with that query, but many will only accept sample chapters after a query letter catches their eye. Then, if the agent likes the first few chapters, s/he asks to read the manuscript, but usually the writer has to promise them exclusivity. This means the writer cannot be shopping the manuscript to several agents at the same time. The agent doesn’t want to put his/her time into reading it, only to have the writer sign with someone else. The problem is, it can take in excess of three months to get a response to the query, and another three+ months to hear back about the sample chapters, and the same with the entire manuscripts. So it can take years and years for the writer to exhaust viable options for representation. And submitting directly to major publishers? Don’t bother. The query may never be read, much less the manuscript, because of the huge quantity of petitions they get from wannabe writers.
I was fortunate because I had several nibbles from agents. I already had a track record publishing short fiction for children and young adults, plus my manuscript had won a regional writing contest sponsored by a large, professional writers’ group here in the Dallas area, so it wasn’t all that difficult to get the manuscript read. But in the end, if I didn’t get a form letter rejection from the agents who read it, I got something that basically said , “This is good, but I don’t think I can sell it in this market.” Why? They told me it was timing. I was floating a ghost story around at the same time the Goosebump craze was dying out. The agents ultimately see only the bottom line, and I understand that. Publishing is a business and a fierce one at that. If the market is saturated with horror, don’t pick up a ghost story.
But it was tough to have invested as much time as I had, to really believe that my story was entertaining, and then discover no one was interested in marketing something that ran against the tide. So I put it away. And that hurt. It hurt because I had had several kid test-readers whose parents told me their sons couldn’t put it down. That’s nice for the ego. But it was even nicer when one mom told me her son had forbidden her from reading it because it was too scary. This he told her as she took the flashlight away from him and commanded him to get to sleep. I’d like to think he had trouble obeying her that night. But none of that mattered. The sun, the moon, and the stars simply weren’t going to line up for me, no matter how much kids might enjoy the book. The gatekeepers had said no.
As I said, over the years and just because I love the story, I returned and tweaked this or that. Eventually, though, the manuscript felt outdated. Or too 90ish, thanks to advances in technology, particularly related to gaming. I mean, I didn’t mention cell phones in the book! (I doubt most people have any idea how the invention of the cell phone disturbed the realm of fiction.) The point is, the world had changed. I was a little worried about that when, early in the 2012/2013 school year, I pulled the manuscript out, dusted it off, and read it to my 11 year old son, who (heavy sigh) was quick to point out when my video game references were passe.
Regardless of that, it was great fun to watch David respond to the story I’d written. And a little sad. I had written the book for my oldest son and had so hoped back then to be able to publish it when he and his friends were the age of the target audience. Now here I was reading it to his little brother, twelve years his junior, and it was still only pages in a binder.
I don’t think my youngest expected much from the story; after all, it was written by his mom and she never got it published. How good could it be? I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the page and watching David’s face to be sure the story was hitting home. What a relief it was to see the tension around his eyes at the right places. But alas, when the last sentence was read aloud, I closed the binder and put the manuscript back on a shelf. David asked me, “Why didn’t someone publish that?” I shrugged. Told him my usual line about the market being glutted with horror books at the time I was submitting it. He told me I should try again, but fix the video game stuff. I smiled, said, “Maybe” and went to make dinner. All three of my kids had had fun with the story. Some of their friends had had fun with it, too. That would be enough. It had to be enough. Or so I thought.
Enter my friend, Stephen Carter (IPlates Volume I and Hand of Glory). He emailed me, telling me he may know a publisher who would want to take on my YA novel, which was then titled The Ghost of Marty McGraw. I think I ignored him. He came at me again. I think I said thanks, but that it was out-of-date and I didn’t want to mess with it because I was busy with other things. But Stephen pushed a little harder. He asked me to send him the manuscript and he’d send it on to the publisher. I didn’t even ask who that publisher was. But, because it was Stephen asking, I pulled my son into my office and he helped me update my video game verbiage. It is from David that I scored the line, “I haven’t de-glitched the co-ops yet, but yes, it’ll work.” I admit I have only the vaguest idea what that means, but I sure felt hip writing it.
Needless to say, Michael Perry at Leicester Bay Books is a man with excellent taste in young YA fiction and we soon struck a deal. My book got a new name, and, thanks to a referral from Sandy Petersen, we found a fantastic graphic artist, Melita Lee, a graduate student at SMU, to do the cover for us. I haven’t seen the book in print form, but I’ve received photos of Max Allan and Mason Scott reading Island of the Stone Boy and it doesn’t get better than that.
Well, actually it probably could get better than that. And I’m hoping, through word-of-mouth, it does.
Thank you Stephen Carter. Thank you Michael Perry. Thank you Melita Lee. And thanks to everyone who gives Island of the Stone Boy your time.
Island of the Stone Boy is aimed at readers in the 4th through 6th grade. It is available at http://www.amazon.com/Island-Stone-Boy-L-Downing/dp/1482021293 in both print and Kindle formats. Or purchase may be made directly through the publisher at http://www.leicesterbaybooks.com/island-of-the-stone-boy/
ISBN-13: 978-1482021295 and ISBN-10: 1482021293