Monday, July 22, 2013

Why I Self-Publish

I'm not what you would call a one-trick pony.  I do many things.  I've written stories and one-and-one-quarter novels.  I've written plays and teleplays and radio plays and sketches and songs and light verse and hundreds (most of them now archived) blog posts.  I also act and have acted on stage and in videos and for audio, as well.  I've also had the chance to direct on a couple of occasions and have edited video and audio pieces.  I've done foley work, I've been a stage manager and prop master on many occasions.  And I've done all of this, I can safely say, with more than a dollop of competence.  In fact, in all these matters, I would say that I have done well--sometimes extremely well--with far more success than failure.

There's no way around it; I am a talented man.

And yet there is one area where any smidgeon of talent has always eluded me.  I stink at marketing and sales.

The standard in the publishing biz these days is for agents to act as a go-between for authors and publishers, especially when it comes to books.  (Although more-and-more magazines won't seriously look at anything that isn't agent-submitted.)  So the first task for any author who wants to grasp at the chance to earn at least part of his or her living from writing is often to sell oneself and one's work to an agent or a friendly magazine, and my achievements in this area are pitiful at best.

I have tried over the years, especially with the book I have just self-published, Michael Drayton, Detective Guy (available in hardcover, paperback, for Kindle, and for Nook).  I submitted the manuscript to a couple of dozen agents and even one or two publishers without getting the merest nibble.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Bupkiss.

Now, there are some reasons for that.  Agents get a lot of submissions (almost everyone thinks they have a book in them and bullshit like NaNoWriMo just encourages more witless dingdongs [who greatly outnumber the genuine writers] to muddy up the channels with more useless shit), and they tend to use certain criteria as what they delude themselves into thinking is an objective system that they can use to weed out the manuscripts that are "marketable" from those that aren't.  One of these is assigning arbitrary length requirements for novels in different genres.  For example, Drayton, even though it's not really a detective novel, is a detective novel and is supposed to come in at about 70,000 words.  It really comes in at about 50,000, and I'm sure its length gets it immediately rejected more often than not.  Also, agents, just like the producers of big-budget action movies, prefer formulaic and heavy-handed plotting over subtler kinds of storytelling, and they commonly convince themselves that the by-the-numbers plotline they're looking at is "original" if the main character has a raccoon for a pet or wears an eyepatch and a Tattersall vest.  (I actually had an agent, who rejected Drayton when I was peddling it as a much sillier teleplay, tell me that the project he was actually interested in was about a man who solves mysteries with his young grandchildren.  How do they think up this stuff?!)

There was one agent whose form rejection said something about the prose being lacking, and if she actually thought the prose in Drayton was subpar, then she is a knothead who knows nothing about writing.  She should retire and let her place be taken by a more discerning reader, say a hat rack or a credenza.  The prose in Drayton is strong and supple and poetic.  It took years to burnish it, and I won't let that many years of determined effort be tossed aside that way.  If there is a hell, let her fry in it.

Also, I am an autodidact and have taught myself how to do dozens of things.  I taught myself how to swim and ride a bike, how to play guitar and piano and ukelele, and how to manipulate various computer programs to do my evil bidding.  My longest and most successful such project was teaching myself how to write.  I started when I was 14 and continue to learn and grow at 53.  But I never got a degree that signifies that I was societally approved to work as a the sort of tradesman known as a writer.  As a writer of serious intent, this functions as yet another disadvantage to me.

I could have gotten an MFA, I suppose, but I am philosophically opposed to them.  Writing--and this goes for the other arts, too--is not a mere profession, but a calling, and the acquisition of a certificate should be as meaningless to a true artist as a Masters in Baptism would have been to a certain prophet who plied his trade on the banks of the River Jordan.  Degrees are meant for dentists and actuaries, not writers.

But a collection of letters on a resume would have helped.  They help others, many of whom write not half as well as I do.  But that is not who I am.

After years and years of such disappointments, I had to admit to myself that the standard way cannot be my way.  "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid," Raymond Chandler said, and if that be my lot, I can accept that.  And the only way I can find to get my work in front of even a tiny public in an even mildly professional way is to self-publish.  And so, I do.

I self-publish not because I really want to, but because I must.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Not Novel, Novella

Thanks to an essay on by Ian McEwan (a gifted writer whose name, along that of the actor Ewan McGregor, has inspired a character name I hope to use some day, "Ewan Meehan"), I have decided to admit something to myself.  Michael Drayton, Detective Guy (a title I had abandoned in favor of Dead in His Tracks--more dishonesty) is not a novel, but a novella.

There.  I've said it.  It's a novella.  A long novella, but a novella nonetheless.

