Traditional…Independent, or – Don’t Publish at All?

Engraving for Thérèse philosophe (libertine no...

Engraving for Thérèse philosophe (libertine novel, 18th c.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting a rejection letter can be depressing, especially the form letters, or even worse – No Response.  Or, they can be uplifting to the author if there is a bit of writing on the rejection, and maybe even a bit of advice, a crumb on the path to publishing.  But, like an intelligent child focusing on the one time years before when he was stamped stupid by some teacher, parent, or other bully, some authors crumble and go for the strychnine.


Chuck Ross, a door-to-door salesman was an aspiring writer back in 1975 when he came up with the idea that the publishing industry couldn’t and wouldn’t recognize talented authors, and to prove it, he typed up 21 pages of Steps by Jerzy Kosinski – a book that had won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1969, and mailed it off to four major publishing houses and was rejected by them all, including Random House, the publisher of Steps.

Ross aired his un-scientific discovery, and left publishers sputtering – Kosinski himself said if the whole book had been submitted it would have received an offer to publish.

Ross was a true trickster, one that would make Old Man Coyote proud.

In 1979 he repeated his prank, this time typing up the whole manuscript, changing the “author’s name” to Erik Demos, and sent it to fourteen publishers.  Fourteen more rejections.  Good luck out there in Unknown Author Landia.  It’s probably easier to publish independently, or not publish at all if one wants to be the next big thing in literature.

That was Jean Shepherd’s take on the world of literary success.

Jean Shepherd was a radio deejay in New York City during the 1950s, and held down the plumb hours of midnight to 5 a.m.  Out of boredom he dumped the scripted format of the show and became Howard Stern before Howard Stern became Howard Stern, talking trash, delivering dark, satirical views of whatever was on his mind that day.  He developed a hardcore following of what he called Night People, making them feel special by professing, “night is the time people truly become individuals because all the familiar things are dark and done; all the restrictions are removed.”  Every clique or gang or country needs enemies, some good ‘ol bonding by fear or disdain.  Shepherd’s chosen enemy “others” were day people, creatures who fed on “creeping meatballism” and were responsible for all rules, red tape, and disturbing the daytime sleeping habits of Night People.

Shepherd was another vicious doubter of the wisdom of the book publishing establishment.  He decided to prove his point, suggesting that his followers all over the country go into bookstores and ask for a hot new book that didn’t exist.  Not existing is difficult, even for a book.  He came up with a title for his non-existent 18th century bodice-ripper of a book, I, Libertine, a non-existent author, Frederick R. Ewing, whose fictitious bio made him an Oxford graduate, retired Royal Navy Commander, and a scholar who delivered a series of BBC talks on “Erotica of the 18th century.”

I, Libertine

I, Libertine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first day of Shepherd’s experiment went alright – 27 requests placed at a 5th Avenue bookstore.  Many more followed in the following days, from all over the United States, England, and Scandinavia…the perks of having a steward on the Queen Mary as one of his followers.  Bookstore owners started contacting publishers, publishers were befuddled, but publishers know the merit of a buck, even if they may not always care to bother with the merits of an unknown book by an unknown author.  Ian Ballantine – publisher extraordinaire – sniffed along the trail until he discovered Shepherd, and knowing the merit of free publicity already in place, commissioned science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon – a Night Person follower of Shepherd’s – to write I. Libertine in a hurry.  Sturgeon did.  It sold approximately 130,000 copies, although critics panned it, some savagely.

There you go, hopeful writers…to toss pages upon pages over the transom, give up and independently publish, or not publish at all…buy the ticket, take the…

Trivia Extra for the Day:  Theodore Sturgeon was one of Kurt Vonnegut’s favorite science-fiction writers, and the Vonn’s alter-ego, fearful vision of his literary future and certain legacy, the character Kilgore Trout, was named in honor of  Sturgeon and the G.I. Kilgore of World War II fame…Kilgore Trout.

The Beat Goes On…The Beat Goes On…

34 thoughts on “Traditional…Independent, or – Don’t Publish at All?

  1. Wayne Dyer, the inspirational speaker / writer, says that while taking the final exam for a degree he was working toward, he came to a section of the test that said, ‘read this excerpt and say what you believe the author meant. He noticed it was an excerpt from one of ‘his’ books – he was the author. However, he received a low grade on that section of the test. When he confronted the professor and told him that he was the author, the professor said “Sometimes authors don’t know what they mean”.

  2. mrs fringe says:

    Jeez, I just posted about the query process, and then checked my reader and found this. Get outta my mind, Coyotero! Unless, of course, you’ve got an agent you’d like to introduce me to. 😉

    • coyotero2112 says:

      I thought I sent this four or five days ago, but technology must have happened. Can’t introduce you, but here’s a good guy to try. I met him in CleveLand three or so years ago promoting his new pub biz and meeting with his first author. He does creative non-fiction and has a partner who handles fiction…don’t remember her name. But, here it is:
      Artists & Artisans Inc. – Adam Chromy – 212-931-8377 – – 104 W 29th Street, 11th Floor –
      He used to work for Random House…got some connexions, if he’s still in biz. Wanted to stay small so he could know the people he was representing, but he like money. He’s not going to remember me..only talked for an hour about a book I was doing research on, but you can probably take at least two out of three if it comes to arm wrestling or anything. Hope this helps…then when you’re his most successful new author you can force his hand on my book.

