Thursday, April 26, 2012

Who Will Publish Your Book?

By Patrick J. Walsh
I was recently pitching an article about the self-publishing phenomenon, and my research for the pitch has led me to a few insights about the "traditional vs. do-it-yourself (DIY)" discussion that seem well worth sharing.

But first a little background: in my own case, I have had two books, both non-fiction, published by traditional publishers. My first, Echoes Among the Stars, was published by M.E. Sharpe Inc. in 2000 and has since had a second hardcover printing, a paperback edition, and recently, an electronic version for the Amazon Kindle (and others).

In 2010, my three volume encyclopedia Spaceflight: A Historical Encyclopedia, was published in both print and in a proprietary electronic edition by Greenwood Publishing, an imprint of ABC-CLIO Inc.

Notice there is a 10 year gap between the publication dates — a good indicator of just how much patience and persistence might be necessary in order to find and complete a traditional publishing arrangement.

One other insight from my own situation: in both cases, I initially received a publishing contract from a publisher with whom I could not negotiate a suitable arrangement, and I then signed a deal with a second publisher.

So the traditional route can be very much a long and winding road, with time-consuming detours along the way.

In researching my pitch about DIY book publishing, I came across some wonderful stories about authors who were grateful to see their work in print and pleased with the sense of ownership that self-publishing provides. On the other hand, I also encountered stories of self-published authors who felt disappointed by the failure of their work to succeed financially, or to generate much interest among potential readers.

The take-away? To a very large degree, your satisfaction with self-publishing is directly related to the goals you set for the work at the start. If you want to get your writing read by an audience who can enjoy it or benefit from it, you need to know who those folks are from the beginning — at least in general — and you need to know how to get your work in front of them.

So it seems at least at this point that the most logical reason to choose the DIY approach is to do so only in cases where the work is likely to have a limited but easily identified readership. For example, if someone were writing a history of her local community, it might be logical to self-publish and then market to area residents and organizations...

The Real Deal
So although a lot of people posit the trad vs. self debate as an issue of legitimacy vs. instant gratification, I think the real issue is about the underlying values you have as a writer.

For me, the divide between traditional publishing and self-publishing goes back to the very start of my writing career, when ‘self-publishing’ meant Vanity Press, with visions of driving around with stacks of books in your trunk, selling your precious words by the shovelful in the parking lot at Giants Stadium or something...

Nowadays, with nearly 30 years of seeing my name attached to things I’ve written, and now having the two published books, the sense of satisfaction I feel when I look at my byline in print or online is the result of knowing that having it there represents the faith an editor has placed in my abilities as a writer, or researcher, or reporter.

For me, writing for a “traditional” publisher of any sort of project (book, magazine, online video, etc.) is kind of like wearing the jersey of your favorite team — it’s not just the logo or the colors or the economics of the thing; it’s what it says about the relationship, and how it makes you feel beneath the shirt.

And anything I should eventually choose to self-publish would represent my desire to communicate directly and efficiently with those readers who most want to read that particular writing. Knowing that I am reaching my audience with work whose merits we both recognize would probably be the most compelling argument for me to publish my own work.

So what about you? Would you be willing to ‘hold out’ for a traditional publishing deal even if it meant waiting for years before seeing your work in print (with no assurance along the way that it would necessarily ever happen?) — or are you ready to publish your own book, even if it means settling for a very small readership and maybe no financial return?

Either way, get started today! The longest journey begins with a single step...

© 2012 Patrick J. Walsh

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

And on the same topic:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Memories: Greetings From A Small Planet

From Apollo 17 mission images.  Photo courtesy NASA.

This is my friend, The Earth.
Today's her Day. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

On Earth Day 17 years ago I was in Norwalk, Connecticut, at what was then the Globe Theater. I was there for a terrific concert headlined by one of my favorite local bands, Somah. Some time later, when I was working as a music journalist, I wrote a profile of the band ("Somah Puts The Psychic Back in Psychedelia") for the October, 1997 issue of Rhythm & News magazine.

The musicians who so endeared Somah to a generation of local music fans were Dave Wendell (drums, lead vocals), Joe Bowman (guitars), Greg Goldman (bass guitar), and Jake Lambertson (keyboards). In its heyday (1992-1998), the band released three studio albums: Ice Skating on the Moon (1993); Find The Time (1994); and Arbor Painted Night (1996).

