About Me

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I am a self published author from Brooklyn, New York. I have been publishing my work since 2004 and currently have four titles on the market in print and ebook format. I write horror and fantasy fiction as well as books for young adult. I am also a playwright with stage productions in and around New York City. Visit my website at www.hobbcatpublishing.com

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Hooky Party and the Birth of Hobbcat Publishing, Inc.- Part 2 of The Writers Journey

The Hooky Party was my second book and, technically, my first self published novel. Like Gamble, it was based on a screenplay I had started working on with my childhood buddy Michael Barksdale. Originally we had started with a bevy of different ideas and events that developed into the concept. But after years of not being able to make the screenplay come together fully, we abandoned it and it became another idea that never got fleshed out.

I got the idea of turning it into a novel when I stumbled across the old script three years after it’s rough draft was done. Rereading it with a fresh set of eyes I started to see how to mold and shape the story better. Being able to fill in the gaps through a novel rather than tip toe around parts due to screenplay time constraints was very refreshing. Initially there was no real story behind Hooky Party other than some guys cutting school to throw one. But the novel gave me a chance to create an entire plot behind it all. So rather than just have a story about kids cutting school, I developed an entire reason behind it.

Using the names of people I knew to help me focus on the characters better, the story of teen rebellion, love and friendship slowly unfolded. Two teen friends decide to throw the Hooky Party after their new tough-as-nails principal cancels the long awaited and much beloved Senior Cut Day. Underlining that plot is a story about taking responsibility for ones own actions; a lesson the two friends learn when their party doesn’t go as planned. The intention was to make this more about a life lesson than just about rambunctious teens going wild.

In the beginning, I intended the story to be a trip down memory lane for people of my generation. I made references to things that were familiar to my growing up in New York as well as setting the story in the early nineties. I even created characters that nearly everyone could relate to (ie. The kids that steals tater tots from people, the underclassmen that liked hanging out with the older crowd and student that kissed up to the principle). But As I neared the completion of the story, I realized that the story could easily appeal to today’s youth.

But that was going to be a hard sell. I observed that many teens I saw reading books on the train were reading some very adult books. Urban Fiction (a label given to many of today’s African American books whose stories focus on or are driven by the street, sex and some violence) was a big draw for them. Very few were reading classics or even were immersed in the popular teen vampire/romance/drama stories. Was it even possible for this story to get through to them or would they even consider reading it?

I realized after looking over it that there were no stories like this out there for young adults. True, most young adults read mature subject matter, but rarely do they read something that they can really relate to in fiction. The story, a coming of age story with a lesson in taking responsibility for one’s own actions, seemed like a good fit for many of today’s teens but would they want it? That was a question I wouldn’t know for sure until I put it out there.

The novel took seven months to complete. Since this was my second novel, and I had learned so much from my initial outing with Gamble, I put a lot behind this project. I also did things a little different.

With Gamble, I edited the book myself. This time, with Hooky Party, I sought out an editor to properly go through the book and make the corrections that were needed. Granted I didn’t have a great deal of mistakes in Gamble, but it was a shorter book. This one was more intricate and detailed so I needed a second set of eyes for it. I had the entire book checked for grammar, spelling, story structure and redundancy. When I got the manuscript back and double checked it, I decided that this time I would go through a traditional publishing house.

With help from the editor, I had a query letter drawn up and I proceeded to send out copies of it to publishing houses that would take unsolicited material. As they made their way to their destinations, I sent a second set of letters out to agents, looking for representation. I knew two things going into the letter writing campaign. The first was that it would be some time before I heard anything back. The second was that many of them would come back as rejections. It was very rare for one to get picked up right away but I remained hopeful.

Within three weeks, the first round of letters came back from publishing houses with the usual “thanks but no thanks” kinds of answers. I wasn’t surprised by this and took them in stride. By the forth week, I started to get letters back from a handful of agents who wanted to see the manuscript. I packaged up several of them and shipped them out immediately.

Within a month I started to get letters back from them saying that they were passing on representation. While the rejection wasn’t too surprising, the statements following the initial rejection was. “Although the manuscript was a good read, we are not sure who to target this story to. The demographic is unclear.” One agent even stated that it seemed too difficult to even market. I was both confused and taken aback by this.

For starters, the majority of the characters in the story are high school students. Many of them are African American and Hispanic. The story is set in a high school and its about high school hi- jinx. It seemed pretty obvious to me who the demographic were. I also stated it’s a coming of age story as well. It didn’t seem confusing to me who would want to read it.

