Monthly Archives: December 2011

Too Many Choices: The Decision to Self Publish, Part Two

Okay, I’ve been ill, and that’s part of it, sleeping for 12 or 16 hours on one day when I’m used to about 7, then, because of the illness, abstaining from any kind of chemical-amusement-aid-liquid-refreshment so ubiquitous (for me anyway) during the holiday season, that’s the other part of it, but the main reason I couldn’t sleep last night is because I was obsessing about the impending consequences of my last blog post, you know, the one in which I gave myself a merry Christmas present of self-publishing a novel. Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate the gift and I have no intention of returning it.  Here’s the rub.  Having made the decision, even after doing lots of preliminary research on the question, the thing that I realize now, as I am trying to choose my particular path toward self-publication, is that there are too many damn choices.

I thought this blog post might be about the process of weeding through these choices.  It might be helpful for you, if you’re in the same boat or know someone who is in the same boat, but it might also help me come to a conclusion, which, in the end, might be the very best thing about blogging: the writer thinks his or her thoughts in front of an audience, tries to do a good job, and maybe, just maybe, he or she learns something.

This is the first question that must be answered in the search for the right self-publication service: What do I want?  What do I want? In part, I’ve already answered this question.  I simply want a book I can share with other humans.  But it becomes slightly more complicated than that. I want a book that is available electronically in the usual, most popular outlets. And I want a printed artifact that I can hold and smell and read and sell to people.  Oh, if it were only that simple.  Then, the investment would be minimal, affordable for almost anyone with either a few bucks in the bank, a nice spare bicycle in the garage to sell, or a decent credit rating. I have all of those things. And it’s easy to find a reputable company that will do the electronic thing and the old-fashioned analog thing in pretty short order.

The devil is in the details.  I start reading the menu items, the veritable smorgasbord of add-ons and services that the one company has that the other company doesn’t, that the other company has that the one company doesn’t, the ones that neither of these companies has that this one company over here offers, and I start thinking to myself, yeah, that would be good, but this would be nice, and these guys do this, but these folks do that, and I like the way their website works, or the add copy is friendly or funny, and then I start to go a little bit crazy. If I were not still recovering from my illness I’d be drinking.

Here’s a big list of important questions, as self publishers, we need to answer:

Do we want an ebook?  Do we want a printed book? Do we want paperback or hardback or both? How many copies do we want on hand? Do we need to have copies of the book at the same time our ebook is available? Do we want a nice cover? Do we want a nicer cover? How many times is a particular company going to allow us to say, we don’t like that cover, let us see another one, before they ask us for more money? Are we okay designing our own cover using templates for dummies? Will the print version of our book have distribution on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or at some other on-line retailer?  Do we want an ISBN number? (The answer to that should be yes). Do we want editorial feedback? Are we willing to accept editorial feedback? Do we need someone to edit our work? (I found this accidental malapropism in the novel I am considering for this project: “She had already passed mustard with Officer Babbit.” I laughed so hard I was in tears but then I was crying too at the thought that I might miss such an error after having already published the novel). How would we feel if we paid for editorial services and they missed an error like that one? Would we like our book to be considered for a prize or an honor of distinction? Would we like help with promotion?  How much?  And finally, what kind of bank are we willing to spend? My research tells me that we can publish our babies for free!  Or  we can spend as much as 6 or 7 grand.  I bet we could spend more than that, too, if we wanted, or, if we had some money burning holes in our pockets.  That’s not true of very many of my writer friends.  Or my teacher friends.  None of my friends have that kind of money.  Do you begin to get the picture? We need new professions or richer friends.  No, what we need, what I need, perhaps, are fewer choices.

This is the part in the blog where I draw some conclusion.  I have no idea what I’m going to say next. Let’s start with the last sentence of the previous paragraph.  Do I want fewer choices, really? No, but I would like to be able to distinguish those choices that are most crucial to my work and the goals I have for my work.  I don’t want to be seduced (and I think I’m very much in danger of that) into thinking that the more I spend the more successful my book will be.  I think that’s bullshit; it leads to nothing but wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and spending of money.  The fact is, I believe, that people want to read good writing.  And if our writing is good–and it doesn’t have to be perfect–but if it is as good as we can make it, and we do what we can to share it, as Adam Dickson very thoughtfully commented on the last entry, with faith in our work, approaching our options with integrity, we will be successful.  Thank you, Adam, for that.

