I should perhaps mention right off the bat that this is not a how-to essay. There will be no listing of “10 easy steps to self-publication” or “ways to coerce people to read your books”.
Though, of course, I sympathize with you, if that is what you are looking for. I have read a fair number of these articles myself.
I also learned how to design my own book covers, and my partner learned how to use the Kindle direct publishing software. He also proofed all my stuff with his inimitable eagle eye.
In other words, we have taken on much more of the publishing role than we ever thought would be required of us.
In essence, we have become our own de facto publishing house.
For many years, I could not imagine a scenario where I would be unable to find a conventional publisher. I am a journalist and writer, have always been a writer, and, it seems likely, will always be a writer. So I thought, a publisher—probably after much struggle and many, many attempts—would eventually materialize.
It may not be the easiest thing in the world, to publish a book. But, on the other hand, I have bookshelves full of books that did overcome that hurdle.
But, as we all know, the industry has changed. Traditional publishers have seen their revenues plummet. Bookstores have vanished from the face of the earth. Traditional publishers, as compared to Amazon, are like traditional network TV stations compared to Netflix, or traditional taxi companies compared to Uber. Limping along, certainly, but no longer where the action is.
I have had countless discussions with well-intentioned friends who have encouraged me to self publish. They saw the self-publishing trend as a chance to break free of the chains of traditional publishing. You don’t need anybody’s approval to self-publish! You can give yourself this approval! Plus, you don’t have to write what they think will sell! You will have complete creative freedom! And you don’t have to give the vast majority of your profits away!
As appealing as all of this might be, I did not quite see it that way. I did what many of you are doing, sending out queries and waiting for that acceptance letter that would mark my transition from aspiring fiction writer to legitimate author.
I have thought long and hard about why I felt so heartbroken about this rejection.
I think, finally, I have come up with some answers.
Writing is a strange art. You think you are writing about characters and plots and situations, and, of course, you are.
But you are also writing yourself.
Whatever you write is quite literally you—all that you are—translated onto the page.
The more proficiency you gain, the more transparent your writing becomes. And the more your readers can feel your deepest heart and soul.
Through your writing, readers can truly know you.
Some of the drive a writer feels is to be understood, to be known. Because, when you write a story, there is no disguising who you are.
I believe you are fooling yourself if you think it can be otherwise.
The truth is, you are betrayed by every word choice, every thought, every sentiment. If you are pandering, that will come across. If you are sincere, that will also come across.
In writing, there really is nowhere to hide.
It is a wonderful and humbling thing, to be truly known. And the relationship between a reader and writer can be extremely intimate, a true friendship or kinship.
But, then again, sometimes when you extend your hand in friendship, it is not accepted. Sometimes in return for your sincerity or vulnerability, you are treated very poorly.
An exposed heart is, of course, the kind that can be broken.
Oddly enough, this is not something I ever had much of a problem with in real life. I have extended my hand in friendship many times and often been rejected, for one reason or another. And, most of the time, I was quite happy to think, oh well, that relationship just didn’t materialize.
Not all of us are meant to be great friends, after all.
But with writing, for some reason, I never thought of it as a way to extend my hand in friendship. If I had, I think I would not have found any reason to delay.
Then again, no wonder I was confused on this point. All we ever hear about when it comes to writing are sales projections, rankings, bestseller lists and movie deals. We wonder if our stories are “good”, which usually means conforming to some trend or orthodoxy. We are not encouraged to think much about relationships or connections with our readers except in strictly transactional terms. I need more Twitter followers so they can buy my book, etc.
Yes, there are practical considerations in writing and publishing, as there always are. But to really connect through your work—that is the real wish and goal, I think, for most of us.
Last night, I published two books of short stories on Kindle. It was a quiet affair. My partner and I held hands, and pressed the publish button together.
I imagined that I was extending my hand in friendship to anybody who might find an affinity to my writing.
Now I no longer hope that my covers will be universally eye-catching. I hope instead that they are representative of the book’s tone. That a reader might think, hmmm, that’s intriguing, that speaks to me. Maybe I will find a true connection here.
I am suspicious now of these tiresome competitive constructs, these zero-sum games that pit writers and artists, one against the other.
Fellow writers, brothers and sisters, you are not my competitors.
You are my fellow travelers.
I thank you for your books, for your explorations, for the hearts and souls you have committed to the page.
May you also find your reader friends.