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Search for publisher is one for the books

I checked to be sure the publisher wasn't a vanity press, before submitting three chapters of my juvenile novel. I was hopeful when the company requested the balance of the manuscript and ecstatic when I received the letter accepting my work for publication. I dreamed of book signings and television interviews -- until I encountered the words "joint venture."

The letter explained that the joint venture format compensated the publisher for gambling on an unknown writer. The attached brochure said my $3,800 investment covered the cost of printing 10,000 copies of my book. I would receive a 40 percent royalty on the first 2,500 copies sold and a 15 percent royalty on the remaining 7,500 copies sold.

The generosity of the terms dimmed my euphoria. I have attended enough writing seminars to know even best-selling authors receive a much lower royalty rate. So I reached for my calculator. The results revealed that recouping my $3,800 investment depended on selling all 10,000 books in my run at the 40 percent royalty rate, rather than the 15 percent one.

I also had serious misgivings about the size of the run. A larger printing is profitable for the publisher because the production cost per book is lower. However, the average printing for a juvenile novel by an unknown writer falls between 3,500 and 7,500 copies because these are the usual sales figures for a new children's book.

I would love to believe my book is the exception. I am also realistic enough to know the odds are against a first juvenile novel selling 10,000 copies. I have only to look around any bookstore to realize the extent of the competition.

I wrote a letter withdrawing my manuscript and requesting its return. Two weeks passed without an answer, so I faxed a sterner letter. A week later I received an envelope. My elation evaporated when I realized the first three chapters of my novel were missing. I then sent a letter via registered mail. When that produced no results, I contacted a consumer help line.

The publisher phoned a week later. He explained he had not returned the chapters in question because he was unaware I wanted them. I assured him I did.

I hung up hoping my problems were over. But apprehension replaced optimism when two weeks passed with no sign of my manuscript. Were the papers lost or had the publisher appropriated them for personal use? I was planning a second call to the help line when my return envelope appeared in the mailbox.

I've never had children, but I think I understood how a mother who finds her lost child feels when I took the pages from their manila wrapping.

I'm still looking for a traditional publisher. It's often discouraging. On my lowest days, I take out my joint venture circular complete with author testimonials. The flyer reminds me of a writing course I once begged my mother to subsidize.

That catalog also contained enthusiastic comments, but the school that offered the instruction is long defunct. That memory makes me put the brochure away and reach for my most recent writing magazines.

Maybe I'll find the right publisher this month. Even if I don't, I'm sure of one thing. No company whose letter contained a misspelled word and coffee stains will make a profit from the sweat of my brow.

Laurie Glieco, of Buffalo, still dreams of having her novel published.

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