I started writing this around 9:30 this morning but things crept up that prevented me from finishing it. For starters, if you tried to access the site any time today, you would’ve seen one of several possible screens, ranging from coded gibberish to an html error to a maintenance page saying we’d be back shortly. We can all thank my lovely web host, IX Web Hosting, for the ineptitude.
But that’s okay. We’re back now.
I’ve had this blog post rolling inside my head for a few days now. It surfaced during my reading of a book I received as a gift last month. It’s called How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. It’s a no-frills, no bullshit, well-written book that taps into something most how-to-write-and-be-successful books fail to mention: a necessary desire to do it yourself. It doesn’t frown upon self-publishing. It doesn’t say you need a degree. It doesn’t say you need an MFA or a journalism degree or anything of that nature. It encourages you to do the leg work to promote yourself, to get out there and resort to wearing a gorilla mask and pink tutu if that’s what it takes to get people to notice. It is, in a nutshell, a book on how to promote yourself whether you’ve got a six-figure advance or a stack of self-published magazines held together with glue, tape and staples. And Ariel Gore, the author, she does an excellent fucking job.
Whenever folks asked me to recommend a book “about writing,” I used to point them in the direction of Stephen King’s On Writing because it’s a valuable resource. I give King a lot of shit, but that’s only because he breaks so many of his own rules he sets forth in this book. Regardless of his latest work, it’s a great book that’ll teach you what determination can yield. It’s worth more for his memoir than his suggested work ethic, but as a whole it’ll still teach you something about writing.
Now I’ve got a new book to recommend. One that’s better than King’s and one that’ll show you how to do it. Ariel Gore isn’t making millions. She’s a single mom who struggles to pay her rent and utilities. She is her own publicist. This is the way it should be done. This is what a million “how to” books written on the subject fail to really talk about. I can’t gush about this one enough. If you have any desire to turn your writing into a career, read this book. It’s something I wish I’d had ten years ago when I first decided I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
(On a side note – Jesus, has it really been 10 years?)
One of the many things I love about this book is how it approaches the taboo subject of self-publishing. Most folks in the “traditional” industry will tell you not to do it, that it’s a dead end. that you won’t get anywhere. And about six months ago, I even said I wish I’d never done it. I said I wished I’d given ALT a chance with an agent with the hope that I could become a part of the traditional printing machine.
Today I’m retracting that wish. I’m glad I self-published. “But Todd,” you say, “didn’t you just submit your book to a publisher?” That’s right. I did. I don’t regret it either. If an agent or publisher called me up tomorrow and offered me a contract, I’d probably take the opportunity. I won’t lie – if you can get an agent, more power to you. It’ll save you a lot of work. At the same time, however, I think self-publishing should be necessary. It should be a natural part of a writer’s progression. I’ve learned more about the industry and the way it works than I think I ever would have if an agent, an editor, a publisher, or a publicist did this shit for me. I’ve done the research myself, I’ve kept up with the trends and the industry. I’ve become my own agent, editor, publisher and publicist, and I’m stronger for it. I used to have a friend several years ago who, after almost a decade of rejection, finally scored an agent. Our friendship fell apart not long after I first had the idea for ALT. She warned me not to do this, not to self-publish because it’s “not the thing to do.” After things went South and we stopped talking, I thought a lot about that conversation we’d had about ALT’s future. All those years she’d spent sending out those queries, facing rejection after rejection, losing hope, giving up, working on the next book, trying again and again and again. And then, finally, after she’d suffered enough beatings, they let her through the door. A publisher bought her book and, if I’m not mistaken, it should be hitting shelves very soon. If she reads this, well, I wish her the absolute best and I’m very happy for her. She deserves that.
I took a long, hard look at the years she struggled with that book. Could I do this? Could I sit back and wait for a faceless person in some office in New York to read my letter and maybe decide it sounds like something they could sell? I don’t know. I still don’t know. I do know that, when I majored in English, I decided that I’d be happy paying my dues working a day job until the break finally came. I knew that, going into this, I wouldn’t stand to make a fortune. Most folks do. I didn’t. It’s no secret I initially self-published ALT to raise money for my wedding. I ended up having to use that money to pay my bills. Time went by and I got married anyway. Over that course of time I grew up, I wised up, and I realized that exposure was worth more to me at this point in my career than money. I’m making an investment for the future. This is why I gave the book away for free. By registering myself as the book’s publisher, by putting it out there in stores available to anyone who wants it, whether they prefer to buy online or in person at a brick ‘n mortar store, I’ve increased the book’s exposure 100 fold. I did it without the help of an agent. I did it without the backing of a major publisher. The great thing about these times we’re living in is that I can write something tonight, edit it tomorrow, put it online shortly afterward and have it for sale by the weekend. There’s no middleman. And this is why I’m glad I self-published – because I don’t have to go through someone else to get to you. It’s just you and I and the writing that connects us. More power to my friend for struggling all those years before finally achieving her goal. I respect that. Personally, I wanted a more direct route. I found it and took it.
I realized that I wrote a book with a damn good message about taking control of your life and going after whatever it is that you want – and yet I failed to live that message myself. So when the book came out, my support was lacking. It was mostly fear and doubt. “No one’s going to care anyway,” I thought, and I believed that until last month when I saw the download stats. It blew my mind. Now, leading up to the next book, which will be about that fear and doubt, I’ve decided to make another go at it and do it right this time.
I’ve got things brewing right now. I won’t say what they are until they’re set in stone, when I can give you solid dates, but if they do happen it will be rather exciting.
You can all thank Ariel Gore for the kick in the ass I so rightfully needed.
And, in the meantime, you folks can go read her book.