Saturday, April 13, 2013

Past Medical History

Once upon a time I wrote a book. Actually, I have been writing for years, usually during the slow art selling season around January and February, before art show activity picks up again in the springtime. Short stories, mostly, very much like the ones that get posted here. 

This year, though, I was talking to a friendly professional acquaintance who is a writer, a real one, a famous one, who also publishes a line of his own books. I asked him if his company would consider publishing my next coffee table book, a collection of medical drawings that I've been threatening to print for a really long time. (Just as soon as I finish the drawings, which have grown from twenty, to thirty, to now nearly sixty, and still only ten or fifteen to go.)

He politely said no - picture books are not the kind of thing they do - but he did express some interest in another project I had in mind, maybe in another year or two from now, when I could pull together enough short stories to make it work. I figured I would need around thirty of the short stories I'd been working on, sporadically,  to tell my story - the tale of a young doctor who up and quit the business one day, and somewhere along the way decided to become an artist. Seemed like a story worth telling, and I thought I had a good start, somewhere in a file folder on my computer.

So I looked for a file called "Medical Book", where I soon discovered there were nearly100 documents gathering virtual dust, some long, some short, the majority of them already finished, each waiting quietly and patiently for a final edit.

In no time I was able to pull together 45 of these short essays, arranged them in loose chronological order, and discovered that together they constituted the arc of a story. I had a book.

Past Medical History was  born. 

Nothing to do but try and get it published. 

My friend the writer is swamped with other projects. He and others in the industry (in fact, everyone I knew who was even remotely associated with the publishing biz) told me there was but one alternative: Pitch my book to an agent, who would then pitch my book to a real, mainstream publisher.

Such began a process of self-education that has now lasted a couple of months, an adventure that has been at least as complex and fraught with pitfalls as anything I ever encountered in medical school, involving the multiple and oft-counterexclusive paths of mainstream publishing, vanity publishing, self- and assisted self-publishing, e-publishing, POD and POD (yes, there are two, sometimes used interchangeably), and giving up entirely. Not to mention e-mails, Query Letters, Synopses, Biographies, Overviews and Hooks, each an essential part of the cryptic language that transcends common business communication in meaning, intensity and importance.

What's more, there is a formulaic family of documentary formats that must be scrupulously followed in applying to publishing representatives of all stripes, no matter what their submission guidelines may imply to the contrary, with the added challenge of subtle, agent-specific, custom modification requirements representing a maze of tripwires in a minefield of minutia that all but guarantees failure for the novice writer. 

And all this just to convince someone to agree to accept a manuscript for review.

It has been, and remains, a challenge. But we persevere, and by now a formal Book Proposal for Past Medical History has been crafted, meticulously formatted, and recently posted on Scribd, should any sympathetic book agents or editors find their way here to catch the link (and perhaps tell me which portions of the proposal must be double-spaced, as opposed to those pages that will cause the entire project to be scrapped if they are mistakenly made so). In the meantime, all are invited to follow along with me on Facebook to watch as this adventure continues to unfold.

Please bring coffee.

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