It was never made clear to me why anyone didn’t think they could move the book. Even minority companies declined the novel. If it wasn’t the writing, then what was it about the book people felt they couldn’t sell it? I never received an answer to that question and I was just left with a batch of rejection letters.

After sending out close to 50 letters and landing not a single deal, Hooky Party was destined to end up with its screenplay counter part; collecting dust in a drawer. I was left with one option and that was to publish it myself. I had enlisted the help of an artist to do a cover for me but after several months of waiting and not getting anything back, I was pretty much stuck. I had considered going back with IUniverse but at the same time, Gamble wasn’t doing too well either. As I contemplated on what to do, I received an email from Gotham Writers Workshop (I was on their mailing list) that the Center of Independent Publishers was hosting a seminar and workshop on self publishing. I figured I had nothing to loose so I enrolled in the workshop and spent my entire Saturday going to panels and learning what it meant to be a self published author.

I discovered that my decision not to go back to IUniverse was correct and in a way, the fact that my cover never got done was a blessing.

One of the panelists took a look at Gamble and told we everything that was wrong with the book. From the artist drawn cover down to the font size and pricing. Then I found out why I was not touted as an self published author. There was something on the book itself that did not belong to me but rather to the IUniverse that signified that they were the publisher, not me.

The ISBN number on the barcode had been issued to me by IUniverse. Because I didn’t buy the number myself and it was provided to me by them; it meant that they were the publisher, not me. I had to own that number and it could not be bought from them. I had to buy it under my own company name or my own. But it was strongly advised that I have a company, which I didn’t have. I also found out that there were companies out there that did book covers. I had always been under the assumption that only publishing houses issued covers. It never dawned on me to look for a company to do that. Then there was the matter of finding a printer to print the books, pricing the book and marketing. None of this had ever crossed my mind, but it didn’t sound terribly difficult to do as long as I knew where to go for what I needed.

So for nearly nine hours I listened, learned, took advice and gathered as much research material as I could. Then I went back home and for several days I did homework.

The first thing I had to do was find out how to get incorporated. I was told to check out Legal Zoom where I could have incorporations done online. On the site they offered to research the name I had chosen for my company to make sure it wasn’t already taken. I chose the name Hobbcat for the company because I had used the name before as a trademark which had long since been cancelled. Once the name was approved I went through the steps of setting it up as incorporation. The entire process took only a few weeks to have done.

My next step was getting the ISBN numbers for the company. Following the directions I got from one of the panel discussions, I went to the website where I bought 25 numbers along with some barcodes. I assigned the first number to The Hooky Party then put it to the side while I went looking for a book cover designer.
Marion Designs was my choice for cover design. The experience wasn’t what I had expected. When they replied to my email about working with me, they wanted to know what I had in mind for the cover. Granted I had thought about some ideas but I figured that the company was going to just come up with ideas on their own. But they involved me in the process and I was happy to pass along some of my ideas. They even helped me to design my company logo.

Approximately one month later I had a finished cover complete with bar code, ISBN numbers and an eye catching font design. All that was left was to do was have it printed. But I didn’t immediately have a printer to work with. I knew that I wanted to print books like I did with IUniverse which was by small volume. Many printers wanted me to order and print large quantities which would mean I would have to make room in my apartment for thousands of books. Marion Designs told me about a company that did what is called Print On Demand which allowed me to order only the amount I needed. The company was called Lightning Source. Not only were they a good place for me to print but they also work with Barnes and Noble and Amazon so when my novel was finished and approved, it was listed on their sites.

Ten months after its initial completion, The Hooky Party was finally published and was the first book released under Hobbcat Publishing , Inc.
Soon after its release, I wanted to run an ad for it in The New York Amsterdam News. I was advised that instead of an ad, to have the book reviewed. I was a little apprehensive at first because a review can swing both ways. A good one would give it life. A bad one could stop it dead in its tracks. It was a 50/50 chance I had to take.

In August of that year, reviewer Glenn Townes wrote a solid review of the book which helped kick off sales. By September, The Hooky Party, made its official debut at the Brooklyn Book Fair and nearly sold out before the day was over.

Once I knew exactly what self publishing entailed, I decided I would work to bring A Gable of Faith over from IUniverse into Hobbcat’s fold. Unfortunately, a computer crash destroyed the manuscript and I was forced to start over from scratch using the novel I had in my possession. While working on that, I started putting together the finishing touches on my third book.

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