Both band and theater are gone now, but the memories and the music remain, and are well worth seeking out. Here's a few starting points:

Samples site:
Fansite (MySpace):
PJW Profile:

© 2012 Patrick J. Walsh

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The First Warm Day of Spring

By Patrick J. Walsh

Walking the usual route in the park, along the road that leads up the hill to the upper parking lot, I felt the warmth of the first truly warm day of the Spring.

About a quarter mile distant, out on the broadest part of the lake, a goose was making that odd sound that always reminds me of beer drinkers’ laughter — the weird guttural staccato that makes obvious why some long ago linguist decided that a group of geese are best described as a “gaggle.”

A few more feet toward that part of the road that stretches over the culvert that connects the stream on the left to the wide part of the lake on the right, and my mind drifted back to the days when I used to play along the edge of the stream while my brother fished nearby...

The goose quieted down just as I reached the railing at the left edge of the road, just above the water. An odd gurgling followed; a demented sort of splash, somewhere below and slightly upstream. It was a fish — a reasonably large fish, given the shallowness of the stream — his tail fin slapping the surface as he struggled toward the opening to the tunnel beneath the road. mind drifted back to the days when I
used to play along the edge of the stream..

My first thought: I need to get a picture of this! Fumbling through the pockets of my sweatshirt for the camera, I wondered at the strangeness of the circumstance: the fish desperately trying to make his way forward, his very survival dependent on closing the distance from the scant flow of water where he was, onward to the opening of the wide tunnel beneath the road, and then through to the freedom of the lake beyond... and my initial reaction only the simple-minded desire to document the epic scene with a quick snapshot.

Then another idea took hold: wouldn’t it be relatively easy to simply make my way down the hill to the water’s edge and just reach over and pluck the poor creature out of his gasping, grasping misery? I could just carry him the twenty or so yards he needed, then drop him back into the water at a spot where he’d have enough depth to finish the rest of the trek on his own.

A better thought, this — not that it actually led me down the bank, but better because it immediately raised the question of whether or not it would be appropriate for me to mess around in things about which I knew so little. Catching a fish on the end of a line, I understood; interfering with the course of a fish engaged in a life and death struggle with the very forces that enabled him to live and grow in the first place, well... that seemed a little large for the lightness of the afternoon.

Then, in the sheer instant it took for my thoughts to travel the distance between my initial intent to photograph the poor beast’s struggle and my ultimate quandary about the desire to help and the perhaps questionable propriety of doing so, I lost sight of both fish and stream for several seconds.

In that brief interlude, the dark, thin form flitted closer to the gaping opening beneath the road, and I heard but could not see as he made one last slosh and a plunking sound, as he made one final leap across the surface and then vanished into the murky liquid dusk below.

He was free, released into a wide safe swathe of the lake, to be tested no further by the narrowness of the stream; I was free, to continue my walk in the warm, dry air of the afternoon, pondering the current of my thoughts when tested by the inescapable austerities of nature.

© 2012 Patrick J. Walsh

• Photo, Fish, or Refrain — what would you do in this situation?
  Please share your thoughts in the comment box below...

Related posts (Other Walks in the Park):

Encounter in Autumn

A Walk Beneath The Dripline

A Walk in the Park

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dropping The Oars: The Evolution of Online Publishing

By Patrick J. Walsh

A few years ago, when e-books were first gaining traction and their role alongside printed books began to resemble that of a sail on a motorized dinghy — a colorful overlay to the main article, that was increasingly used to accomplish the same task — a friend tried to convince me that the future of reading lay in the pixels of an electronic screen, and that my writing endeavors needed to head in that same direction if I hoped to continue to find an audience for my work.

My friend posited the problem, and the solution, quite succinctly: “If that’s where the readers are, then that’s where you want to be.”

At that point I had already had my own website for many years, and I had been a featured columnist for the online versions of several trade magazines. But the moment was rapidly approaching when the vast majority of writing on the Internet would shift from essentially being an extension of print media to instead consisting primarily of content generated and consumed entirely online.

