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Interview with Phil Harris

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Interview with Phil Harris

Phil, I read with interest your frustration over the traditional publishing houses blocking mechanism for anything written out of the box. Can you tell us some of the comments you received from either publishers or agents concerning your book WAKING GOD?

As with any book you are bound to get the standard, "we looked over your query and do not feel that the topic is suitable to our current needs" letter. The consistency in verbage in the letters from both agents and publishers would indicate that the majority were simple form letters that were absent of any human interaction. This represented the majority of the responses from the larger organizations. Actually, the 'big houses ' would rarely even accept a query if it was not referred by an author already published by that firm. Unless you know someone on the in, you are automatically on the out. And, of course, many publishers will not accept a query unless it is sent by an agent with whom they do business. In essence, the agents are now the receptionists for the publishers. Now you go the next level down and there does appear to be human involvment in the process. At least the query was read and rejections at that level are certainly warrented if they do not feel that the content is appropriate for them. Although, one cannot but wonder whether the guidelines for submission are really accurate. If they say they want 'x' and you send them 'x' one would assume that they would at least want to see your manuscript. We received several comments from agents that said when we developed a 'platform' they would reconsider our submission. In other words, get some press for your book and then they might be willing to take it on. The old Catch 22 is at play here. We did receive some nice letters that were hand written, by smaller presses that were sincere in their well wishes but seemed to shy away from controversy. All in all, I would have to say that any publisher in the top ten is locked out for new and unconnected authors. The shame is that the works of many newcomers are superior to those touted as bestsellers but unless you have the money to buy your way into the 'fold' you are destined to remain the bridesmaid.

What is WAKING GOD all about?

WAKING GOD is a speculative fiction novel. This is a new category of work in which the book crosses into multiple genres. While not as yet recognized as a genre by the publishing industry, it represents a new trend in writing in which the writer does not feel constained to abide by standard genre definitions. It would be like a rock-blues-hip hop song. I think that because new authors are treading new and non-traditional writing paths, publishers are leary of opening the door to this type of literature, just as early recording studios fought rock'n'roll. Sorry for the digression but this is an important issue that is confronted by all new art forms.
Actually, WAKING GOD was coined as a "spiritual thriller" by one of our reviewers. Perhaps we have started a whole new genre that awaits traditional publishers. It contains, as Piers Anthony says in his review, thriller aspects with deep religious discussion." Mix in a few vampires and werewolves, conspiracy theory, some fantasy and a budding love story and you have the elements of the book. Above all this is the overriding social and religious commentary that lays the blame for much of humanity's woes upon the doorstep of organized religion and a searing indictment aginst man's willingness to take responsibility for his past, present and future. It is a commentary put in the form of a 'fictious' novel.

Did you find it hard to get reviews for your book? If so, why do you believe made it so difficult for you?

No and yes, in that order. We have had no trouble getting reviews from smaller review houses. By that I mean other than the Times, Post, Globe, Tribune types in the larger cities. Again, the locked door. If you are POD the larger newspapers do not even acknowledge your request for a review. However, BookPleasures.com, Front Street Reviews, OnceWitten.com, Alternative-Read.com, pod authors and even NYTimes bestselling author, Piers Anthony gave us great reviews and did so willingly and enthusiastically. We have yet to have a negative review. You will notice, however, that most of the reviews are ".coms." In other words, print media has been a wash. Once again I feel that since most of the larger newspapers are corporate owned and perhaps even tied to some of the big publishers (just a guess), they do not seem inclined to give the newcomers a chance. The circle remains closed.

Can you explain to the readers what you mean by “literary sub-cultures”?

The vast majority of what is read by the public at-large is controlled by six big publishers. These are the books that predominate the shelves of the large bookstores and that show up on Oprah, NPR and other major talk radio and national TV shows. These are the overlords of the feudal book world.

Beneath the apex of all the glamour and glitz is the "literary sub-culture." This world is populated by small press publishers, new and aspiring authors, internet radio shows, writers groups and support chat rooms and the well spring of tomorow's creative genius. It is in this culture that the author sells his/her book over the internet, works to get a book into independent bookstores, thrives on playing the promotion game at Amazon and does whatever needs doing to promote and publicize. In terms of dollar value in sales, it rivals the big six and yet its numbers and its members go unnoticed by those who control the mass media outlets. It is the 'working class' of the bookworld.

In what capacity have these groups helped you?

Groups such as Alternative-Read, Writers Circle, Authors Den, Authors Coalition, Writers Cafe, The Yack, Publishing and Promoting, Not The Usual Way, Drytear and more serve as sources of information, inspiration and support for the new author. They help to identify possible markets, provide information and places to publicize works, review portions of works, serve as a sounding board and basically provide the moral support needed for those who can stand up and say, "I am POD published, it has been 10 days since I last read a NYTimes bestseller."

You mentioned in your write up about a ‘literary revolution’. Please explain a bit how we can make a difference in how writers are perceived by publishers?

In this age of technology and instant communication it is now possible for an author to publicize his/her book worldwide in a matter of moments. I have recently heard of a bestselling book that achieved success by being talked about on blogs-there was no major publisher-no big newspaper reviews-mostly word of mouth through the world of blogs. This had to have pissed off the established literary nobility. Please keep in mind that I fully understand that not every book is good or well written-look at The DaVinci Code. But, there are thousands of books that deserve to be read and that deserve to be on the shelves of major bookstores. The 'revolution' is the ability to bypass the established literary gurus and to get a book read in spite of the size of the publisher and the way it is printed. There is, however, a need for information to be more centralized and accessible. From personal experience I can attest to the endless hours spent searching out groups and finding alternative ways to publicize our book. My wife calls herself a 'book widow.' I am not sure that the goal is to get publishers to perceive writers differently. The more noble goal would be to get the reading public to understand that Random House by no means has the corner on good books. The need is to promote small publishers and new authors so the public has a true choice in who and what they read. So much power over what is made available in literature can only lead to a closed society where the few dictate to the many. This is dangerous to a society that values free expression of thought. It is like getting the news from only one source-it is bound to be biased, incomplete and self-serving.

I have toyed with the idea for a National Association of New Writers that could conceiveably serve as a source for centralizing information for aspiring writers and also promote small press publications. This may be beyond my capability but it would be nice to move in that general direction. The danger would be creating another 'establishment' that would also become self-serving but some steps in that direction may be helpful.

Stay tuned for follow-up questions to dig deeper into some of Phil's answers. If you'd like to pose your own questions or comments to Phil, feel free to leave them in the comment box.

Lea

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If you'd like to be interviewed, or simply appear on my blog, send me an email to:
museitupeditor@yahoo.ca