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The Talking Fish and the Remarkable Rutabaga
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A new ORPHAN SCRIVENER is online. Mary has some words about Golden Age Detective fiction and a review of the GAD book The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow by Anna Katharine Green. There's also plenty of news and the following essay from me:

At the start of the month we sent off the corrected galleys of NINE FOR THE DEVIL to Poisoned Pen Press.

We heaved a huge sigh of relief and intoned, in unison, "our work here is done." Well, okay, I admit that my work was done before Mary mercifully proofread the galleys by herself! All the rest -- the formatting, the printing, the distribution -- is up to the press. Thank goodness!

Maybe you've been hearing about authors who swear that self-publishing for Kindle and its electronic kin is the way to go. Thriller writer Barry Eisler turned down a big contract with a major publisher to do it himself. Amanda Hocking is a millionaire. Mystery author Joe Konrath sells billions and billions of ebooks.

But so far as I can see, the evidence that self-publishing is the best route for authors to take is based on isolated success stories. You could make just as good a case that playing the lottery is a reasonable career choice. In fact, I have actually met one big lottery winner and the parent of another, and I can't say that of any self-publishing millionaires.

So we are not eager to self-publish. Partly it is because of the unlikelihood that a do-it-yourself book from little known authors would find an audience. Personally I am also reluctant because I have self-published. And let me tell you, while it wasn't exactly hell it wasn't any picnic either. Maybe a picnic just outside the gates of hell.

For example, Mary and I aren't best selling authors but Poisoned Pen Press has found thousands of reader for us. In grade school my audience was two buddies who sat on either side of me in the back of the room during arithmetic class. And when the teacher spotted us giggling over the cartoons I'd drawn, she'd confiscate my tablet. There went my whole inventory.

We also make more money than I ever made self-publishing comics. Back in those days, a full color "Elmo the Talking Fish" comic went for a dime on the playground. You could buy a whole bag of jaw breakers, licorice whips, and Bazooka bubblegum for a dime. Unfortunately, there's a limit to the money to be made, even at 100% royalties, when your print run is one. I tried renting out my "King Cotton vs. Boll Weevil Giant Annual" but it got tedious having to keep erasing the crossword puzzle answers. Luckily my parents paid for my big box of 128 Crayola colors -- with gold, silver and copper -- or I would have been operating at a loss.

Twenty-five years later I did a bit better selling mini-comics. Uh...yeah...I admit, I was still turning out comics in my thirties. A mini-comic is made by photo-copying the pages you've drawn onto both sides of a sheet or paper, cutting the sheet down the middle, folding the two halves together, and stapling the spine. I did manage to sell maybe 75 copies of titles like "Bad Cat" and "The Remarkable Rutabaga" at a quarter each, which almost defrayed the cost of postage and supplies. And advertising those comics and mailing them was a lot more difficult than approaching a friend on the playground and embarrassing him into handing me a dime for a comic. Can you imagine having to cut and fold and staple and mail every mystery book? No thanks.

And that wasn't the worst of my self-publishing nightmares either. I once printed several issues of a magazine on a pan of gelatin. No, I am not making this up. I used what's called a hectograph because I couldn't afford a mimeograph or a spirit duplicator. My first hectograph was a kit from Sears but it was the last one in stock, I guess, having probably gathered dust in the warehouse since 1939. It was probably the same model used by H.P. Lovecraft. No wonder he saw lurking horrors in corners that did not quite seem to fit into any dimension known to the human mind.

The original kit was dreadful enough to print on but when the hecto gel ran out I had to cook up my own by heating glycerin and plain gelatin over a low flame. Then I poured the viscous concoction into a shallow pan and let it harden. If you take one of the ditto masters that you might recall from your school days and place one face down on the hectograph, the gel absorbs the ink. Press a sheet of paper down on the gel and you get an impression like that produced by a spirit duplicator. And one that doesn't have the terrifying odor of pop quizzes and arithmetic tests.

Hecto refers to the hundred prints you're supposed to be able to get but I was lucky to get fifty. The surface of the gel deteriorates quickly as you pull sheets off. It begins to bubble and tear. Sometimes the whole mass would come slurping out of the pan, clinging to the paper I pulled off, like some boneless alien parasite. Well, I was publishing a science fiction fanzine.

By the way, have you ever tried to get purple hectograph stains off? Every time I recall those faint smudges on my fingers, all these years later, I swear I will never again self-publish.

Well, okay, I guess formatting a book for Kindle won't leave purple stains. And Mary and I are not ruling out self-publishing a book. We have so many utterly non-commercial ideas that some of our work may be destined for self-publishing, provided we ever find time to write them.

However, our first choice is a quality publisher, and that we have in Poisoned Pen Press.

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