Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Giant Steps Press Is Looking for a Few Good Manuscripts

KIRPAL GORDON: I'm pleased to announce that Giant Steps Press is looking for fiction, non-fiction and poetry manuscripts. Please reference the SUBMISSION GUIDELINES at the very end of this blog entry for specifics, but in terms of who we are, let me say up front that we formed three years ago, an attempt by working writers to collectivize in the face of major changes in the lit industry. We've now assembled a team as talented as any I’ve had with the most technologically up-to-date and inspired indie publisher. I don't just mean printing; I mean the whole enchilada:

---book and cover design in PDF for Amazon CreateSpace upload/interface;
---Kindle upload/interface;
---Smashwords upload/interface (mobi, rtf, pdf, lrf, pdb, txt);
---ePub upload/interface (Apple iStore-compliance and Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions);
---copy editing;
---press kit;
---book launch press release (Scribd);
---GSP blog announcement and interview;
---book reviews;
---promotional video, audio and YouTube;
---literary event production, including catering and marketing.

We supply through one team everything that a writer could need, but each writer decides which of these services are relevant and worthwhile. We are not publishers in the traditional sense of the word; we're in business to offer writers help in developing their audience and publishing their next book. You tell us your expectations for your manuscript---print and ebook sales, reviews, shows, etc.---and we recommend paths to meet and exceed those expectations. Moreover, in contrast to the old writer-publisher model in which the former “is chosen and done to” by the latter, GSP is for writers seeking to become more responsible in the production-distribution of their own work and pro-active in collectivizing with other like-minded writers and collaborators.

Because bookmaking has shifted from decisions made by big conglomerates to individual writers choosing from a wide range of smaller and more numerous fulfillment-of-services model for paperback and eBooks, the real enemy as I see it is a lack of knowledge regarding options, whether from a publishing house, vanity press, POD service, agent, editor, publicist or marketing and promo outfit. Hey, it's the wild West out there. Some friends and literary associates, as well as clients I ghostwrite for, have been hustled by exploiters who over-promise and under-deliver, so it is a personal pleasure to offer prospective authors our complete list of services.

John, you came to book writing after thirty years of playing rock and roll. Would you pick it up from here with your story?

JOHN RULLO: As a songwriter/musician, I witnessed what I knew of the music business collapse right before my eyes. Slowly but surely the idea of getting “a record deal” faded into oblivion. Technology has made it possible for anyone to produce music at home and make it accessible to the world via the Internet. When I wrote my first book, Blind Spots, I had high hopes of getting a “publishing deal” but soon learned what had happened to the music industry had also taken a toll on the literary and pop book stores were rapidly becoming a thing of the past. It seemed that unless someone was a well-known celebrity, famous or infamous, chances of having a New York Times best-seller were less than zero. A friend in the business suggested I self-publish and recommended a publishing company whose name I won’t reveal. The finished product of Blind Spots was professionally done, beautifully formatted with an outstanding eye-catching cover. The only problem: unless I had endless dollars and time to invest in promotion, nobody would be aware of my work except for friends, relatives and my Facebook world. Without the resources to copy edit, proofread, format and design, vanity publishers could cost an unsuspecting author thousands while never making him/her a profit. In most cases, the publishing houses are raking in the big bucks by charging writers for an endless menu of services dangling the carrot of big royalties!
A good friend of mine just got suckered into dumping over three thousand dollars to a publisher just for making his 40-page short story into an Amazon-available e-book! Would-be authors need to be made aware of the money pit they could easily fall into when signing on the dotted line with most of the “Publishers” out there who are so willing to have their clients’ credit cards on file! More times than not, there is no human face or voice to answer their questions; all correspondence is done on-line and in rare instances by the telephone representative who in most cases only encourage writers to buy more of their services. Since collaborating with you and the formation of Giant Steps Press, I have since published two more books at a fraction of the cost of leaving a manuscript in the hands of the faceless publishers. I know that we can help writers avoid the mistakes I have made, steer them in the right direction and offer honest and necessary services while saving them hundreds of dollars.
Norm, as our new technologies director and member of our acquisitions team, how would you characterize the current state that writers face today?
NORMAN BALL: The whole game today is about control and self-promotion. Let's face it, the industry is flattening. With Amazon's 2011 foray into publishing its own roster of authors, literary agents and traditional publishers are quaking in their boots all over again. These traditional publishing routes will only slow further, especially for lesser-known authors, given the fresh uncertainties. The time is right though for collaborative initiatives, skill-sharing and creative-collectives. I think GSP is the right vehicle at the right time.
KIRPAL GORDON: You’ve taken two GSP titles beyond the Amazon CreateSpace print-on-demand and Kindle sites. What's it been like formatting ebooks in this new era?
NORMAN BALL: It's important for people to realize that GSP is really a portal and not a press at all. We provide a proven and travelled path into the various ebook and print platforms, and boy do you need an experienced Sherpa guide! You only need to spend a short time up on the Kindle and Createspace discussion forums to realize that we're very much in the realm of an inexact science. People are going crazy up there trying to get their books just right.
JOHN RULLO: I wasted a colossal amount of time formatting my second book in Kindle. I thought I could do it myself just like I had done my first book, but the number of mistakes just kept multiplying and customer service became an instant oxymoron!  Is Amazon's Kindle going the way of all monopolies?