      • mrs fringe says:

        I think I know the name.
        Cool, thank you very much!

        If only I could whip this beast into shape. 😉

      • mrs fringe says:

        Came through twice, now. 🙂
        Off to google him, thanks!

      • mrs fringe says:

        Hmm, no longer Artists & Artisans, it’s Movable Type Media. Chromy is now a “literary manager” instead of a literary agent. At a quick glance, it seems like he’s interested in properties that can also be film/tv.

        Also interesting, the staff page shows 2 Presidents (he’s one of them) and 2 Senior Literary Managers, no Literary Mgers or Junior Literary Managers.

        • coyotero2112 says:

          He was talkiing about changing the way publishing is handled…having authors do some of their own sales research, competative books, history of similar books, etc. – part of keeping small. Picky about book proposals, probably saw that he wants authors to follow a specific book. He seemed like a good combo of approachable, greed-driven yet concerned about “his” authors. First client was a friend from Cleve who wrote half-baked crime fiction…sold his stuff, so he must know what he’s doing. Good luck with that.

          • mrs fringe says:

            Looking into it a bit more, he merged Artists and Artisans into Movable Type, which was already in existence (maybe a year or two before he joined).

            I wonder how much/if his vision has changed since moving to MTM. I’ll put him on my list for when I’m ready, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

            Dear Agent,

            I write goodly, please rep my manuscript without forcing me to write a synopsis.

            Hugs and smooshy kisses,
            Mrs F


            • coyotero2112 says:

              You sold me…I’m chewing tree cellulose right now for page material.

              • mrs fringe says:

                Excellent! Since you’re producing the material yourself, can we reduce your fee from 15 to 10 %?

                On a different note, send me an email
                msfringe123 @
                (remove spaces, and note that the email is ms, not mrs)

  3. I would buy any book with the word “Gadzooks” on the cover. The publishing world, like Hollywood, seems to be an odd reactionary establishment, rarely if ever on the cutting edge, but very good at draining fads dry of whatever creative spark they originally had long after the general public has grown tired of them and moved on. Now if only there was a fad for naughty sonnets. Gadzooks, I’d be rich!

    • coyotero2112 says:

      Naughty sonnets had their day, but it was before electricity and the spectacles of public executions that were meant to be gory shows of torture. Everything comes back around, and they’re due. I just got a bit irritated going through my reader since I have a few film “critics” who are falling all over themselves praising Iron Man and the new Star Trek. I haven’t seen a film in a theater since I left CleveLand, where they have a surprisingly large artsy crowd who like odd, artsy, independent film makers. That Hollywood writer’s strike about fifteen years ago did a lot more damage than I think anyone recognizes…no new voices?…let’s dig out our musty box of comic books and DVDs of my favorite childhood television shows. Yuch !

  4. aikifox85 says:

    That kind of reminds me of the notion of having plants in an audience at a show – someone you know or you pay to start cheering/ laughing/ clapping/ etc. Once you get enough people to believe that you’re good at what you’re doing, even if you suck, you’ll still get enough people to go along with it.

  5. jannatwrites says:

    The stories are funny, but not very encouraging to author hopefuls. I’d probably have a better chance of winning the lottery.

    Oh well. That didn’t happen either. Guess I’m going to work tomorrow after all 🙂

  6. Interesting stories. Gotta love the humor. I was thinking of quoting Conrad, but I saw that you already have, a few comments prior. Darn.

  7. Good job. How coincidental I submitted and won the Kilgore Trout writing contest with a fictitious chapter of one of Kilgore’s books. The book was the First District Court of Thankyou and I wrote chapter five. Got the tribute book “So it goes” as a prize.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      Wonders… not that you’d win such an award, one I’d climb over people for, but that there’s an award in honor of Vonnegut’s paranoid vision of his possible future as the biggest failure in WordWorld. Too fun, too, too fun.

  8. Chuck Ross, my new hero. True story: Yesterday I signed books next to a woman who had been on my panel. Her book had been published by Random House. She was at a book festival to promote the book. Imagine her surprise when the Barnes and Noble woman told her RH hadn’t sent a book to sell. Not one book. Brilliant.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      Too funny. I did a popular writer’s conference for four years, and I’ve got so many horror stories I need to do a post about it. The woman who wrote “The Lovely Bones” signed to show when her book was going the meantime it hit the bestseller list. She was pissed being stuck in Cleveland teaching workshops and doing readings for next to nothing when her agent was dealing with a deluge of high paying gigs. She steamed and insulted everyone and anyone for the whole week.

      • Yes, you need to do a post on writer’s conference stories. Please. Good story about Lovely Bones author. She ain’r right.

        • coyotero2112 says:

          Janet…Joy…Joyce Sebald, somthing like that. I called her Chainsaw. Your Random House author’s situation came up a few times…saw smiling, sweet authors turn into something similar to hosed cats. Hope you do well if the U.S.C. thing is still going on.

  9. monosolo says:

    Those who expose such secrets must pay the price. Need a publisher?

  10. ioniamartin says:

    On the other hand, there are also the “so called publishers” like Publish America, that will accept anything, even a manuscript written in crayon simply so they can make money. Sad state of affairs, really.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      Did you “like” this? – A fellow addict who has been branded as a teetotaller. Figures you’d be the first one to read this. You must be a speed reader. It took me longer to proofread this than it took you to find it, read it, and comment on it in your usual erudite manner. (My crayon APP isn’t working today, sorry).

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