So, I’ve been traded.
Not me personally. But Avalon Books, the little publishing company which first took a chance on me as a fiction writer, has been absorbed into the Amazon behemoth.
I’m hoping this will turn out to be a good thing. Usually I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to business news, but in this case I have a tiny vested interest in the outcome of this deal.
Founded 62 years ago as a family business by Thomas Bouregy, Avalon made its small but respected mark in the publishing world by limiting its production to wholesome genre works: romance, mystery and westerns.
The accent there is on the wholesome. While some genre publishers concentrate on fiction designed to make the flesh crawl or sweat, or generally heat up, Avalon’s focus since the 1950s was the sort of books you could loan to your grandmother without fear of offending her delicate sensibilities; the kind of books you didn’t have to worry about leaving around where your nine-year-old daughter might happen upon them. Chaste, morally grounded, straight shootin’ yarns.
When they offered to buy my first novel, back in 2003, I was thrilled. I had read their guidelines. I had cleaned up my novel to meet their standards, I thought. Then as the editing process began I got a list of various changes they required in order for the manuscript to meet their expectations. They had no problems with my grammar, my plot, my characters, or my style. But my use of certain terms, my diction, my innuendos, didn’t sit well with them.
At first I chafed at this. I spent a few hours huffing and puffing before I calmed down and reflected on how lucky I was that anyone was willing to offer me a contract for my modest little romance. And once I accepted the challenge of rewording a few phrases and applying a touch of concealer to the more suggestive portions of the book, we got along fine.
The experience of being published at all was thrilling. But, as with so many thrills, after you come down from the top of the ride, you realize that you’re pretty much right back where you started. Avalon was a small company, with no promotional budget to speak of. At least not for me and my Tall Order. And marketing has never been my strong suit. I couldn’t sell Girl Scout cookies.
However, I have always felt grateful for that first success, because it gave me hope, the stuff of dreams. So I’ve kept dreaming. Five years ago I gave up on trying to interest conventional publishers in my works. The agents and editors I met at conferences and interviews were universally encouraging, but they were all looking for blockbusting, or in some cases bustier busting, works, and that’s not what I’m going for. Some people like books that are electrifying or terrifying. Others love novels that aim to be heartbreaking, crushingly realistic, dismally honest and dark. Not I, said the duck.
For me, a great book is funny, thoughtful, and sometimes poetic. A touch of romance adds to it, but isn’t required if the humor is smart enough. That’s the kind of book I’m trying to write.
Tall Order was a good first step for me, so I’m glad that if Avalon must vanish, as Avalons are wont to do, Amazon will be taking over (as Amazons are wont to do). I’m hopeful that my first book will be digitalized and available on Kindle and its kin.
The key word there is “available.” Because as a writer, the best reward is to have people read your work and respond to it. Maybe they like it, maybe not, but if it brings a momentary lift to anyone, I’m thankful.
So roll on Amazon, swallowing everything in your path. And me, I’ll keep searching for higher ground.