Tag Archives: books

The Self-Publishing Conundrum

I go back and forth when thinking about self-publishing.

That’s probably not the best way to open a post about the subject, but there you have it. A few years back I had written several short stories, only one of which managed to get picked up for publication. So I compiled them all and made a little book on Lulu.com to give to friends and family. It was even available on Amazon.com for a while. Nothing special, and I hadn’t done it with the idea to make a bunch of money or get my name out there. It was more that I felt like I needed to get those stories out of the way so I could do something else. I wanted them settled.

That book (The World Ends at Five) is no longer available. But I later had trouble when some markets showed interest in my stories, only to drop them when they considered them “previously published” just because I’d made a dozen books on Lulu. So in that light, I have to say I would probably only consider self-publishing again if I couldn’t get an agent or publisher interested first.

But then again . . .

Some works just don’t have a handy niche. A lot of my work is like that. People say, “What do you write?” and I’m like, “A little of everything.” A lot of my stories have a surreal bent. They’re not fantasy in the sword-and-sorcery sense, but they do involve magic or magical realism or alternate universes. It’s a pretty specific market with a limited number of outlets.

And then I’ve also written Sherlock Holmes stories. And a novella about a gay spy. And I’m working on a novel that appears to be a contemporary rom-com with a paranormal twist. (So . . . “paranormal romance” but not any of that over-the-top vampire/werewolf/ghost stuff.) And so some of this stuff ends up being not all that easy to place. And agents ask, “What do you write?” and I say, “A little of everything,” and they don’t know what to do with me. How do you market an author who skips around like that? So maybe self-publishing IS the way to go, not because it’s a last resort, but it’s more or less my only one.

Of course, then there’s the stigma. The whole idea that the only reason a person self-publishes is because they’re terrible writers “real” publishers won’t touch.

The problem with any stereotype is that it becomes a stereotype because it is (or at one time was) in some ways true. So yes, there are a lot of self-published authors who really could use some heavy editing. There are self-published authors who misspell and use terrible grammar and whose sentences hardly make sense for having been put together upside down and backwards. I know they exist because I’ve seen some of their books.

The idea, then, is that “real” publishers act as literary strainers: the good stuff gets through, the dirt and silt and impurities are kept out. But unfortunately, the mesh of the publishing houses is so fine, many good things also get kept out. And sometimes a little dirt gets through anyway. In other words, the system isn’t perfect.

And so there are some good self-published books out there. Even authors who have had success with traditional publishers are trying the self-pub route. And as it becomes easier for authors to do it themselves—therefore enabling authors to keep more of the money besides—there will continue to be an increase in solid self-published material.

The trick will be to find it. The good self-published books and e-books, that is. Now that every author markets themselves on Facebook and Twitter, it gets more and more difficult to weed one’s way through the blitz of status updates and Tweets. I’ll admit I’m still a little biased, still not terribly inclined to go check out a self-pubbed book or e-book unless I read a great review of it or a friend (better yet, more than one) recommends it. There are a lot of books out there, many I want to read, so to earn a spot on my stack, it needs to be pretty spectacular.

Wading through it all is like surfing the Web. There’s a lot of junk. Most of it can be ignored. And there’s more I don’t even know exists and I don’t really want to know, either. I have my select sites that I rely on. And every now and then someone says, “This site is cool,” and I check it out. And if it really is cool, it becomes a site I go back to regularly. The same rule applies to books and authors. I have authors I like, and subject matter I’m interested in, and writing styles I dig. I go back to those things. And if someone says, “Well, if you like so-and-so you’d probably like . . .” or “I read a new book about [interesting subject here],” then I might look into it. But some random person repeatedly shoving their book under my nose on Twitter probably isn’t going to sway me. In part because I’m pretty sure if/when I had/have a book to market, they wouldn’t bother with me, either. (That’s the problem with social marketing: everybody shouting and nobody listening. But that’s another topic.)

Let’s take fan fiction as an example. Years ago, fan writers had to submit their fics to fanzines devoted specifically to their chosen shows/genres. In that way, fanzine editors acted much as traditional publishers; they guarded the gates, made sure the best stories got through, or at least fixed the spelling errors. But then we came to the point where just about everyone had access to the Internet—hell, fanboys and -girls were some of the earliest adopters—and fan fiction began to pop up online. Everywhere. On collective sites like FanFiction.net, or on people’s personal sites, just . . . wherever. And it became impossible to find good fanfic any more because so much of it was just awful. (Sorry, folks, but seriously.) One had to shuffle through, or find a forum that had some recommendations, and those might or might not be any good based on whether you and whoever was making the recommendation had the same taste. (Kind of like whether you and a film critic agree; if you can find one you see eye-to-eye with, you’re in good shape following his or her recommendations on what to see—or not.)

