What does the future hold?
Next Friday’s entry will be a rebuttal to this post from my good friend Brandon R. Schrand in the form of an excerpt from his soon-to-be-published second memoir, Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem, Misbehavior & and How a Good Book Can Save Your Life; Or, an Anti-Kindle Memoir
But without further ado…
As I sit poised on the brink of what I believe to be the completion of my first novel (of course, that assumption could be my first problem), I am faced with a dilemma that has multiple sides to it, ranging from my opinions as a writer to my opinions as a reader. That dilemma is whether or not to e-publish my book.
Aaaahhh! Booo! Hisssss! Thppt! (picture Bill the Cat for that last one. And if you don’t know who Bill the Cat is, stop reading this and go pick up a book of Bloom County)
Anyway, I know that’s going to be many of your first reactions to my question (while I would hope that many of you might be thrilled that after almost seven years of hearing about it, you might actually get to read my book). Before I go much further, let me tell you how I reached this point.
As many of you know, for the past seven years, I have been working with a pretty reputable literary agent. In fact, when I attended the Maui Writer’s Retreat and Conference in 2003, of the many agents featured there, she was my top choice. The work and time and treatment she gave to an unknown author has been invaluable. Even today, though we’re not working together anymore, when I send her an email asking for her opinion on something, I will always hear back from her within one or two days. Anyone who has dealt with an agent knows how impressive this is.
not working together anymore?
Correct. The bad news came right around Thanksgiving of last year when she told me that she wouldn’t be taking on any new horror projects. There’s more to it, but I won’t bore you with the details (unless you ask me directly). There are also reasons why it’s probably better that I move on, but we can talk about that in more depth later, too, if any of you want. More importantly, the end result was that after seven years of believing I had an avenue for publication and a proven successful person with connections to do the footwork for me so I could just focus on my art, I was back to square one. Well, not quite back to square one. She gave me a good recommendation for a new agent (and permission to name drop). But more importantly, after seven years, I also had a novel that was worlds better than the first draft, written in a little over 30 days.
But it still felt like a pretty good kick in the crotch.
I had been keeping an eye on the e-publishing market for a couple of years, but I always figured my agent would handle that side of things. Now, sans agent, why wouldn’t I at least try to move forward on my own?
Now my writer friends will be quick to cite numerous examples of famous authors who went through dozens of rejections before finding success. I’m very aware of these instances, but really, comparing these two situations is like comparing apples to oranges. Let me give you an analogy to try to relate where I am.
You really love cars. You love how they drive and the feel of freedom you get when you’re on that long stretch of highway purring along comfortably at 80 mph when it just feels like 45. You don’t necessarily know how the car is built, nor do you really care to go through all the work to produce one (this is a pretty convoluted metaphor, so I hope you can keep up). For your 16th birthday, for your first car you are given… well, I don’t know that much about cars, so let’s say a Mercedes. Or a BMW. Or a Lexus. After having a good while to drive this luxury automobile, someone shows up and takes it from you and says, “Okay, now go get a minimum wage job that will maybe get you a Geo Metro.”
“Or you can try and build one yourself.”
I’m the first to admit that I was very fortunate in getting my top choice for an agent on my first outing into the market, but can you see how hard it is to start over after that? So while I’m working on finding another agent, I’m also considering “building one myself.”
Still, given all that, I recognize that this might be blasphemy to some of you. To an extent, it is to me as well. I feel just a little dirty, kind of like when I buy a Christmas present from Wal-mart. I love books. I love to hold them, turn the pages, fall asleep with them, and peruse them on bookshelves in other people’s homes. And it gives me hope for the future when I see my 16 month old daughter sitting by herself, turning the pages of her favorite books. Personally, I don’t own any sort of e-reading device and don’t anticipate getting one in the near future. But for me, it’s not entirely a moral objection, even as a writer. Whatever gets the word out to people, gets people to actually read more, I’m all for it. It’s just not really that practical or preferable for me.
But I’ve always been a holdout for new technology. While it was a pretty smooth transition for me from records to cassettes, I’ve resisted almost every other change in music technology. Much as I love my iPod now, I probably still wouldn’t have one if I didn’t one as a gift five years ago.
But I digress. I was saying that it will probably be quite awhile before I ever own a Kindle or Nook or any other sort of e-reading device, but it’s not entirely for moral reasons. And I’ve been surprised by how many dyed-in-the-wool book fans have crossed over. And again I wonder, is a device that keeps people reading, or even reading more (including reading more books by amazing authors who have yet to find a mainstream publisher… ahem…) necessarily a bad thing? As writers and/or avid readers, are we supposed to hate this medium simply because it’s not printed on paper?
(Another point of discussion which I won’t go into here, but which is interesting to me, deals with the relative longevity of the written word versus recorded popular music when it comes to the resistance to a change in presentation format.)
What is undeniable is that the numbers are there for this method of publication. And I’ll be honest with you, while I have an occupation right now which puts food on my table, I’ve been a starving artist for long enough, I think. But it’s not the money for which I’m hungry. Well, it would certainly be nice to get paid for my art, but that’s not the main drive. What I want is to see my work, my words, out there in the world. And yes, I want to know if a stranger would put down a few bucks to read my book based on the recommendation of a friend or acquaintance.
If you read my introductory post (“Why do I like to write horror stories?”) you know that I write because I don’t have a choice. I’m not happy when I’m not writing; it’s as simple as that. But I also write because I am a storyteller. I want to entertain people. I want people to talk about the stories I tell. Have I paid my dues as an artist to deserve that? I don’t know. But I know that I’ve worked for it. Is it cheating a little to self-publish? Probably, but I also have to do all my own marketing if I want to succeed, which is looking to be almost a full time job itself. Are Thoreau, Hemingway, Hawthorne, Dickens and Dickenson turning over in their grave so fast they could be generating electricity? Most likely, but they should take comfort in the fact that many readers (myself included) are still carrying a torch for the old pen and parchment version of storytelling… oh wait a minute. Guess we don’t tell stories that way anymore, either.
What do I want from you?
So what are your thoughts? Are you a reader? Books only? Have you converted? Has Guy Montag already been born? (see: Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451.) I look forward to hearing your opinions.
And don’t forget to check back next Friday to read the excerpt from Brandon Schrand’s upcoming second memoir, Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem, Misbehavior & and How a Good Book Can Save Your Life; Or, an Anti-Kindle Memoir