Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Eventful Year - Peter Johnson

It’s been a year since my last post here, and much has (and hasn’t) happened.

My first novel, Grant’s Indian, published October 2009, continues to sell steadily. After about 30 agents passed on the book, I decided to publish using my own devices, which meant (1) creating an audiobook and getting a publisher for that (Audible agreed to do that), (2) arranging for print and Kindle editions (Amazon, which owns Audible, did that), (3) getting a print distributor (IndieReader is handling that) and (4) publicity.

I spent most of 2010 publicizing the book. One thing about Grant’s Indian that makes it appropriate for indie publishing is that it is based on an actual, if little-known, historical character – Ely Parker, a Seneca Indian on General Grant’s staff who was present (and wrote out the terms of surrender) at Appomattox in 1865.

The book was appropriate for indie publishing because it has a built-in audience of Civil War buffs, for whom it fills a gap in the historical record. One thing that keeps me bemused when I talk about the book is that, while I want to talk about historical fiction, the audience always asks about historical fact – Who was Parker? How did he get to Appomattox? What were his feelings about Indian affairs? Did he suffer prejudice? I also found out that Parker has descendants. One of his great-great-nephews, Alvin Parker, shared the podium with me at the New York Civil War Forum last September, which led to a neat article in the New York Times. (“A Seneca Indian Connects with his New York Roots,” September 19, 2010.

My next novel, also set partly during the Civil War, is encountering a different set of challenges. The good news is that I got an actual, and very reputable, agent for the book – one of the last to pass on Grant’s Indian. The bad news is that, unlike Grant’s Indian, which I submitted to 30 agents with no takers, my agent has now submitted the new novel to 30 publishers . . . with no takers.

So I have to decide what to do next. I’m reluctant to publish independently, because the book doesn’t really have a built-in audience. Unlike Grant’s Indian, the new book’s central characters are entirely fictional – two young actors in 19th-century America who pretty much grow up onstage together, get caught up in the 1849 Astor Place riot in New York, the Gold Rush, John Brown’s hanging, the Civil War, and who end up onstage at Ford’s Theater the night their friend and colleague John Booth assassinates President Lincoln.

So it’s a historical novel, a coming-of-age novel, a young love novel . . . all sorts of things, but it lacks a central historical truth. My inclination at this point is to wait a bit. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War started this spring, and new interest is stirring in the War. In a couple of years the Lincoln assassination will again be in the air, and maybe the novel will find a publisher at that point. Meanwhile, I mull alternatives.

1 comment:

Lisa Yarde said...

Peter, whatever decision you make, I don't doubt that your writing will be strong and win over a new audience, as well as satisfy your current readers. Seems wise to hold off for a bit when attention is focused on the period of the second book. Self-publishing gives you the flexibility to decide.

Good luck with the seocnd book and all your future publication efforts.

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