Despite being able to trick out the word count due to publishing conventions to 62,000 words, it's actual word count is actually just over 50,000.  There's some controversy (isn't there always) about where the novel begins and the novella leaves off, but there can be no doubt that Drayton at best straddles that line.  In fact, while preparing it to possibly self-publish sometime in the new year, I found out that it only made for a 157-page trade paperback edition, which, while longer than my current collection of short stories, Looking for Christmas (available from, and, is still not a particularly lengthy tome.

Of course, in terms of the publishing establishment, this is just another strike against it.  Drayton is a hard-boiled mystery that isn't really a hard-boiled mystery, but a kind of metaprepostmodern take on the hard-boiled form and particularly on the fiction of Raymond Chandler.  It's short.  (They like mysteries to be at least 70,000 words in the concrete canyons of New York.)  The hero is nonviolent, although there is violence in the book.  There's only one corpse, and he shows up a couple of chapters in rather than at the top of page two.  I have a funny name that they can't easily pigeonhole.  It's unique and quirky and--I can say this from having read parts of it recently after more than a year away from it--utterly brilliant.

The language sparkles, the characters pop.  It takes on life in the world as it is lived rather than the fantasy world of the mystery genre.  It has themes that it considers seriously, even when it is being funny, and it is often funny.  It even reconsiders the themes of both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and thinks about such concepts as honor and duty and what it means for a man to have a personal code that he adheres to strictly.

And, on top of all that, it's a damn fine read.

And it is a novella.  There's no way of getting 'round it.  And, as Ian McEwan points out, that's something to be proud of.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Extry! Extry! Read Dead in His Tracks for Free!

You can go to the Next in the Series Lit Blog and read Dead in His Tracks as it is published, chapter-by-chapter, absolutely gratis! Support the Arts without spending a dime! Read my book!

This post sponsored by the National Endowment for the Promotion of the Exclamation Point!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Final Revision Complete

I finished going through the entire manuscript a couple of days ago and now have a PDF version available to well-wishers. There were problems with the e-pub version that will require different software to fix. We'll see what happens with that.

In the meantime, the true manuscript, which has been cleansed of typos and unnecessary sitcom-type jokes, is being marketed. The waiting is no fun, but what dlse is there to do?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It Never Ends

I've been busy over the last couple of weeks in converting the Dead in His Tracks manuscript into a form that would be readable on e-readers and using the opportunity to correct errors as I came across them. I had actually just copied and pasted the first several chapters in an effort to make time, but then started reading through each one mostly to catch typos. It finally occurred to me last night that I should go back to the beginning and proof it from page 1.

Chapter 1 was in better shape than I had feared, and most of the corrections I made were just that: corrections. This was good. This was heartening. And then I got to Chapter 2.

Chapter 2, it turned out, was still weighed down with too much jokiness and cleverness and asides. I've started fixing it. Submissions will continue to roll off the assembly line while I do.

I can hardly wait for Chapter 3.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Plugging Along

Dead in His Tracks has now been rejected by one agent and is awaiting the verdict of a second--one who seems to simply not reply if she doesn't like it, per the following stats:


But, those are the risks. She's on vacation, so the clock on her four-week evaluation period will start running on Monday.

I have to say that I don't quite get it. When you only take queries via email, why is it so difficult to send a form rejection once you decide you don't like something? Just as a courtesy. Just as I give her the courtesy of only querying one agent at a time (multiple submissions are done, but are frowned upon) and in following the limitations she sets out on her webpage. I know that she gets a lot of blind queries like mine, and that she will have a mountain to wade through come next week, but are those any reason not to have some standard text that you can copy and paste into a reply email? Maybe there's something that I don't understand here, and you can bet that I would gladly send her the entire manuscript if she requests it. It's obviously not a deal-breaker or an approach that makes me unwilling to submit. I just wonder why.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Now that it is done, now that Dead in His Tracks is having to fight its way in the marketplace, I have begun to question the wisdom of having written it at all. As I have progressed as a writer, as I have gone from thinking of myself as being a comic writer to thinking of myself as being a serious one, I have also come to question whether this project, conceived in humor and dedicated to the proposition that all things are created absurd, was the best jumping off point for my new incarnation.

Conceived, originally, in a spirit of parody, there are elements of the plot that strike me as being too constructed, too manufactured. It seems too mannered to me. It also occurred to me earlier today that it is harder to go from genre novel, in terms of sales, to general fiction than it is the other way around. The people who represent genre authors and the firms that publish their work want different things from a mystery than what I can give them. They cherish and defend the cliches that I wish to subvert.

Given all my feelings about this, Dead in His Tracks will probably become a #1 international bestseller and then a movie--most likely in 3-D--starring some pretty boy who can't act. Or....