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.