Jerry Stubblefield: On the Road to Publishing a Novel

Jerry Stubblefield is a playwright turned novelist who published his first book, Homunculus, earlier this year. His plays have been produced in New York City’s Off-Broadway theaters and at SART. He has published short fiction and has taught creative writing at the Asheville School’s Summer Academic Adventures Program. Jerry is a native of Texas who moved to Asheville from New York City in 1990 with his wife and their two children.

GB: Why did you decide to forgo an agent and shop the book yourself to a publisher?

JS: I made that decision after having squandered a lot of opportunities sending out the manuscript to just about every agent in the country before it was anywhere near ready. So I pulled back and worked and revised to make sure the manuscript was ready before I sent it anywhere else. I was lucky to have as a personal friend a professional editor/writer who was willing to go through the book with me and suggest changes. Once I had a publishable product I analyzed myself the way a publisher would look at me: a writer with no agent, living in a smallish city far from New York, with no fiction credits beyond a published story or two. I knew it would be difficult to get the manuscript read let alone published.

GB: How did you go about finding a publisher and what were your criteria?

JS: I went to the library and asked for the Literary Marketplace. This huge volume lists all agents, publishers, publications, etc. , and I checked out every single book publisher in the country using the following criteria. First was no reading fee, followed by: would read new/unknown writers; would accept unagented submissions; did not do “subsidy” publishing and had no association with any such operation; did not offer services such as editing, marketing, etc., for a fee; published literary fiction and did not specialize in genre fiction; was not in business to publish any particular author (such as himself or his girlfriend); paid the author. It turned out that some of these criteria seemed, at first, to be met, according to the listing in the LMP. But closer investigation showed that they weren’t. I might have wasted a lot of time on one publisher had I not taken the extra step of verifying that by “literary fiction” he really meant “fiction written by my brother-in-law.” There are clues sometimes, but I had to follow up on some of the publishers. The list I developed narrowed down to one publisher, a small press in Seattle called Black Heron Press.

GB: And did they pay you?

JS: Well, while I required that I be paid, I didn’t restrict myself to how much and or when. Black Heron Press does not pay an advance, it only pays a royalty based on sales, and even that’s a long time coming. But for getting my first book published, that was okay. My criteria had led me to a sincere and serious publisher, and as a result I got a very nice, high quality hardback, and distribution through a group called Midpoint Trade Books.

GB: Did Black Heron promote the book through advertising or marketing?

JS: Since the print run was small, one thousand copies, there was no appreciable advertising beyond sending out review copies, and I haven’t expected much in the way of sales. More important to me, the publisher has stood behind the book, though, and has, at considerable expense to himself, submitted it to nominating committees for several highly prestigious awards.

GB: I know you’re working on a second novel. Will you return to Black Heron to publish it?

JS: If Black Heron is interested, I would certainly be interested in Black Heron, having had a positive experience there. Certainly they will have the opportunity to consider it. However, I’m planning a different approach this time and it may not be as good a fit for Black Heron. For the second novel, I plan to seek an agent rather than look for a publisher on my own. In a word, the first book was about getting published; the second one must be about receiving some income. I need to come through for my infinitely patient and faithful family as well as myself. So trying to get a reputable New York agent to sign me on is the obvious step once I’ve finished the book.

GB: Homunculus has been called an “often funny, penetrating psychological study” and a work of “dark genius.” What can you tell us about the new novel you’re working on?

JS: The second novel is a more ambitious, more complex work concerning, among other issues, the spiritual aspect of a difficult, unconventional relationship. The working (and probable) title is The Paraclete. I have a rough draft completed and a lot of work ahead to get a publishable manuscript done by the end of this year. If I meet my deadline, somebody should buy me a large drink, Genève.

GB: You’re on, Jerry, and thanks for talking with me.

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