Were it not for the displacement that shift caused for many of my friends and for many others in the industry, it would be amusing to recall the titanic struggles that arose at many print publications, as staffers wrestled with ways to incorporate online elements into their long-established approach to publishing.

Like tiny waves heralding the rising tide, writing for publication online in the early years of the popular growth of the Internet provided tantalizing clues to the future course of the publishing industry. Before the rise of the per-item advertising model, publications still sold ads as they did for print, with a static image in a standard size; and online versions of print magazines often carried a static table of contents and design elements that linked them in style to their print cousins — but linked online to nothing at all.

With the utter democratization of online publishing, the opportunity to write and distribute one’s own work electronically has become as easy as starting a blog, or signing up for Facebook. Setting a course is as simple as my friend’s long-ago advice: keep sailing along the same crest as your readers, your sight always on the horizon...

For me personally, there is also an additional rule I must observe as I head into the wind: having worked over the entire course of my writing career to practice my craft as best I can, and having always tried to honor the faith placed in me by the editors and publishers for whom I’ve worked, I honestly try to make every item that I share online as clear and thoughtful as any writing I’ve ever done.

Even though it’s easier than ever to make my work available to anyone who wishes to read it, lazy thinking, shoddy research or sloppy writing are of as little use to my current readers as they would have been to those who read my work in the past. Simply put, if you are willing to take the time to read what I write, I need to take the time necessary to make sure that whatever I write is worth reading.

I’m grateful for all those who accompany me on the journey... 

© 2012 Patrick J. Walsh

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Certain Kind of Anger: Reflections on Baseball’s Great Late-Season Pitching Heroics

[This is an excerpt from the introduction to my baseball project, which focuses on late-season pitching heroics from the earliest days of the game right up to the present day. Using the same research, I’ve also created the short documentary, “Pitching Diamonds,” which chronicles Cy Young’s September 18, 1897 no-hitter, and which is now available online at my YouTube channel.]

By Patrick J. Walsh

...And then, on some days, there are those rare games in which the time of year intersects with the particular circumstances of the team or the individual to dictate that a given starter must try to will himself to a level of play that is painful to reach and debilitating to maintain, but necessary for the circumstances of the moment...

Sometimes, a certain kind of anger becomes almost a necessity, as a key to unlocking the inner reserves. But it is a particular kind of anger, a productive exasperation with one’s own limitations. It is not the anger of Proverbs, or the wrath of the Seven Deadly Sins. It is in fact more like its juxtaposed virtue in modern Catholicism, which contrasts the deadly sin of anger with the blessed virtue of patience.

Anger is, after all, ugly in all its forms but one: that in which it is employed in the struggle against indignity. In that one instance, in the extreme titanic struggle as the twilight shadows lengthen and the final innings draw near, in the proper hand guided by the right heart, it can be utilized -- transformed, as a beautiful sort of anger whose features are polished with courage, determination, and self-respect.

Conjured by a skilled athlete in response to the sudden arbitrary meanness of circumstance, it is an emotion that is carefully controlled and precisely applied, only in the measure necessary to achieve the objective of the moment, without malice or rancor.

As the days grow shorter, and some games take on a special urgency, there are sometimes those individuals who by the nature of their unique position get the opportunity to achieve a greater sort of victory than the kind reflected on the scoreboard. They win by simply refusing to be bettered, by giving their all to the effort, and by playing smart and tough and angry.

It is a task like those few that arise in any lifetime that provides an opportunity to concentrate the frustrations that come from constantly bumping up against the limitations of endurance and age and circumstance, and transform them into a weapon against the arbitrary whim of fate.

And it is a special gift of baseball: for a given game, late in the season, one particular player is given a chance to overcome all the lost chances of the whole long year that have finally, suddenly conspired to demand so much and yet promise so little. In victory, he emerges with his dignity intact, and the gratitude of those who depend upon him.

There are a multitude of examples of late-season pitching heroics throughout baseball history... Some are stories of great pitchers who helped their teams avoid defeat and live to play another day -- often famously going on to success in the playoffs and the World Series. In other cases, the triumph is more individual in nature. But in all accounts, it is the furious will to win that distinguishes each individual performance, and provides a remarkable example of courage in the face of adversity.

© Patrick J. Walsh