04 June 2011

2011 WRITING PERSPECTIVE A Whole Six Months Later (You've gotta be slightly stupid.)

I have a book out there.

It's on Amazon.com and B&N.com and the Apple iBook store.

I'd call it an indie book, but some writers don't want to let go of that term just yet. Small press writers mostly, it seems. They consider themselves 'indie' even though there's nothing independent about their own publication process. They've been edited and had covers created for them. Most didn't have a hand in any of their own distribution or marketing. The only thing indie about them is the number of books they've sold.

My book is self-published.

I published it myself. I built my cover from scratch. I formatted the book myself. Sent my book to readers and discussed changes and edits with them. I secured a few blurbs from some good friends who were willing to help a guy out. I sent review requests and .PDFs to hundreds of bloggers and reviewers. I've engaged hundreds, if not thousands of readers on Twitter, blogs and blog collectives.

I am an indie author.

I published my book myself.

Over the last ten years I've spent thousands of hours writing queries and synopses, researching agents and publishers, small and large, attending conferences and conventions, pitching, networking, working on my writing degree, writing and submitting short stories and non-fiction articles to magazines and newspapers.

Snooki didn't do any of that, and Snooki has been published. Snooki is not a writer. Snooki, no doubt, has sold a few books.

I am prepared to defend my right to publish the way I want.

Why do so many writers hate the idea of self-publishing? I didn't cheat to get my book out there. I didn't lie to or sleep with an editor. I sat down at my laptop and wrote the hell out of it.

Why does the way I decide to pursue happiness even matter to you at all?

Maybe it's because people are reading me. Maybe it's because I'm spending more time working on my fiction than I am writing queries. Maybe it's because I'm interacting with readers on a daily basis instead of waiting for the rejection that comes every 3 months. Maybe it's because I've learned more in the last six months than I have in the last ten years about the industry and readers. Maybe it's because I am having fun and am rewarded for my writing on a daily basis. I sure don't know where that attitude comes from, but I've seen it enough to know it exists.

I have readers. A few. But I've learned more from a few readers than I ever did from an agent, and I've earned and cherish every contact I've made. There is a small, but growing, group of people who know my characters and my plot, who feel like they've been to the places I've written about. And I have a few people who can't wait for my next book.

Now for the stupid part.

If you get a chance, read my earlier writing perspective to compare to this one. I start the post by talking about Joe Strummer's band before The Clash and the independent nature of those early gigs. You see, I kind of admire Joe Strummer for doing it on his own terms. I like the way he stood for what he stood for without making apologies. He was a regular guy, just like me. When I started writing I always had a bit of an inferiority complex because I wasn't an English or Creative Writing major. I got over that complex by doing what Joe did--playing to my own strengths.

It was Joe Strummer that said to make it in the music business, “You've gotta be slightly stupid.”

Publishing my own book may have been the stupidest thing I've ever done. Throwing a potential writing career down the tubes to do it on my own terms? Please. When you put it like that it does come off as pretty stupid. But I'd do it all again tomorrow in a heartbeat.

How do I know I did the right thing?

A few months ago I posted a link to some Clash bootlegs, hoping to establish the tone of my blog and get some good energy out there. This morning I woke up to a new comment on that post. A photographer who'd been backstage at a few of the Clash Bond's Casino shows left a link to photos he'd taking during the set and after. I clicked the link, and there was Joe, looking back over his shoulder at me from 31 years ago this week. I got goose bumps. Like Joe had somehow reached through time and space to give me a slight nod of approval.

Something I had put into the universe elicited that response.

That's how I know I am doing the right thing.

I am writing my future. I am not going to let it be written for me.




  1. Funny ... just posted the message below in comments on my website, in answer to yours. Figured I'd post it here too. It's seem appropriate.

    Thanks for the plug, the link & the props! Keep beein' "slightly stupid"! We all should!

    "Jason … sometimes it’s hard to hear the voice of sanity & reason (read the Universe) over the chaotic cacophony of daily life. We have so many things vying for our attention. I’m happy to hear Joe “spoke” to you thorough one of my photos & assisted you in redirecting your energy & focus. He’s always had that effect … on so many people. Even now.

    Thanks again for the accolades. The book idea seems to be taking on a life of its own. Now it’s about trying to get it done in tandem with the chaos of my own life. Ruminating. Ruminating.

    I’m glad I “met” you too. Keep writing. Keep plugging. Do what makes you happy."

  2. I guess some people just don't want to let go of the myth that writers are supposed to be perpetually struggling and unhappy. It's like being a musician who finds success and is immediately decried as a sellout: as soon as a writer finds a path which makes him or her happy, everyone piles on with their own reasons as to why it was a stupid move. I still have plenty of my own bad days, but I refuse to regret doing something that gets my work in front of readers and allows me to focus on writing the next book rather than the next query letter. Writing is an art, but being a writer is a business. And to anyone who has found a path that satisfies both of those faces of creativity, I say: more power to you.

  3. You hit it right on the nose when you referred to the time spent writing vs. the time spent pitching, querying, etc. I spent hours and hours this week putting out 4 queries due to formatting problems and printer problems...and I'm itching to start my next book. I'd self-publish if I were more confident about the process. I've attended a couple of your workshops--any suggestions for self-publishing wannabes? Maybe you could offer a workshop at the next Pennwriters Conf. Thanks for this post!

  4. Time is the commodity. Time is what we're all fighting to get more of. As a writer I've wasted a lot of it heading down unproductive paths--querying, pitching, bashing published writers, etc.. It's difficult to realize that time wasn't wasted if it helped me arrive as this juncture of my career where I have the confidence to sidestep the all-holy 'process.'

    There's no mistake I admire musicians. There's a freedom that comes with making music that we, as writers, didn't have available to us until very recently. Musicians put their work out there--letting fans decide if it's epic or forgettable. Writers have never had this luxury until recently.

    These are the kinds of questions I kept asking myself:

    How could I ever find an audience if my work wasn't ever being read?

    How can I ever make a name for myself if editors won't touch no-name writers?

    Why, if writing is my passion, must I spend so much time doing so much that has nothing to do with writing?

    Some writers hate this approach and this attitude. It's bucks the system and a lot of writers like to think of themselves as deviant. But they're afraid if the step away from legacy publishing they'll be branded with a scarlet letter. When it comes down to failing in front of gatekeepers and failing in front of readers, they'll take the gatekeeper because there's an assumed legitimacy with gatekeepers. And most are legit. But some small press editors have the same degree that I have, and the same, or less writing experience. This is a gatekeeper. Or how about the editor at a well-known magazine who started in the mail room. I don't want my doctor to have started in the mail room. Or what about the many, many agents who became agents to get their OWN book published? There are a lot of those out there. What's the requirement for being an agent? Must love to read? A degree in a writing-related field?

    I could become an agent tomorrow with LESS experience than it will have taken me to get a novel published. I have MET agents who entered the biz with bachelors degrees. Greener than Kermit the Frog. This IS NOT a person I want handling my book. I don't get the unabashed gatekeeper love from some writers.

    But we, as writers, lie for a living. Some writers have gotten really good at lying to themselves if they think they are the next Robert B. Parker or Joe Hill. The world simply isn't big for authors who won't ever sell out their advances when there are Snookis and Lauren Conrads and Nicole Richies out there who will sell books.