Eugene Woodbury on his novel The Path of Dreams

Eugene Woodbuy has revised his unique self-described home literature meets modern romance novel The Path of Dreams and is offering it on his Web site in three formats: a free online version, a free PDF download, and a trade paperback that you can buy from Lulu.

Here is how he describes the novel:

The Path of Dreams is a romantic fantasy arising out of the traditional Japanese practice of the arranged marriage. The matchmakers in this case are an Osaka samurai academic and a Scottish Mormon polygamist. The union these two 19th century raconteurs plot for their great-great grandchildren is one their descendants never could have anticipated, for this o-miai exists only on “the path of dreams.”

Although they have never met before, a seemingly chance encounter leaves Elaine Chieko Packard and Connor McKenzie haunted by passionate dreams they cannot control. They determine to resolve the growing tension between the moral strictures of their religion and their own overpowering emotions by eloping, a decision that triggers an entirely unexpected series of events.

In the days and months that follow, they find themselves reliving — in dreams and reality — many of the same conflicts their parents and grandparents once did. They come to realize that their lives cannot move forward until they have attended to the unsettled obligations of the past. As the prophet Malachi commanded, they must “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”

I was curious about the revisions and the modes of distribution he was offering, and Eugene was kind enough to answer my questions:

Why did you decide to revise The Path of Dreams?

Aside from fixing typos and the like, the decision was largely triggered by a comment on the AML list about typesetting. Namely, the cluttered layout and lack of white space that haunts too many micro-published products. So I did some research about typesetting and came up with a few rules of thumb (such as leading = base font + 4 points).

As things turned out, before starting on the editing process, I had already put in a lot of hours redesigning the cover and had set the spine at 296 pages. So I adjusted the margins and leading to where professional opinion seemed to dictate (though the margins should be a tenth of an inch wider), and began to cut.

It sounds pretty arbitrary, but once I got into it, I was surprised at how much deserved to go. What started as a utilitarian exercise turned into a big literary improvement.

Without spoiling the plot for those who haven’t read the novel, can you describe the nature of some of your revisions?

A criticism of the novel by Stephen Carter, which I consider quite valid, is that I resolve the major conflict first, the secondary conflict second, and the tertiary conflict last, which results in the plot taking a more episodic-type jaunt through the last third of the book.

I do firmly resolve the themes I begin with, but they could have easily gotten lost in the tangents and parentheticals and authorial musings. So I determined to eliminate everything that didn’t specifically address those themes.

I ended up cutting the original manuscript by 25 percent. But I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody rereading the book had a hard time telling what was missing. Although it still isn’t “regulation McKee” in terms of overall structure, the underlying story shines through a lot stronger than it did before.

You are offering The Path of Dreams in three forms–online in HTML and in a downloadable PDF for free and then in paperback form through print-on-demand publisher Lulu (for $12.95). Why all three formats?

I created the website originally to post my samizdat translations of The Twelve Kingdoms, a fantasy series by Fuyumi Ono. So I had all the tools to convert Word files to HTML and post them in a serial novel format. The great advantage of a website is that it’s updatable in real time. And it’s easier to read a few paragraphs or a few chapters than download the full PDF.

But if you want a downloadable, portable format, PDF is the standard. And when you’re working with print-on-demand publishers, you have to generate a PDF anyway.

My reason for posting them for free comes down to something Tim O’Reilly said: “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”

Chris Anderson (Wired Magazine) and Cory Doctorow have been harping on this lately. I spend a high proportion of my life online, but I still prefer reading books printed on paper. Most of the books I own are titles or authors I previously read for free–at the library–or bought based on recommendations from people whose opinions I trust.

A big obstacle in the POD/small publishing business is the high price point, even wholesale. I figure somebody who reads my book online but doesn’t buy it probably wouldn’t have bought the book in the first place (true about a lot of music piracy as well, I think). This way, at least the book gets read.

Established writers like Cory Doctorow don’t seem to be hurt by making their books available as free downloads.