So. Where does this leave self-publishing? Now that just about anyone can make an e-book, just like anyone can post a fanfic, it simply takes that much more work to find the good stuff. And makes it that much easier for an author and his/her work to get lost in the shuffle. I find that frustrating. Maybe because I’m not a marketing person, and so I know if I did self-publish something, it probably wouldn’t get me very far. But then again, even authors who get a traditional publisher might not get very far. It’s tough being a writer no matter which direction you go.

In the end, I wouldn’t rule out self-publishing. I’d like a few more traditionally published or produced pieces under my belt first, though. Credentials. Hey, if we’re now all in the self-marketing biz, I need to “establish my brand.” Or whatever.

Never mind. I’m going back to writing now.

First Loves Blogfest

First Movie

My parents have told me my first movie was Bambi. I don’t remember this. And I don’t like Bambi, so even if I did remember it as my first movie, it certainly wasn’t my first love.

The first movie I can remember really having an impact on me—a movie I loved and still love—is Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is, in fact, the first movie I can actually recall seeing in the cinema. I was all of five years old and, say what you will about my parents’ judgment or lack thereof, my childhood would be defined in large part by Steven Spielberg movies, Raiders being just the first in what would become a long list of loves. Raiders introduced me to “movie magic” and made me fall in love with movies as a whole, and in a way that would define not only my childhood but my path in life.

No pressure there, Mr. Spielberg.

First Song/Band

I grew up listening to my dad’s records. By the time I was three or four, I knew how to work the turntable on my own, and there were three albums I played often enough for my parents to want to hide them from me:

  • The Eagles, Greatest Hits
  • Paul McCartney and Wings, Band on the Run
  • Jimmy Buffett, Volcano

I don’t know which of these I’d count as my “first love” in the music category. I’ve always liked music in general. Now, if we’re talking about music I liked well enough to buy for myself? Using my very own allowance? Music I for which I would sacrifice the chance to purchase a brand new My Little Pony? Well, the first cassette tape I ever bought for myself was Invisible Touch by Genesis. That was the first time I liked a band different from what I’d grown up with, what my parents listened to. So that one probably wins the prize.

First Book

Ooooh. Geez. I grew up in a house full of books. My parents are readers, and I was reading for myself at age three. I remember really liking I Can Read With My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss . . . I was also known to sit down with my two-volume World Book dictionary and read that. So maybe there’s no accounting for taste.

But the first book I remember really loving, the one that had a huge impact on me, was The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I didn’t know at the time the book was controversial, and I’m guessing either my parents also didn’t know, or else they didn’t know I had a copy, because I’m sure my mother would not have let me read it otherwise. All Snyder’s work had a strong influence in my childhood because, reading her stories (The Changling is another that really stuck with me), I had for the first time in my life the feeling that maybe I wasn’t the only person in the world who felt the way I did, or thought the way I did. Sure, I read my share of Judy Blume, too, but I had a very different experience in terms of “the social,” and so while I understood and enjoyed Blume, her work did not resonate with me in the same way as Snyder’s. The Egypt Game (and The Changling) spoke to the kind of imagination I carried with me and the kinds of games my best friend and I made up and played. It was wonderful to know that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t so strange—or, rather, that my brand of strange was worthy of acknowledgement, and that I had just as much of a story to tell as the popular girl down the block.

First Person

Oh, sweethearts. At the risk of getting existential, do any of us really know whether we’ve truly been in love?

Fine, okay. The first person I might have had semi-romantic feelings for (or maybe just attraction)—and I’m thinking of people in my life, not actors or pop icon crushes—would be Joel. That is to say, he was the first boy I actively sat around (if one can “actively” sit around) and thought about for long stretches of time. I was 11 at the time. But I had also just moved to a new town and had nothing much better to do than read, watch television, and daydream. So Joel may only have been a way to kill the boredom. Thanks, Joel!*

*Joel and I did become a couple near the end of the school year, after he kissed my cheek while we were co-captains at Field Day. But after that year I switched schools and his family moved, so . . .

