Adventures in Self-Publishing

When I wrote my first novel, Love Like A Dog, I entered into new territory. For anyone who has considered self-publishing, read the tips and insights here.

At least one Barnes & Noble does not hate independently published Writers:

Out of the blue, I get a call from he Community Relations person at Barnes & Noble in Arlington Heights. Now, I move in a different movie; I am in Peter Pan, and I can fly, dreams are real. The person, named Jamie, is Tinkerbell, my best magical friend. She wants to place my book, even if it’s independently published, my God! But the ISBN, which CreateSpace gave me needs to be on record in the computer system. And it will not be, until my Expanded Distribution Network is set up. And CreateSpace cannot make that happen for 6-8 weeks after the pdf proof is approved (which is when my book is actually a physical book, which is supposed to happen any day now. What this means is that even when the book is published, no bookstore can get it on their system for 6-8 weeks. Be forewarned, unlike me.

What I learned from the Community Relations person at Barnes & Noble is that the world is, and always will be, composed of individuals. And some of the most gracious ones even work for Evil Empire Chain bookstores, and do they best to overturn obstacles, welcome writers, and stock books. As long as you have a “book return” policy. Which CreateSpace doesn’t. They are a print on demand site; what would they do with returned books? How did I not figure this out from the beginning? Even when my ISBN is finally recorded, I cannot reach bookstores without special exceptions being made. I feel like a fool.

Maybe I can register LOVE LIKE A DOG online at BN.com.

CreateSpace’s stance on Bookstores

Right now, the mostly lovely people on my accounts management team do not understand my frustration at being unable to penetrate bookstores. “CreateSpace’s position is that we encourage you to think beyond the bookstore. Brick and mortar stores have limited shelf space. And as a self-published author you do not have any guarantees. Only one out of every seven book buyers goes into a store. Most buy online.”

I have read somewhere recently that only one out of every ten books published today will be fiction. Forget literary fiction. Fiction is in big, big trouble. If Einstein were alive, maybe he could remind people that: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” But he is dead. And all the numbers are against you.

Oy Ver Permissions! (or: People in Permissions Plod & Plod)

First it was Facebook; now we need Twitter to get out messages fast enough.  My friend’s kids call the tiny wheel that spins when your computer is uploading: “the wheel of death.”  Wait time is hell.

But people in the Permissions business do not live in our same world.  They labor in Manhattan’s oldest buildings, buildings with index card size windows, holed up behind graffiti-scratched wood desks, in rooms with poor ventilation.  They nestle behind stacks of requests for lyric or text excerpts. These people have rheumy eyes, bad posture, poor eating habits and travel by horse and buggy.   They do not work the Internet.

How else can one explain why, four months after I’ve hired a permissions freelancer (another expense) who filed a request to use eight words of lyrics: Jumping Jack Flash it’s a gas, gas, gas…” do I not yet have any response from permission?  My new theory is that, contrary to their stated moral position, permissions people are not in the business of saving artists but of starving artists by taking so damn long to give rights, therefore money, to their work.  Meantime, they hold up any and all new book publications.  This turns writers into individualist a-holes; why excerpt any other artists’ words when cost tons of money and time?

Factoid: You’d have to be Mother Teresa nowadays to include excerpts of others’ work.

Update: A month later (5 months total), I am given permission to print those 8 words for $210.  Someone responds; “that’s cheap!”

An Argument Against Self-Publishing: the Authors Guild Bulletin, Spring 2010)

Meanwhile writers cluster together to henpeck any changes in publishing.  My instinct is to blame the slothful permissions people, the terrified publishers, the gated bookstores, but writers are turning stingier, instant by instant, scrabbling over loose straws.   The inarguable fact is: the music, TV, radio and film industries have completely revolutionized in the last decade.  So why do writers believe publishing houses should remain unchanging verities, even as there are fewer and fewer publishing houses, all of them with shrinking staffs and budgets.  Keep that make-up on, baby, and no one will notice you’re getting older!  What???