I’d like my next blog entry to be titled, Keep It Simple, Stupid: Don’t Spend A Bunch of Money.  We’ll see.

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Merry Christmas To Me: The Decision To Self Publish

I gave myself an early Christmas present. After years of agonizing over the issue, I have decided to do what I have always dreamed about doing, to become a published writer, to make books, to be read, to hold the thing in my hand, a language event between two covers, a physical manifestation in the world of my brain, suitable for sharing (of course, because not everything in my brain is suitable for sharing), and to do all of these things on my own terms, to self publish.

How did I arrive at this decision?  I emerged from an MFA Creative Writing program at the age of 32, way more than a decade ago, with a book in my pocket.  I had finished my first novel–a huge accomplishment, I felt, and it was a work for which I was immensely proud. And I was confident, I thought, that through my experience in this widely respected program, I had developed enough critical acumen not to delude myself about my novel’s worth or my skills as a fiction writer.  I was on fire.

Agent after agent after agent after agent after agent (you get the picture) read my novel in full and had really glowing, often specific things to say about how great my novel was–but at this time, they would say, for this and that and the other reason, we don’t feel that we would be the right agency for this book.  Somebody else, they would inevitably say, will feel differently.  And then agent after agent after agent after agent would say almost the exact same stuff.  With that novel, I had lots of positive feedback but no takers–and I even had what I would identify as two incredibly close calls–agents who would go so far as to request revisions and even talk to me on the phone–but even these close calls, even though they felt so much different and more hopeful than my other exchanges, resulted in the same outcome. I’m a busy guy.  I had work to do.  A limited amount of time to dedicate myself to further researching agents and writing letters and sending emails and making copies and running to the flipping post-office and waiting and waiting and waiting.  I figured at this rate I might get a book published by the time I was 60.  I gave up.

I wrote another novel.  It took me almost ten years, off and on, to finish it, but it felt good to be chipping away at a new thing, to be doing the thing I really wanted to do, that is, write, instead of floundering around in the cesspool of the agent search for a novel that was already a decade old.  And then, again, I found myself in the same situation.  Time to find an agent.  I tried a few of the agents who were most positive about my previous novel.  And again, I received specific, positive, sometimes glowing comments about my book with a big BUT at the end.  I decided to stop torturing myself.

You know, I just (mostly) want to share my writing with humans.  If I could make a living, or supplement my living as a teacher, with my writing, that would be fan-flipping-tastic.  But ultimately, it’s not about a big advance or book tours or a spot on Oprah’s list.  I just want to be able to say to a friend who might be interested in my creative work, yeah, here’s a thing I made and I’d be honored if you would read it.  Or, when speaking to strangers or new acquaintances who ask me what I do, I can say, of course, I’m a teacher, and a musician, and a father, but I can also say, hey, I’m a writer, and I’ve got a book or two and you can buy these things and take them home or put them on your kindle or your iPad.  There you go.

There has been, until recently I think, a kind of hairy eyeball directed at self-publishing by the literary community.  Somehow, putting yourself out there is vain, and your stuff, because it hasn’t been vetted by the literary machine in some way, is probably not very good.  But technology, the internet, has transformed that belief, I think, and given the conventional path to publishing quality work a run for its money. And technology notwithstanding, there’s an impressive historical tradition of great writers self-publishing: Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman off the top of my head.  So I’d be in pretty good company.  And, duh, haven’t musicians been doing this all along, since forever ago?  Haven’t I, as a musician, been doing this all along, since forever ago? Yes and yes.

So my Christmas present to myself is the permission to fulfill this dream, agents and publishing houses be damned, and my new year’s resolution is to publish a novel.  I’m tired of the agony part of being a writer.  After the pleasure but sometimes excruciatingly hard work of writing two novels over a 20 year period, I think its time to share a little bit of that with the world.

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