Parent-Child Personality Differences

I have reached the chapter in Quiet that discusses personality differences between parents and children. Well, and not just differences—in just as many cases both the parent and child might be introverted or extroverted, and this can cause conflict as well. But of course what I’m reminded of is the fact that my mother always thought there was something wrong with me.

My mother is very social. I’d guess she’s an extrovert. She talks to everyone, likes to be involved in a lot of stuff. She reads, too, and likes “down time,” but she mostly likes being busy.

I’m an only child. I liked to read a lot when I was a kid, and played by myself a fair amount. I had friends, sure, and I’d go out and spend time playing with them, too. But I didn’t like big social events, and I didn’t like sleepovers. I wasn’t especially outgoing, more an observer than an instigator, though happy enough to play with one or two really good friends. Just not big groups. I liked games involving my imagination, and I liked conversations that were deeper than “The New Kids on the Block are so hot!” I wrote stories and poems. I daydreamed a lot.

My mother always wanted me to be out with friends. She wanted to know why I didn’t talk on the phone more. She told one of her friends she was worried I didn’t know the difference between what was real and imaginary. She worried that I spent too much time alone. She would invite my friends over as a surprise—I recall one time coming home and finding about six girls from my school in my living room. I was mortified. Why were they in my house? What was I going to do with them all? I just wanted to go up to my room and hide.

My mother also used to lock me out of the house. She wanted me to get outside, go make friends. I sat propped against the garage door and read a book or wrote in my notebook. Not only was I an introvert, I was a stubborn introvert. (Still am, I suppose.)

You say, Okay, that’s your mom but what about your dad? My dad is a lot more like me. Quiet. Happy to stay home or just hang out with family. He’s a reader, too, and one of only two people with whom I can spend hours on the phone. We talk about movies and television and pets and politics, digging in to all of it. We’ve done that since I was six or seven, when we would sit outside on the deck at night and Dad would set up his telescope and we’d talk about books and music and the stars and planets. Very satisfying conversations. But we were also fine not talking, just listening to music or whatever.

I often wondered how my parents could manage, being so very different from one another. But they seem to have a sort of agreement. Mom is allowed to do however much stuff she feels she can handle, so long as she doesn’t drag Dad along. (This was a real problem when I was younger, my mother volunteering Dad and me for various projects and outings.) And if Dad starts to feel neglected, he lets Mom know, and she makes it a point to schedule some quality time with him. I guess it works out okay; they’ve been married upward of 37 years.

Anyway, what does this mean for me, growing up with one extrovert and one introvert, a constant sort of tug-of-war? Well, it means that about half the time I felt like there was something really wrong with me, and half the time I didn’t give a damn. Which is to say: I knew I was different from a lot of the other kids, the ones who hung out together all the time and went to each other’s houses and had parties and prowled the mall. And there were times when I was sad that I couldn’t be that way, wished I could be that way, which was in my mind “normal.” But there was never a moment when I considered even trying to be “normal” because I knew myself well enough to know I’d never be happy like that. And I had my dad as the role model for someone who could go through life without having to go out and do and be seen all the time. And be perfectly fine with it.

Maladjusted? Not at all. In fact, I’m adjusted just right—for me. I’m normal—for me. At any rate, I’ve concluded that normal is an arbitrary zero. And I’ve never been willing to apologize for being myself.

INFJ vs INTP

I’m reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and of course it’s made me question whether I’m actually an introvert or a shy extrovert or . . . So, it having been a number of years since I’d last taken a Myers-Briggs type personality test, I found a few free ones online and tried them out.

Most of my results were pretty consistent. I’m high Introvert, moderate iNtuitive, moderate Feeling, and low Judging (INFJ). This personality type is called “Counselor” by Keirsey, and I’d say the profile there is pretty accurate. I was a peer counselor in high school, for one thing. And I do have it in me to discern others’ feelings; I’m very sensitive to the overall mood of a person, or a room full of people.

However, a couple other versions of the test gave me INTP, or “Architect,” and that also seems on target. Still introverted, still intuitive, but thinking and perceptive. I am a logical person, and it’s true I have a strong dislike for people who blow a lot of nonsense at me. I see through it pretty quickly and immediately discount the person once I realize they’re trying to put something over. It’s why I’m able to work in the entertainment industry. I simply don’t have it in me to be star-struck.