NORMAN BALL: Hah! That's a whole 'nother debate, John. Amazon is the Walmart of everything Walmart isn't the Walmart of. One morning we'll awaken to discover Amazon has taken over the executive branch of government. They just scarfed up the Washington Post the other day. Within a GSP context though, it really doesn't matter who the behemoth du jour happens to be. GSP is an agnostic portal. No matter the letterhead, we'll tunnel ourselves in and we're bringing your book with us (gestures theatrically to the blog-reading audience).

But back though to the administrative realities of day-to-day book production, the problem with Createspace/Kindle is, as I see it, an existential one. There is no right way to do it. People adhere to an identical procedure only to achieve different results. The vagaries are huge. Exceptions are the rule. I'll cite but a few: appropriate bleeds on book covers, manipulating and arranging images, migrating MS Word mss over to HTM format and using Word in a preemptively smart way as it wasn't really designed to be a desktop publisher or provider of print-ready materials. The list goes on and on. So beyond guiding the book to the summit, GSP helps load the horse with the appropriate provisions before the trip is even undertaken.

Let me remind you also that when you're creating an eBook, you're shooting at as many as nine different platforms, each with it own optimal aesthetic i.e. the proverbial moving target. You have the family of Kindle products, the Nook, the iPad, the iPhone, etc. So you're trying to strike a balance between all these competing appliances. Finally, the reader fulfills part of the aesthetic experience by selecting his own background, font types and sizes etc. on the appliance itself. I cannot stress enough the fluidic nature of the eBook vis a vis the traditional 'static' presentation of the physical book. People need to be navigated through this morass. Buyer beware: One size does not fit all.

KIRPAL GORDON: Justin Luke, as marketing advisor to GSP, you have been most valuable in articulating the changes in the industry and for good reason. In terms of author-driven marketing and promotion that Norm mentioned, you scored the hugest possible hit with your first novel, Gulliver Travels, breaking the bank at Amazon, of all places, by the way, which led to a three book deal with ePublishing, print publishing, brick and mortar bookstore distribution and full PR marketing blitz. It’s this mastery of the new marketing technologies meeting the mastery of your material that gives us older fools hope in the aftermath of an industry destroyed by greed. In other words, you don’t need to be a midlist author waiting for someone to give you the big break. All that's over.
JUSTIN LUKE: Well, you fine fellas have many decades of collective writing experience, and I'm this young whippersnapper nerd upstart who sorta came out of nowhere. Giant Steps is doing just what its name cautions: taking some mighty big steps. You aren't just offering some bottled or boxed services--your coupling your artistic integrity and creativity to give future customers something better: professional services with an artistic heart. I'd use the term "consultancy" but it's so rigid and corporate-sounding. When our powers combine, we will offer dreamer-artists a strong shot in the arm and a realization of all they can do without the help of some big box publisher.
JOHN RULLO: As a founding member and the one with the most experience in the writing game, how do these changes play out for you, Kirpal? 
KIRPAL GORDON: We just launched New York at Twilight, my second title with GSP, which, thanks to this new team, looks and reads just right. The process went even more smoothly than with my first GSP title, Round Earth, Open Sky

As for experience, after finishing my post-grad degree, I worked in publishing as a copy writer, copy editor and proofreader; taught college writing; gave classes behind bars in GED language arts and produced a bi-monthly prison newsmagazine and an annual literay arts journal. I  also review literature and music; teach creative writing workshops; lead a spoken word/jazz band; do freelance journalism; interview artists and art activists; and over the last twenty years I've been a ghostwriter, editor, coach and literary consultant for a range of clients on over forty books and 250 articles.  

