November 1, 2007

I begin my writer’s blog this month, after much urging from friends and other writers, because it happens to have been a particularly exciting period for me and one I thought might make for good reading. The decision to start a blog was difficult and has been a long time coming. The question I needed to answer, of course, was did I have anything interesting to say about being a writer? At first I thought no, but on reflection I realize I may have been wrong. ‘Interesting’ is a decidedly vague adjective.

And, finally, since I am going to do this, I have promised myself to be scrupulously honest in my reporting of facts, much more so than I am in writing fiction. I hope this resolution lasts.

A little background…

This summer saw the publication of my second novel, The P’Town Murders, a satirical gay mystery about an attractive yet neurotic secret agent named Bradford Fairfax whose mission is to save the Dalai Lama from being assassinated. P’Town is the first of a series of six projected volumes, which includes such future titles as Death In Key West, Vanished In Vallarta, The Prophet of Palm Springs, and others.

P’Town was published by Harrington Park Press, the fiction division of Haworth Press, a highly-respected mid-size American publisher. Despite the small advances I received, I made the decision to promote the book to the best of my abilities rather than let it sit on bookstore shelves and hope it might attract attention. In August, two weeks before my west coast (California and BC) tour kicked off, Haworth announced it was for sale and no longer promoting or advertising its titles. I already had my tickets, so I figured I might as well go.

Still, I was one of the lucky ones—at least my book got published. A number of others whose books were in the queue weren’t so fortunate and their fate remains to be decided. (Not to mention the 170 Haworth employees who lost their jobs!) Meanwhile, I arrived at a number of my proposed reading/signing venues to find that copies of the book were scarce or, in some cases, non-existent. I’d had the foresight to bring along some of my own, and was able to supply those at least.

What I later discovered was that in its first three months P’Town had sold nearly its entire print run, which is great news until you remember Haworth is no longer publishing. All the momentum I’d been building—arranging readings and signings, handing out posters and review copies—would be for nothing if there were no books.

On that tour I read in West Hollywood at A Different Light Books and in Vancouver at Little Sisters, and signed books and handed out promotional material wherever I could. Somehow I kept up my spirits and began to receive very complimentary emails from people who’d managed to get a copy of the book. I was gratified to see that the range of readers was very wide in terms of age, background and education. I’d hoped the book would appeal to a great variety of gay men (in particular) and it seems I’d succeeded.

Back in Toronto, Glad Day Books arranged a book launch and it was deemed a success, though the threat of no more books still loomed. As well, there was little interest being shown by the local press, gay or otherwise. My phone calls and email inquiries asking whether various magazines had received review copies went unanswered. (And because of the state of affairs at Haworth, I couldn’t verify whether review copies had been sent.) Worse, I discovered that only one Toronto bookseller—Glad Day Books—had been able or bothered to get the book. This Ain’t The Rosedale Library had tried, but been back-ordered “indefinitely.” Book City, our erstwhile supporter of local talent, had made the taxing decision to order “one copy.” (Yes, I still have your email.)

Chapters/Indigo, Canada’s largest bookstore chain, ignored me entirely. I heard from an associate, who just happens to be the head of drama development at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, how he’d gone to the Bloor/Bay store to buy the book only to be told it “wasn’t available” through their chain. Nor did they offer to special order it. I found that highly ironic, considering the massive “What’s Canada Reading?” poster campaign featuring Indigo’s owner, Heather Reisman, along with a number of Canadian celebrities. Yet despite the neglect, the book was selling out.

I couldn’t help recalling how the UK publisher of my first book and now my American publisher had not been too forthcoming when I asked about plans to publicize the books in Canada. Without wanting to be insulting, they’d both made me understand that, from their perspective, the Canadian book market was too small and too difficult for them to pay much attention to. I was beginning to see why.

Things took a more positive spin when I contacted Fab Magazine columnist and former-Kids In The Hall writer Paul Bellini, who said he’d be more than happy to take a look at my book and do a write-up. As well, I received a call from a polite-sounding purchaser at Indigo (after my second email about how they’d turned down the head of CBC’s drama department) to say he’d heard about my situation and was ordering copies for the Toronto stores, at least.

Even more exciting, I got an invitation from Rick at Q Trading in Palm Springs, asking me to participate in their annual Authors’ Village, the acclaimed Palm Springs Pride event. Would I like to be one of their authors featured along with Armistead Maupin, Michael Thomas Ford, Christopher Rice, and others? You bet I would! Erm, could you make sure you’ve got copies of my book first, Rick?

No problem there—fortunately Rick already had copies on hand and more on order. Which just about brings me up to date…

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