Purist Blathering from the Upstairs Kids, Meh...
Ah, here again this way something pretentious comes...the last couple of days, I've seen at least one rant and one reasoned rebuttal (I think), about the evil that pervades the literary world, that terrible, scabrous plague from the pits of "scum and villainry..." (sorry to Mos Eisley residents)...that terrible, terrible beast called...wait for it...
SELF-PUBLISHING! (Insert favored "Holy [Oath]" here)
I won't say who this person was, but a certain author went off in a certain online publication recently about horrid, vulgar things being done to literary community, the English language, and all of Western Civilization by those people who DARE, DARE they say, to put their books out without a "traditional," "brick and mortar," "(whatever the fuck you call them)" agency.
There followed a rebuttal by an author named Adam Dreece (go look for him after you read this). Adam is in the same boat I, and so many are in, and I want to push this more toward what us authors are dealing with, and to see if we can figure some damn way of getting agents and those big-time publishers to get a look at us.
This is the deal here: that author who sniffed and snorted about the "vanity press," and those people who are ruining the fun in the sandbox for him/her(?) and like-contracted buddies, hang the fuck on!
I am pretty sure you were NOT born with the book contract in your tiny little hands when you came out of the womb. And hey, I don't begrudge you one thing you've got: contract, books in stores, signings, adoring fans, and likely a Twitter account with a following the size of all the Mirconesian Islands combined...good for you!
You likely worked your ass off on your writing, had a modicum of talent and imagination, and you made it work. I am not jealous one bit, not at all. I'd bet my work up against yours might have a struggle in a one-on-one match, but if I may say, it might hold its own. I certainly feel it would, but my attitude's biased.
You, gentle author, were once like me. And like so many of my friends.
I may go off on a rant here, and sorry if I do, but there's a bunch of points to make, and those come from my perspective.
It is true, there are a lot of self-published books out there. There are books about every subject, every genre. There's fan fiction, interpretations of scriptural texts, madhouse conspiracy theories, expansive stories about stuff that only exists in the author's mind...I could go on.
But, guess what? The world has changed.
I'm gonna give you benefit of my experience, and where I am...while we're at it, while we may pound our keyboards in anger, call that established author all kinds of nasty names, there's a small point to be made amidst all the complaining.
Here's what I'm talking about, and let's see if you and I can figure this business together.
I'm that guy in the coffee shop; the one with the laptop, hammering away my keyboard for hours on end, sucking down gallons of coffee, smoking one cig after another (not anymore for me), pretending I'm Ernest Hemingway and downing shots of whiskey (never liked it much) as I go. Sometimes I write like a maniac, ideas coming to my head as fast as this blog goes. Other times? I write not one bit, and let a story burn in my brain for months, while I script out character sketches, outlines, time tables. I interview my characters, I talk with them, find out what drives them, makes them act like they do.
I am that person writing on his/her work break, pounding out a few jotted down ideas before I have to actually do what plays the fucking bills. I'm looking after my kids, taking them to school, to sports, to the doctor. I'm trying to be a good spouse, and do all the shit I don't feel like doing when I get home, but I do it.
I'm struggling with depression/bipolar disorder/anxiety/OCD/ADD/ADHD or some fucking health problem that is not enough to put my ass on disability (and I wouldn't do it anyway, because of that pride thing).
I'm trying not to kill someone/myself...I'm trying to figure all this out w/o benefit of a psychiatrist because my (lack of) insurance don't pay for that.
I'm broke as fuck, got more money than I know what the fuck I'm doing with it, or at least paying the bills, so it's all good.
I live in a row house, a trailer home, an apartment, on my best friend's couch, in my significant other's home, in my parents' basement, in the room I grew up in as a child, or maybe a fucking mansion. Maybe I'm homeless, who knows?
Still with me? Good.
I've got 20 books written, 200 story ideas, 500 poems, who knows how many short pieces, and a lot of ideas.
I am, "all this and nothing more."
We're fucking authors. Every fucking one of us.
If you write a chapter a day like I try to do, you are a writer...or an author.
If you spend hours thinking over that storyline, and what is really going on, and you know the direction it is going, you are writing.
If you are watching, listening, and viewing the people around you for ideas, or something hits you and you think, "Hey, I can use that. I can develop that into something." You are writing.
Okay...now that part is done. Let's move to this thing...
