"I'm Working on my Writing," I Told Her. "I Have my Novel."

by Zachary Lutz

Some people believe a novel finds itself independently of an author, other people believe a novel is grown out of a body like a limb — for Kent State alumni Jim Dravec, the novel is a shape to be approached, digested, shelved, and rewritten. Only after a good, lengthy wallow can a novel really take root and, if its temper is right, drop seeds. But who drops the seeds? And in that sense, who spreads the seeds? “The Pinned Castle,” Dravec’s debut novel, was self- published on Jan. 11, 2012, with Amazon Digital Services, Inc. Available now on both Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook, “The Pinned Castle” is Dravec’s own landmark, published on his the author’s own time and in the author’s own terms.

“I did contact a few literary agents but didn't have great results. Most of them get so many emails a day that they can't possibly read everything and don't even bother to respond,” Dravec said. “A couple were courteous enough to respond, but almost invariably said my novel would be too difficult to sell.” But this isn’t something that Dravec took to heart. Instead of putting his head down on the sidewalk and dragging it behind his rejected, writer-body, Dravec went off the literary grid and published by himself.

“There are definitely some benefits to publishing a novel yourself,” he said. “The biggest advantage is being able to set my own pricing. Traditional books are expensive to make, so their costs are significantly higher than digital books.” 

Dravec affirmed that the price for his novel, which is only available in digital form, is exponentially less expensive than traditional hardback or paperback form. “The Pinned Castle” sells for $2.99 and is available within seconds; for almost no investment, Dravec is seeing a profit from a book that ten years ago may have never seen light. “I make about as much as a traditional author per book, and I am able to offer my book to readers for a fraction of the cost.” 

Publishing “The Pinned Castle” for a minimal price tag may set Dravec ahead of the game, a place where literary publishing houses potentially could be soon arriving. In April of this year, the Justice Department filed suit against five major publishers and Apple, Inc., over a dispute that claimed the price of digital books was being spiked disproportionately. The accusation was in response to an Apple-spearheaded raise of newly-released iBooks from $12.99 to $14.99. In a Sept. 6 article for The New York Times Media Decoder blog, writer Julie Bosman chronicled a recent ruling by a federal judge in this case that resulted in a settlement, dropping most digital book sales back to a base price of $9.99. “The settlement calls for the three publishers to end their contracts with Apple within one week,” Bosman wrote. “The publishers must also terminate contracts with e-book retailers that contain restrictions on the retailer’s ability to set the price of an e-book or contain a so-called ‘most-favored nation’ clause, which says that no other retailer is allowed to sell e-books for a lower price.”

Dravec, then, may seemingly have the upper hand. If this sounds like a lot of guff, Judge Denise Cote — the federal district judge who ruled in the case — was quoted as calling the Justice Department’s claim a “straightforward, horizontal price-fixing conspiracy.” 

But let’s return to “The Pinned Castle.” Despite what the future of digital publishing may entail — and surely $2.99 is extremely generous for an author who’s still working a day job — Dravec is content with his position on the brink of an inevitable shift. “I currently work at a Huntington Learning Center in Toledo, Ohio, where I teach English, reading, and writing,” Dravec said. “It's great to be able to share something I love with a younger generation.”

Dravec admits, much like “a younger generation,” that writing, or even studying English, was not his first decision when he began at the university. “I started out in biology but realized during my freshman year while in Professor Matthew Shank’s [Honors] Colloquium that I really enjoyed writing fiction,” Dravec said. Shank, an instructor of English, earned his master’s in English from the University of Akron in 1982 and has been teaching at Kent State for 30 years. Dravec commenced and proposed his first draft of “The Pinned Castle” to Shank, who was then serving as Dravec’s thesis advisor, and a thesis committee.“I really cannot thank Shank enough for all the help he has given me and my writing over the years, not only my novel but also many short stories,” Dravec said. 

What more can an author ask for in a tumultuous, almost metamorphic publishing world? The tools are available to publish, promote and sell a novel with the touch of a button — that’s the veer or sway of the future, and authors across the country are starting to learn and embrace digital publishing. Three customer reviews on Amazon already staple Dravec as “good,” “impressive,” and “refreshing.” And with free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet, “The Pinned Castle” is just one of a number of examples of how multitudinous and tributary the state of publishing has become; a novel can take root at Kent State, and those roots can spread their eventual seeds across the globe. “Also, I made one of those ... animated videos promoting the novel,” Dravec said.