The True Story of (Publishing) The True Story of Butterfish

Spoiler: though an ordeal, Nick Earls’ novel The True Story of Butterfish is now available here. For pre-order or sale, depending when you click that link.

Longer: After winning a prestigious award and backing away from a perhaps ill-conceived title change, Kindle Direct Publishing borked an attempt to serialize Nick Earls’ latest novel due to copyright concerns. The installments didn’t sort correctly, so now you just get the novel, at a special discount through the rest of 2018.


The True Story of Butterfish is the last novel I read in print, as a paperback, nearly seven years ago now. It came as a bonus; I’d just started to work with Nick Earls, who was and remains one of my favorite authors in the world, and when I mentioned I’d never been able to get the paperback here in America, he sent me a signed copy, along with a signed copy of Perfect Skin, in probably the delivery ever.

I read most of Butterfish in an emergency room, waiting for my wife (spoiler: she’s okay). It’s everything that ever made me want to work with Nick. I fear I describe his work as funny and warm and poignant too often, so let me try a little harder here: it’s a surprising novel about rockstar Curtis, who’s retiring to the suburbs, and his navigation of life away from the tours and the spotlight, if not the studio. He’s coming to terms with the loss of his father, and meanwhile striking up a relationship with the family next door. That family includes a woman roughly his age who doesn’t seem used to the idea of traditional romance or dating and a beguiling ingenue most likely about half his age who is barreling into adulthood and hormones and beauty. Annaliese is very much on the cusp of the heartbreaker status probably every one in her life has told her she would one day become, and she’s flirting with the cliff every bit as much as she’s flirting with the cliff.

I loved it when I read it, and even more when I set to publish it.

But in publishing it, I wanted to do more for it. I wanted it to be bigger, get more attention. It’s already gotten stellar reviews.

So I thought, hey, maybe serialize it. Divide into five sections to be published in five concurrent weeks, culminating in the novel in full, which would be set to preorder availability during week two but live week four. That way the installments are like samples for a buck a piece, and you get continuous momentum.

Amazon, however, had other plans.


It was all ready to go. I discussed with Nick a different title, “The Rockstar Next Door,” but in the end The True Story of Butterfish felt like it had more depth to it, which the novel has, as well. Because it’s not a novel about rockstardom; it’s one about leaving rockstardom behind, or maybe growing beyond it. It’s not about next door; it’s about home.

So I decided to keep the original title. Even if I still intended to break it up.

The plan was to publish the first installment on Black Friday, with the second on Cyber Monday and then every week through Christmas Eve. Or something like that. The logistics were sound.

And so, dutifully, 72 hours before publication, I uploaded files for Kindle. Amazon likes some time to review files, and I was happy to provide it.

And I was glad to do so, because 24 hours passed, and then 48, and I was starting to get antsy. Ahead of 72, though, I got the fateful email.

Amazon is, rightfully, diligent about copyright, especially when it comes to Kindle Direct. Sadly, there are unscrupulous entities publishing books they don’t have the right to. Or who would, anyway, if Amazon weren’t diligent.

The problem is that sometimes Amazon is TOO diligent. They wanted proof I had the rights to publish Nick’s work.

Which, fine, but keep in mind, Exciting Press has been publishing Nick Earls’ books since 2012. Six years now.

Which you’d think would be enough, but along those TOO diligent lines: this isn’t the first, nor even the second, time this has happened. I think it’s probably the fifth.

Each time, Nick has been gracious. Basically, the process is that Amazon needs to receive an email from the author’s email account of record (???) a confirmation of publication rights. Nick has done so dutifully each time. I will confess up front I might, at times, be less gracious and less forgiving, and this time around both Nick and I allowed ourselves some impatience.

Because diligence is one thing, but for me, the feeling is “c’MON, Amazon! I’ve been publishing Nick’s books for like SEVEN years now.”

The problem was two-fold this time around. Because I published “twice,” in the system. I published both the full novel for pre-order, and the first installment. And despite several rounds of emails, the novel came up for pre-order but Amazon blocked the sale of the first installment.

It was, eventually, sorted. Last week. The installment was released for sale. Yay.


I’m not linking to the first installment. I took it down.

Because Amazon made me look at what I was doing. Serializing. Installments. Pre-orders.

Amazon made me remember that as a reader I hate all those things. If the book is ready, I always think, JFC WTF BBQ JUST LET ME BUY THE DAMN THING I WAAAANT IT

I don’t want to wait for the next installment or chapter. I don’t want to buy a pre-order now so that in a month a book I forgot I bought is going to suddenly and intrusively appear on my read screen.

I set the pre-order for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. It’ll be live in like two days.

We’re not making you wait any longer.