In 2013, I finally (after lots of arm-twisting) realized that a literary agent I was working with could not get me a deal for the creative thing I'd started six years before, "The Sweet Dreams Series." Just wasn't gonna happen. I'd been writing more the whole time, and in the end I realized, my style had changed. It was not ready.
Okay...so here's what happened. "Parasite Girls" became my first release, but before all that...so much more to do.
And this is where authors get tripped up, hard!
This is a hard and fast rule with me: YOU NEED TO GET A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR/PROOFREADER. NO EXCEPTIONS.
I did some work in the past year for a company that does book reviews. Pay to play, which I'm gonna talk about later. My task was to write a short review of the assignments tasked to me. Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down.
Only one of those few assignments made the cut. Why? No proofreading/No editing.
Painfully obvious. I've been working in journalism for years, where words are at a premium, and you have to get 'em right and make 'em count.
I read good ideas that were destined for the slush pile from the first page, because they were not edited or proofed. I saw the massacre of the English language and grammar. I experienced the idea that had so many facets and details the whole premise was lost. I saw a 400-page manuscript based on an actual event (highly romanticized, but still a good idea) rendered useless, because it was too fucking long. Half of it easily could have been slashed and burned.
You need that editor, that proofer. You need an unbiased view from someone who knows their way around the language, folks. You need to get the smackdown. You need a literary version of Gordon Ramsey/Simon Cowell/Hunter Thompson to smash you into the fucking ground.
Then you go back, edit, fix, repeat. You don't quit. That's all.
Now, I'm gonna warn you...there are pay to play, fly by night publishers that will fuck you. Agents will do the same thing. One simple rule:
NEVER GIVE A PUBLISHER OR AN AGENT MONEY TO READ YOUR STUFF. EVER. PROMISES OF A PUBLISHING DEAL ARE FALSE, IF YOU ARE CALLED UPON TO PUT UP YOUR OWN MONEY.
NO self-respecting agent will take money. NO legit publisher will take money. If they want money, RUN!
I hear people pimp out about certain pay for play publishers, and I ignore them. I don't know too many people that can lose money, not like that.
Next comes the legwork.
You do have to hustle. I did "Parasite Girls" through Createspace/Amazon, because it turned out to be the best way to get into print as a starter. I paid nothing...they wanted to charge me $400 for a cheap, knockoff cover.
NO FUCKING WAY.
The cover artist for "Parasite Girls" and my second, "A Moment in the Sun," is Mitch Bentley, of Atomic Fly Productions. Great guy, brilliant work, and a good friend.
If you do not have the skills, find an artist who will make the vision big from your story. Do your own deal. The cost likely won't be that much.
You must remember: you are like an independent record label, one a band sets up when they cut their own record and sell it on Bandcamp, or CD Baby or iTunes. That principle is the same.
How about the indie publishers? You have to look, you have to check them out. You have to submit. You have to take that chance.
"A Moment in the Sun" is put out by Sunbury Press Books. I did a book signing (go find those, too) with Robert Walton a couple years back, and he put me onto the owner of Sunbury, Larry Knorr. I got an offer for this one.
We will also put out my next book, "Live from the Cafe," in 2017. And...that long-sought "Sweet Dreams Series" may start in '18.
Now, sure...this ain't paying the bills. This is like being the opening act on a six-act bill in some underground bar, and you're lucky you get a free round of beer and gas money. But you pay your dues, and you do it because you love it.
Aim higher. I am.
I see my work improving, getting better, and eventually attaining the status of that unnamed author person up top. A bigger deal, a better one? A real agent? Open doors to graphic novels, films, other stuff?
This is why we go there...how far can we go?
Hunt for that agent, use "Writer's Market" or whatever you choose, and go looking. Make sure your query or cover letter is the best it can be (that's the worst and most difficult thing for me to write, believe me!), but you do it.
Don't worry about those people already there, or complaining that their club is being invaded by Visigoths of the Written Word, grubby hipsters, feminists, gamers turned authors, or crazy old geezers like me.
There's plenty of room in the club, but we just gotta prove it first.
If you get the big deal, cool. If not, it will arrive in its own way. The smaller steps are best because you find out what you've got, and whether it works or not.
Ignore the bullshit, and remember that they were once where we are now. They just forgot, or they got a pass.
We do it our way, and "straight on till morning."