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.