I love that on your Web site you also make available bonus material–a glossary of terms, an annotated map of the BYU campus, a brief essay on the Komachi poem that gave title to the novel (and a comparison with Songs of Solomon). All great stuff. What are your thoughts on the types of things authors, in particular authors who write Mormon literature, should be doing online to add value to their work and entice readers?

In The Path of Dreams I am dealing with two “foreign” cultures: Japanese culture and Utah/BYU/Mormon culture. I’d been creating glossaries for The Twelve Kingdoms explaining Japanese and Chinese culture, and this was the same idea. Though I wrote The Path of Dreams primarily as “home literature,” I didn’t want non-Mormons who stumbled across it to get totally lost.

I’ve been lucky to make a living the past couple of years working in a market (Japanese genre fiction) that is almost as tiny and niche as Mormon fiction. What keeps it going (in fits and starts) are fans linking blogs together, talking up stuff they like and explaining why they like it, posting reviews, translating unlicensed anime, books, and manga.

This attracts new fans — who might not have even known a certain genre existed — and lowers barriers to entry. People are more willing to fork out money because they know what they’re getting. I’ve purchased a lot of books and watched a lot of anime based on what I’ve found through these informal networks that combine personal enthusiasm with individual expertise.

I’m hoping that AML could serve as the hub or clearing house for a loosely-knit federation like this, a sort of Publishers Weekly for small Mormon publishers and authors.

Thanks, Eugene!

NOTE: I’d also encourage AMV readers to poke around the rest of Eugene’s Web site. There’s some real interesting stuff there, including the full text of his autobiographical missionary memoir novel Tokyo South.

3 thoughts on “Eugene Woodbury on his novel The Path of Dreams”

  1. I too was struck by Eugene’s announcement of his new edition and his description of The Path of Dreams. I’ve downloaded the ebook and plan to read it on my tablet computer.

    I think Eugene’s methods for promoting the book are, in general, right on. I too have read (and agree with) Tim O’Reilly’s statement that Obscurity is a greater danger than Piracy. [Although readers should be aware that Chris Anderson is talking about this issue mainly because of his forthcoming book, Free.]

    I look forward to hearing from Eugene how well his promotion methods work. It sounds to me like the Japanese genre fiction market is ahead of the Mormon market in some respects — at least in terms of the use of the Internet. Eugene, if you are reading this, I’d love to see more details or ask more questions about how this promotion works.

    I really only have one criticism — Lulu. It is meant for books that are not going to sell more than 25 to 50 copies, and its costs are as much as double what publishers can get from the POD printers used by the major US publishers, Lightning Source and BookSurge. Lulu, like most of the author services companies, actually uses Lightning Source for some of its printing! Unless you expect to sell less than 25 copies, I can’t see any financial reason for using Lulu. See my post about this from a couple years ago The Difficult Path of Self Publishing.

    Regardless of what company Eugene uses to print his book, I’m very impressed by his effort, and I wish him luck!

  2. Hey, thanks for the vote of confidence.

    At this point in the process, I can only say good things about Lulu (I have a post in the works about this). If you pay yourself the customary royalty and only use Lulu’s storefront, things price out the same as publishing through LS and listing on Amazon. The advantage with Lulu is that there are no up-front fees, no charges for revisions. Zero risk. If I sell even 50 copies, then it’d be worth looking into LS or BookSurge. But right now that falls into the counting chickens and crossing bridges department.

    Alas, I’ve written a book in a niche for which there is no established market. It’s an outlier for non-Mormon readers, and the content also makes it an outlier for readers of “home literature” romances. I’m so far out at the microscopic end of the long tail that my primary motivation for the time being is the O’Reilly perspective. Plus, I can’t afford to do any “real” marketing. No POD outfit is competitive with large-volume offset, which reflects the proper price point for this kind of fiction.

    So I’m counting downloads as a sign of success, not sales. As an ulterior motive, most of my current web content–and most of my traffic–is “secular” in nature. If I can use this to build out the more sectarian segments of my readership, I’ll consider it worth the bother. My next “Mormon” novel should present far lower hurdles to non-Mormon readers as well. At the end of the day, I’m only hoping there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

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