Life, Death and Detention was my first book. Originally published in 1999, it has been out of print for many years. But now it’s back, with a new publisher (the wonderful Morris Publishing Australia) and a new cover (designed by my wonderful wife, Kerri Valkova). But it was a long and winding road to this new edition…
Life, Death and Detention is a YA collection of stories about life in high school. It was originally published by Margaret Hamilton Publishing (eventually absorbed into Scholastic). Although well reviewed it never did wonderfully well. Why? Because I was a first-time author and I didn’t realise I needed to promote it. I naively thought that my publisher would do all of that. Over the years the book did eventually sell out its print run, but not quickly enough for Scholastic to want a reprint. So I got the rights back, just in case.
Then along came the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge in 2005, and lo and behold, Life, Death and Detention was on the booklist for Years 7, 8 & 9. There it has remained (which means at least one participant has read it each year) — although the reading lists were eventually divided differently and the book found itself on the list for Years 7 & 8 rather than 9 & 10 (where I thought it should be).
So, since 2005, there has been a renewed interest in Life, Death and Detention from high school students. Whenever I did school visits, kids would ask me where they could get a copy. But sadly it was not available.
Believing there was a new market for Life, Death and Detention, I started shopping it around to publishers. It didn’t take long for me to find one. Unfortunately, my original manuscript was on a damaged floppy disc (remember those?), and Scholastic never bothered to keep a copy. So my new publisher scanned a copy of the book and ran it through some magic software that spat out a text file. Of course, the text file was not perfect and so began the arduous task of cleaning it up. After all that was done, off it went to the designer. Or so I thought. After several months of silence I get an email informing me that the publisher had gone belly up, and so my new edition was also dead in the water.
I briefly considered self-publishing, but decided against it. I’m a writer not a publisher, and I really had no desire to become a publisher.
After a bit of investigation, I found another publisher to approach — A very small, boutique publisher. There would be disadvantages in going with such a small publisher (such as distribution), but I figured there would also be certain advantages — a more personal relationship and more creative input into the design. So my wife (who is a graphic designer) and I put together a new proposal in which she offered to design the cover, for free. There was a rather long wait and then an email acceptance arrived. YAY!
I spent a long time discussing the project with this publisher and we finally decided that it would be a good idea to update the stories from the 1990s (when they had been written) into the 21st Century, to make them more relevant to current teenagers. And so I launched into this task, as my wife organised a photo shoot and began work on the cover.
But alas, things were not meant to be. As the updated manuscript reached completion things fell apart. This time around it can be filed away under the wonderfully encompassing heading of “creative differences” and, since there was no contract in place (yes, I know, I’m an idiot to have done all that work without a contract — but hey, you live and learn) I found myself without a publisher again.
Another brief flirtation with the idea of self-publishing was followed by an approach to a new publisher (concentrating on eBooks) that was looking for titles to launch the venture with. All was looking good, until that publisher decided to indefinitely delay its business launch. But she (wonderful, wonderful person that she is) didn’t want to delay the publication of my book — so she found me another publisher willing to meet the original schedule.
And so, dear reader, this is the rather long and winding road by which I found myself at the virtual doorstep of Morris Publishing Australia. It was a long journey but I am so VERY happy with the destination.
Tune in next time for the much cheerier story of how I worked with Morris Publishing Australia to prepare this new edition of Life, Death and Detention.
Catch ya later, George
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