I've been involved in the indie press as a fiction, music and poetry editor. As an author of over twenty titles of my own original work, I've enjoyed great relationships with excellent presses that proved strong on literary merit but weak on marketing. They've all but disappeared in these changing times, thanks to increased fees from distributors, printers, storage rentals and the evaporation of the local book store.

So I'm glad to be helping writers find their own way into print and beyond, even more so now that I'm with this can-do, soup-to-nuts team. These new technologies confound me, but collectivizing with people whose skills exceed mine has changed my outlook considerably.

JOHN RULLO: Norm, you spoke briefly about the industry today as well as the advantages of going the GSP route. What do you think the future holds?
NORMAN BALL: As you touched upon, J, books are now where music was maybe ten years ago i.e. in a state of creative turmoil, except the creative part only became evident in the music world very slowly. For a long time it was just turmoil. Publishers should take some heart from that. While the bookcase may be leaning, the sky is not falling. For example, you may recall the RIAA throwing single moms in jail when their kids pirated tunes on Napster? I think these periodic business model eruptions create identity crises that ultimately lead industries to better self-awareness. Music got to know itself better and learned just how much of a social phenomenon it really is. Today, the performance venue is a potent source of sales. People buy stuff, CDs and T-shirts, at the back of the hall fresh from the buzz of a live performance. You have a pumped-up captive audience. Music is an encounter more than a shrink-wrapped product. There’s the souvenir effect too, where the energy of the encounter can feed into the product which becomes a relic or a keepsake of the event. Book fairs are a poor uncle by comparison. Quite simply, they don’t immerse anyone in the reference product. Yes, readings are okay. But books are not natural performers. Music is also an ambulatory pleasure that does not require your undivided attention. It’s portable. Reading is more demanding of your time and your posture. It’s hard to jog while reading.
KIRPAL GORDON: While music has both a private (solo listening) audience and a public one (live shows), don't books offer a solitary communion between reader and text?

NORMAN BALL: There’s a powerful Gutenberg bond, the tactile relationship to paper that Sven Birkerts really nails in his 1995 book The Gutenberg Elegies. Sure, there are a lot of social experiments underway around the periphery of this bond: opinion-sharing on, online Amazon reviews, enhanced ebooks, and the like. But as Birkerts pointed out, the relationship between author and reader is very much a ‘univocal’ one. We're speaking here of that little dictator, the omniscient narrator who, when he's in really good form, won’t let you put the book down.

So the book offers an intimate, quasi-spiritual relationship, not an immediately exterior or social one. The Wall Street Journal ran an article in January 2012 about the disappointing sales to date of many costly enhanced eBooks. Less may be more with books. You see, we’re in the tricky realm of the immersive versus the distractive—when does the distractive add up to the subtractive in book reading? It’s a testament to just how powerful the personal, reading experience is that the interactive bells and whistles have struggled to find traction.
KIRPAL GORDON: Give it time. Right now it’s a boutique service providing new opportunities for books with a niche market. Rather than threaten books and their unique entrancement, enhanced ebooks offer the drama of cinema and the enchantment of the oral tradition (spoken word) which has been around a lot longer than books. Instead of overstimulation, ebooks may end up offering hybrid media thrills for folks without the attention span that books require. 
NORMAN BALL: Well, I agree. You could see a hybridization of the book-reading experience and yes the affinity for physical books is in some part a generational phenomenon. Yet I think we'll find pulp to be a stubborn medium nonetheless, at least for some material segment of the reading public, and for a long time to come.

Digital goodies can feel like an obtrusive third-party in the reading experience. Too many hot links diffuse the encounter. eBooks should only very selectively point away from themselves. So yes, books have a lineage not easily overtaken. The industry is realizing that it was trying to foist, via enhanced ebooks, wannabe software apps in disguise. You can almost hear the outcry. God, not another app! People already have tons of software apps. When they buy a book, they’re buying a version of solitude. The ‘enhancements’ (hired actors reading passages, video evocations of certain key scenes, etc.) create a hypertextual ‘poly-vocal’ experience, to borrow again from Birkerts. Think Windows multitasking, except with binding and glue. People already have Facebook with all its prying fingers and obsequious detours. Maybe they want to unplug, curl up in the corner and engage one voice with a demonstrated knack for spinning a good yarn! Storytellers will never go extinct. So far, enhanced ebooks have been an application in search of a market. That’s rarely a good thing. Sales have been tepid.

