In the first of our interviews with authors on their publishing journeys, I’m talking with hilarious short story writer, Debbie Graber on her experience working with a small press.
If you like the TV show the Office or the short story writer George Saunders, you will love her work.
Debbie Graber has performed at Second City, worked in an office, and received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from U.C. Riverside at Palm Desert. Her stories have appeared in The Nervous Breakdown, Harpers, Zyzzyva, Hobart, and elsewhere. Kevin Kramer Starts on Monday is her first collection of stories. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband.
Debbie and I have worked together in the corporate grind and swapped stories both in and out of writing groups. She’s one of the nicest and friendliest people out there. Her hysterical take on the world is what kept me sane through my first real corporate slog.
Alright, let’s get into the interview.
Interview with Debbie Graber 12/11/17
Tell me a little about the books you have written? What genres do you write in? How many books have you published?
I’ve written one collection of short stories called “Kevin Kramer Starts on Monday”. It was published in 2016 by the Unnamed Press, an independent publisher located in Los Angeles.
When you decided to publish, which methods of publishing did you consider? How did you make your choice about how you would publish? What factors were important to you or influenced your decision?
I didn’t really make that much of an informed decision at the time. I knew I wanted to get my collection published, and so I went the only route that I knew of at the time, i.e., I tried to find an agent who might be able to find a publisher who wanted to publish the collection.
Short story collections are a difficult sell, or so that’s the general thinking. So I thought if I could get an agent, it might be easier to find a publisher. As it turned out, the exact opposite happened!
What was the route to publishing like for you? Did you work with an agent? A publishing house? Did you or your representative negotiate contract rights and how involved in the process were you?
My route to publishing went like this – while I was in the process of querying agents with the manuscript, one of my MFA professors put me in touch with his daughter, who had recently launched a new independent publishing company. She and her co-editor liked my manuscript and offered to buy it, which was super exciting!
I suppose I could have ended my agent search there, but since I had an offer in hand, I used it as leverage to land an agent.
I’m happy I made that choice because my agent has proven to be an invaluable resource. My agent negotiated all rights on my behalf. He also was able to smooth out any differences the publisher and I might have had before they even materialized.
Did you work with an editor? A cover designer? A publicist? A marketer? How did you find these people? Or what was the process for getting this team to work with you? Were they provided by your publishing company or did you find them yourself?
Fortunately, my publisher provided all of what was mentioned above. Because they are small press (but powerful! And smart! And tireless!), they really make sure that their books look great and are well edited. Some of the stories in the collection were published in literary magazines prior to publishing with Unnamed Press. So those stories had also been gone over by the magazine editors. Also prior to my deal with Unnamed Press, I had some of the other stories looked at by a friend of mine who is a freelance editor.
My publisher provided a lot of help in the marketing area, but I chose to hire a publicist. Unnamed set up all my initial readings, and both my publisher and my publicist (not to mention myself!) worked together on the same media list because everyone had different contacts.
While working with a publicist is an expensive option, my thinking was that an author only debuts once, and I wanted to throw as much at it as I could. Because I paid her out of my own pocket, she worked solely for me and my book and had the bandwidth to follow up on all our collective leads.
I also decided to hire someone to design a website for me.
How involved and how much say did you have in how your book was edited, designed, marketed?
All of us – writer, publisher, publicist – were involved in the process. I think we worked well together because we all had one common goal – make the book look good, read great, and hey, let’s sell some books
What have you or your publisher done to promote your book? Have you seen that any of these things have had a big impact on sales? Were any of these methods rewarding in other ways?
The book was reviewed in various places, and I did some interviews and a bunch of readings.
Readings are my favorite – I feel that what happens during a reading is what the process is all about – connecting with audiences and hopefully getting them interested in reading the book. It’s definitely not about the proceeds – let’s put that out there in bold letters! It’s about sharing ideas and creative energy with people who are genuinely interested. Or interested in being interested!
What are the benefits you see of your chosen method of publishing?
With a small press, there are other people to help with the heavy lifting (making the deal, making the calls, scheduling stuff, etc. etc.) Not to mislead anyone – there is still plenty of heavy lifting that any author has to do, but I felt like I had a team in my corner working on my behalf, which is a lucky and wonderful thing to have.
It definitely takes a village – cliché but true.
What are the drawbacks?
Money. Hiring a publicist costs money. Engaging an agent is money out of one’s pocket. But honestly, money is not what any of this is about. It can’t be, because publishing a book is not a way to get rich quick, no matter how much we really, really wish it was.
It’s up to every author to decide how to spend their hard-earned and probably never to be seen from again dollars! Each person has a vision of how to bring a book into the world – my advice would be to follow that vision, whatever it is! It’s not a one-size fits all kind of experience!
Do you write full time or do you have another job? Would you say profits from your books make up a minuscule, small, medium, large, or all of your current income?
I have a full-time job and had one during the time that I wrote and published the book.
The proceeds from my book do not currently pay my rent and/or my electric bill. But the great thing about a book is that you never know who might read it and who it might touch.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were publishing your first book? And what advice would you give a writer who is just starting out?
Ah, this is a hard one.
I wish I could have been more Zen about the process. I wish I could have expended less emotion on things like where and how the book was reviewed, or on how smoothly the process seemed to be going, or how the book was selling. etc. etc. ad nauseam. Because ultimately, these things don’t matter once the book comes out. Even though an author’s debut is a one-time happening, a writer is a writer. And hopefully, there is more percolating where that book came from, whether it’s your first book or your twentieth. If I had any advice, it is keep moving forward. Keep writing and try not to let the publishing process and its emotional pitfalls mess with your head. You are ever-changing, so embrace the change and charge ahead!
What are you working on now? And how can people find out more about you?
I am working on more stories at the moment and submitting to lit mags and contests. The life of a short story writer, at least this short story writer.
You can check out my collection at www.debbiegraber.com.
Stay tuned for the next interview in this series, featuring science fiction author Eliot Peper.
Thanks for reading!