Thursday, 31 May 2012

Why I'm choosing to self-publish

In late April of this year, two of my best friends and I walked into a franchise bookstore near the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station. While perusing the shelves there we happened through new teen fiction and the discussion of my recently-finished, unpublished novel inevitably came up; not because it would fit in that particular section, but because the sheer amount of unforgivable garbage available in hardcopy at premium retail prices made me want to put a fucking gun in my mouth.
Particularly offensive to us was the young adult masterpiece Modelland, by megastar diva Tyra Banks. I thumbed open the book jacket and I'd like to say that I got as far as the main character's name-- Tookie De La Crème (!!)-- before immediately leaving the store and finding a wild grizzly bear to feed myself to, but what actually happened is I read the entire synopsis. Surprising no one, it was a horror/fantasy novel written as a pitifully thin allegory for, what else, the modeling industry.

I wasn't sure quite what to make of this. For starters, I am pretty sure Tyra Banks cannot write worth a shit. Obviously this book was sold on the name alone. Secondly-- who, actually, is interested in what Tyra Banks has to say? I am also pretty sure that the people who fit that category are not the sort who read books.
Finally-- what was the goal here? Did Tyra feel like she was saying something really important and meaningful with this dross? The modeling industry is a corrupt and soulless machine that chews up bright-eyed young twits and spits out Vicodin-addicted ghouls, while simultaneously making normal, gorgeous women with a few spots and love handles feel completely inadequate about their bodies. This is something that anyone who's taken more than a cursory glance outside their own asshole could figure out. We don't need Tyra Fucking Banks publishing an honest to god, hardcover novel to tell us this.

This bookstore visit was the point where I realized I needed to publish. Not because I feel some arrogant self-affirmation that what I have to say with my writing is more important than Tyra Banks (though this is empirically true), but to prove to
myself that if the fucking Honey Badger guy has a real book, in print, for twenty dollars, then I can surely get me a piece of that.
This started the process of contacting various literary agents, an effort which to date has still proven fruitless. It was a combination of more bookstore visits, reading my purchases from those visits, and a pivotal conversation with my brother that led me to this point. Over the course of the following couple of months, two things happened; I finished Tucker Max's Hilarity Ensues, and I discovered the existence of Fifty Shades of Grey.
The former is a pretty light read, 95% of it consisting of the author's exploits in excessive alcohol consumption, fucking stupid women while verbally assaulting them, and generally being an obnoxious piece of shit. It's a hilarious book and Tucker is one of my literary heroes. His underlying message of self-confidence, respecting dumb peoples' right to own their terrible decisions, and carving your own path in life are timeless and inspiring. The book's conclusion reinforced my decision to pursue my writing as a career. But, it didn't make the literary agents write back any faster.
Fifty Shades of Grey inspired me, too, but in a completely unintentional and unfortunate way. You might say it was like an impending nuclear missile attack might inspire me to build a bomb shelter, or being run down by a grizzly bear (always with the goddamned grizzly bears) might inspire me to get in better shape, or at least avoid places which grizzly bears are known to frequent, such as Abercrombie and Fitch.

But truly, it was more like having a particularly noxious WASP family with an emo daughter move in next door, being assaulted with bad poetry and even worse conversation at all hours of the day, and being
inspired to break into their house and cover every inch of it in my diarrhea.
That is what this blog is. My diarrhea on the concept of Fifty Shades of Grey becoming a New York Times bestseller. A heroic dump taken on the fact that Twilight erotic fanfiction can sell millions of ebooks and draw the attention of real, actual publishers. A case of dysentery, placed on and around the feet of its root cause-- actual, paperback copies of a book, written by a woman whose original pseudonym was Snowqueen's Icedragon.

Fuck. Me.
This toxic, evil, soul-crushing idea rolled around in my head for quite awhile. I wish I could tell you I just learned of this a few hours ago and this explosion of frustration is the immediate result, but the fact of the matter is I still figured going through the big house publishers was the best option for me. So I languished for several more weeks before finally broaching the topics of college and publishing with my brother, a former director at Microsoft, who told me flatly that both would be a waste of my time. To quote him from our conversation on Facebook, because I couldn't put it better myself:

“Start doing - stop waiting
you are doing the wrong things
You can be a published author in 10 mins
Learn how to promote using social media
you can promote by building an audience with a blog
it doesn't take many sales to move up the lists, in which case it becomes a self referential cycle
choose your own path
I don't have the 100% this will work solution
I am giving guide posts
but sitting around hoping an agent is going to return your letter is insane
complete and utter waste of time
just publish”

Pretty much.