I am a proud member The Authors Guild.  But recent viewpoints of publishers, agents & writers, at an Authors Guild roundtable turn my stomach:

Audience: …As publishers, what can you really do for us as authors?

John Sargent:… actually, the more clutter is out there, the more we actually do for you….If you have a world where there are no barriers to entry to publishing a book… — I, as an author can put my book up directly… – there’s a huge amount of what…technology guys call signal vs. noise, right?  We’re in a world full of noise and all we want is a signal….Our job… has always been to look at a vast supply of manuscripts and figure out which ones are salable or worthy.…

Susan Cheever: The goal for a writer, at least for me, is not to get the book published; it’s to get people to read it.  It’s becoming easier and easier to get a book published…

Jan Friedman: That’s… right. ….We’ve been cutting through the clutter forever, but now there’s even more clutter because there are so many people publishing their own books. ….last year there were more titles self-published than were produced by traditional publishers…. it’s.. going to be about marketing…

Next, the Reality TV show “Hoarders,” will be replaced by dramatic Reality Scenes of “Incredible Self-Published Author Clutter.”   The high drama will highlight SP authors laughing at the desert basin of a recently dessicated East River.  This precious old waterway will have lost its waters to the porous pages of truckloads of overstocked S-P books desperately being tossed from the bridges of a once proud literary Manhattan.  Ports and sidewalks have become un-navigable.  Forget BP, forget 9/11: SP Authors are the Ultimate Destroyers.

There’s a right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment to all this; “Those new arrivals are taking away our history of promised jobs!”

The roundtable group’s mentality is; anything we haven’t vetted is clutter.   Let me share a memory.  In NYC, years ago, my girlfriends & I religiously went out dancing.  We’d approach a club, like CBGB’s, where a crowd huddled outside hours, with no promise of getting in.  People who arrived in limos were let in immediately.  And so were we, young girls in short skirts, juicy fresh meat.  We were vetted.

It takes hubris to declare you own the magic wand that separates value from clutter for the world.  The over-packaging of our lives has created the slow food movement and the growth of small organic farms. Does anyone think the food is poorer at Farmer’s Markets BECAUSE it is locally made with less packaging?  No.  The overdetermined, even frightening, hospital business is taken to task in Ricki Lane’s documentary “The Business of Being Born.”   Women can opt out of the Big Hospital House to fulfill a private Self-Directed home birth. Going your own way is neither bad morally nor an inferior choice.

Read the history of stupid publishing choices and outrageous rejections to know that publishers are not saviors.   Like everyone else, they are good sometimes.

The RH editor who tried to buy my book, but was denied by higher-ups, is the same editor who tried to buy what became a favorite best-selling novel Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen.  Chiefs at RH said “no” not because their magic wand was better; it was just bigger.

I say beware of false prophets.   And the writers who believe them like cult followers.

How To Degrade Any Writer

Publishers and authors know how many writers suffer deep-seated fears and insecurity in regards to their work. I, like many others before me, invent a place peopled with characters I must grow to trust more than life itself as I write. Steering them on the crazy ship of imagination. But for all humans, much of what we trust is invisible, trust is a wing and a prayer, a faith that you will walk and talk for at least this day; that your soul’s instinct is a voice to listen to; that the love of another for you actually exists. Life is a huge guessing game. Frail tottering.

When any publisher says; “Without me you won’t know who you are,” it is easy to believe this. Because it’s hard to know anything for certain. Many, many, many of us want to be told what to do and how to do it. We want to be wanted a lot. We want to be saved from pain or trouble. But the truth is, if I can’t begin to save myself who can possibly help? I trust that I should write because without that trust I can’t write very well for very long at all. It doesn’t help when outsiders start swinging their wands around like nun-chucks. Let’s say publishers reject one thousand books for each book they accept is that proof-positive that 999 writers suck?