Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sticking My DIY Ass on the Soapbox for One Minute

What is it with us writers that we need the stamp of approval of the publishing industry? Today I re-realized that the only stamp of approval I really crave is that of my peers. Which is a true paradox, because my peers only respect legit-published authors. What the hell is wrong with us? It wasn’t like this back in Walt Whitman’s day. And even the late great Kathy Acker was known to do her own volumes. Some of my best memories of grad school are looking through her homemade books, in Special Collections, pencil in hand, taking tons of notes, coveting her chutzpah.

Have we writers been that suckered by the media that we only find legitimacy through it?

Okay, I don’t want to appear vain, so I am avoiding vanity presses. And if you run the numbers on the Publish-On-Demand route, there is no way a writer can make a living (another questionable index of legitimacy). Sure, you get all of the profits, but the only way a young unknown can pay a mortgage as a writer is to get a huge advance. And why on earth would I get my hopes up on a huge advance?

So, baby steps, the tiny advance leads to the mediocre advance which leads to the huge advance. Or, in PublishersMarketplace parlance, “nice deal,” “significant deal,” etc., each with its own corresponding number range. It feels too much like work. I remember when this used to be fun.

When I had cobbled together a clean draft of my novel, THE GLORY HOLE, I decided the best way to get feedback would be to print up 20-30 copies, bind it, and hand it out to my friends. It worked. I did the “publishing” at home, using the coolest software package ever, Blue Squirrel’s Quickbook which throws the pages into a pdf with correct fronts and backs, four pages per sheet or whatever you want. I “bound” them with a huge stapler they have at my job. On the cover was a note: please comment, pass it along, etc. The feedback I got was invaluable, helped me to have the courage to cut 20K words, and to figure out who the natural market might be. And my friends didn’t have to lug around a ream of paper to do it. They could even read it on the subway. And trust me, the format didn’t hinder their critical abilities.

Quickbook was one of the best $50 investments in my writing I have ever made. Now I use it to print all drafts, cuts down on paper usage by 75%. I also use it for the texts from my writers group and online workshops. The booklets are handy, light, and portable.

Now I have a full draft of LIGHT STREAMING FROM A HORSE’S ASS in front of me, and I’m considering the same thing, only using today’s cheap POD technology. A great coffeehouse here in Brooklyn, VoxPop (, has an “Instabook” side business, where you can have perfect bound, glossy books made from digital files for a very reasonable price. Who says the rough draft I hand to my friends can’t be glossy? And this time, they won’t have inkjet blue running onto their fingers. I figure it cost about $6 each for the homemade copies of TGH, not counting the cost of my time cutting, collating and stapling. The Instabook approach won’t cost a heck of a lot more.

Okay, so it’s not self-publishing, I don’t have the courage for that yet. Plus, the damn collection isn’t even done. But it’s a PROJECT, eh, so I can’t resist.


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