KIRPAL GORDON: According to James Surowiecki's "E-Book Vs. P-Book," The New Yorker (July 29, 13), "In a recent survey by the Codex Group 97% of people who read e-books said that they were still wedded to print, and only 3% of frequent book buyers read only digital." However, I think any author must be aware of the potential of an electronic book, which is cheaper to make, cheaper to mail and cheaper to market. I think this is one of the best reasons for joining GSP---we're ahead of the curve with Norm now on board. As a poet-technologist-essayist-MBA-degreed insider, you stay informed on the subject in order to provide smart ways of navigating this new, ever-changing terrioty.
JOHN RULLO: I’m getting the sense we’ll have to make this a monthly discussion.
NORMAN BALL: Absolutely. Let me try to close this month’s loop by suggesting the death of the physical book, even more so than the CD, has been grossly exaggerated and will continue to be grossly exaggerated by industry watchers. Remember, the music industry analogy works only here and there for books. In 2011, digital music sales barely edged out physical sales at 50.3% (as reported by Neilsen Soundscan and Billboard). Given the hue and cry you’d be excused for thinking physical sales have vanished. They’re still half. Nevertheless, the book business is an industry in upheaval and will continue to change in the immediate and the long term.

JOHN RULLO: As the book industry changes, so are the up-to-the-minute options we offer writers. As a portal/collective on the look-out for how to best serve writers, not an old fashioned publishing house building a 21st century Bloomsbury group, any prose manuscript, fiction or nonfiction, qualifies for our attention. I know that some folks see us as publishers of the sci-fi genre with twisted visitations from the supernatural, but we want to suggest a bigger universe than that. In terms of content, length, genre---the sky's the limit.

KIRPAL GORDON: I think writers deserve to have their material read and responded to by literate and experienced people who aren't trying to take them to the cleaners. Hence to my way of thinking, good faith is best expressed by not charging a reading fee. If we can help writers achieve their stated goals, whether their books become a Giant Steps Press title or appear through another agency or portal, we will be serving a community that presently has no home.

NORMAN BALL: Writing is anything but a commodity. So it's hard to offer a commoditized price list. What we do is evaluate a manuscript and then offer a level of effort estimate that may include any partcular segment or a bundle of segments/services across the entire process. Our attention can begin near the very formative stages, say in the re-conceptualizing of a thesis or narrative through copy editing and proofreading to typsesetting, book cover design, Createspace interface, eBook formatting and finalizing. In the post-production phase, our services extend to product placement, writing press kits, offering audio-video support, doing interviews and reviews, marketing, promotion and creating readings and other events.

There's also the case of the busy executive who lacks the time or the writing skills to author his own book but nonetheless wants a book to get his ideas out into the marketplace. These projects can start pre-concept where ideas are coaxed and developed through interviews and discussions on the way to ghostwriting a book virtually from scratch as I completed recently, for example, with a home improvement book (see above).


KIRPAL GORDON: Regarding the busy executive as well as the industry leader, the entrepreneur re-making our world and the service provider in the trenches who sees a better way to do things, what these people have in common is the need to expose their new and better idea to their niche market. In today's business world, a book that does this acts like a business card used to, that is, it defines who you are, etches your value into the minds of your prospects and puts your product or service on the map. When your book proves helpful or valuable to readers in your market, you have the best chance of developing a lifetime customer.

This is also true for fiction writers, whether they write in definable genre categories or not. Our approach is more about helping you build a brand than expecting your book to be a one-hit wonder. So to the question of how much your manuscript-into-book will cost, the best answer is that it's on you. Every book needs the same things: a cover, contents, a press release, a bio of the author, favorable exposure to your market and a plan to sell copies. What distinguishes us from others is that we custom tailor our service to each writer from a menu of many options. We advise you on your options, but you decide the path you want to take.


Giant Steps Press is seeking manuscripts of creative nonfiction, essays, short stories, novels and poetry.

First reading period begins September 15, 2013; ends, December 15, 2013.

Please submit your MS as an email attachment (in DOC, DOCX or PDF), Courier 12pt, double-spaced, Chicago Manual of Style. Please include as well a brief cover letter outlining your background, prior writing credits, specific intents with the MS, snail mail address and phone number.

GSP is a service provider. We do NOT charge a reading fee. We will get back to you with a brief written appraisal of our interest in your work within ninety (90) days.

No snail-mail please.