Chris DeBrie wrote all of his books, including this year’s Shakespeare Ashes, between shifts at a grocery. He lists Judy Blume and Eduardo Galeano as a few of his literary influences. DeBrie lives in Virginia.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Chris. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
A: Shakespeare Ashes is my third novel.
Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
A: As Is was first published in 1999.
Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
A: I submitted queries for As Is to about a dozen publishers and agents. I still have a few of the photocopied rejection slips as a dose of motivation. Only one agent answered positively. She called me to say she liked the story. But after a few months during which she said she was shopping the book, she asked for money to continue the search for a publisher. At the time I couldn’t afford her fee, which was probably good, as I later found out that most reputable book agents don’t ask for money up front–they take their cut once they’ve opened a few doors for the writer. I later saw her agency’s name on a ‘warning/avoid’ list online. So my ignorance and poverty at the time actually helped. Who knew?
Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
A: Even when I was a teenager, already writing and planning, I had an intuition that my style of writing wasn’t going to get past the literary gatekeepers. Not unless I had some success on my own. That was some years before print-on-demand and the internet, so I am blessed that I came along at this time. It’s now possible for one person to create and promote books, music, or anything. You can find a way to spread the word and distribute your creation, and keep a measure of control.
We got a glimpse of what’s to come, with the music industry a few years ago–file sharing changed everything, and they’re still scrambling for new business models. A version of this is happening in every industry.
So the rejections from the big boys didn’t really hurt; I knew even then that, to a New York editor, I was just one more unagented wanna-be in the slush pile.
I’ve always been a do-it-yourselfer.
Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
A: As Is was first published by Infinity, a company that has been utilizing POD since about 1997. I compared several publishers and, all things considered, Infinity’s combination of price, extras, control and book quality seemed a cut above. For some reason, I thought that having the same title under different POD publishers would make it available in more places, so I then put it out under a different publisher a year later. But in 2007 I made it available exclusively from Infinity. Just to keep things simple.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
A: That first book was published just so I could hold it in my hands, originally… The writing itself, I celebrate after a book is done, because I know what it took. But otherwise, I won’t celebrate until I achieve the success I’m after. I’ll know the day.
Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
A: With As Is and Selective Focus, I didn’t promote at all. This was another of the ideas I had as a teenager–that I wanted to have the beginnings of my own library before I really pushed myself out there. Artists of all stripes get judged by a first work. I wanted to be that guy who was already a vet by the time he was really noticed.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
A: That implies I have a choice in the do-over, in which case I naturally would choose a mainstream, well-connected publisher. POD and self-publishing still have the stigma of lesser quality, usually for good reason, and so a big hunk of reviewers and book sellers just won’t touch anything in that category. I can’t change that alone, but I can make sure that my books are as well-written and as eye-pleasing as anything at Barnes & Noble.
Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
A: All of my books were done through POD. I’m harder on my stuff than most anyone. I am never ‘finished’… The growth as a writer simply parallels my growth as a person.
Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
A: I might have researched the industry more thoroughly. I was all about the stories for so long, and learning more about agents, book companies, and so on may have helped in my query letters.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
A: Still waiting for that one.
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
A: If I wasn’t a writer, I would have liked to be one of the best pro athletes on the planet. That, or Batman.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
A: I wouldn’t trade my mind and life for anything at this point.
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
A: As good as I think my imagination is, I rarely imagine my own future. Planning what I want for dinner tonight will probably change.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
A: If you can’t step outside of what you’ve written and become a reader again; if you find yourself skimming through your story edits; if your own writing doesn’t grab you… then keep trying, because people seem to know whether you care. Find a few book lovers that you trust to read your stuff. It helps if they’re honest to a fault. And it’s a cliche, but edit, edit, edit… Put the story away for a few days or weeks, rinse, and repeat.