In both cases, however, I was surprised to see that these types of people—both Counselors and Architects—are considered difficult to get to know. I often lament the fact that others don’t seem to know me well because, in my mind, they seemingly don’t find me worth the effort to get to know. I do try to be approachable. And people who have come to know me (there’s only a handful who could honestly claim to) have told me they were scared of me at first (!) but find me very warm once I open up. Hmm. This is probably because I’m never likely to approach people; I wait for them to come to me. The ones who are intrigued enough come ’round eventually. But I guess two shy people might never meet unless someone introduces them to one another.

Anyway, I ran both personality types by friends and family, and they said both were true. Those who’ve known me in a more personal way leaned toward INFJ, and those who know me in a business-like or educational setting said, “Oh, yes!” to INTP.

I’m not even half done with Quiet, but it’s given me a new way to look at the way I act and react in the world around me, and it’s given me some insight into my friends and family, too. The challenge in being ourselves is often that our internal needs and desires clash with external demands. Finding balance is the key.

M & Mr. King

Neil Gaiman has posted the raw draft of an interview he did of Stephen King, the polished version of which appeared in UK Sunday Times a few weeks ago (while I was in London, in fact, though I never picked up a copy, so I’m glad Neil posted this).

Which gives me, in turn, the perfect excuse to write about the time I encountered Mr. King in the Borders at Downtown Crossing in Boston, back when there was a Borders in Downtown Crossing, or anywhere for that matter. I think it was a game day (that’s the Red Sox for those not in the know), which would explain why “Uncle Stevie” was in town. I was just browsing; we lived on Beacon Hill and haunted Downtown Crossing when we had nothing better to do. The place was pretty empty. I spotted Mr. King in the stacks—he was taller than I expected, though then again, I really didn’t expect to see him in person, like, ever, much less in the Borders—and, after catching his eye, gave him the universal “Are you . . .?” questioning look. He gave me a little nod, which might’ve been resignation, and I left him alone. Maybe because he was really tall (though not as tall as my grandfather, but nearly), but I like to tell myself I did it because I’m not the kind of person who goes around bothering people in bookstores. Even if they are, themselves, famous authors.

Go read the interview in any case. I agree with King that I “find” my stories, and that often, as I’m writing them, they start to fit together in ways I never imagined at the outset. I’m excavating, discovering, as much as my readers do. Maybe that’s craft, but I don’t try to put any label on it. I take it like I would take a gift and thank whatever is in the cosmos handing it to me.

Also like King, I’m not happy if I don’t write. If I go a couple days without writing, not only do I suffer for it, but everyone around me does, too. I’m not pleasant to be around if I haven’t been allowed to release that pressure.

I’ll never be as prolific as King, and horror isn’t my genre, either . . . I like to read his books, though. I remember sneaking them off my father’s bookshelf, slipping a similar-sized book into the space. But my dad is no fool, and he keeps his shelves neat and alphabetized; he worked out pretty quickly that something wasn’t right. And then said to me: “Just don’t let your mother find out you’re reading that stuff.”

On a good day, I’ll get the six pages King writes about. Some days I’m struggling just for three. I try to make three my minimum, but the point is to write a little every day, no matter how little.

Lastly, I share King’s fondness for John D. McDonald. And that one is courtesy of my mother, who introduced me to Travis McGee after I’d exhausted the public library’s stash of Agatha Christie.

It’s childish, though, to compare, and ridiculous too. King is, well, King. And I’m just me. But I’ll keep writing anyway. If only to spare my family.

The Ghost of Sundays Past

Tonight I am feeling nostalgic for the time when I was, oh, aged 9 to, say, 13? That was when Sunday nights were about Star Trek: The Next Generation and sitting outside with my dad, listening to music while he grilled for dinner. Sometimes, on nights when my mother wasn’t home, we’d turn up the stereo in the living room and dance around. We’d leave the windows open until after sundown; then the wind would pick up and cut through the house, actually making it a bit chilly, so we’d have to close everything up.

Sometimes friends of mine and I would sit out in front of the house, either on the grass or on the open tailgate of the pickup truck. (Yes, we were that Texas cliché, always having one truck and one Grand Am in the driveway.) We’d watch the stars and talk late into the night, real discussions of the kind that seem okay to have alone in the dark, although of course you’d never mention those things again afterward. But on those nights we were like spies, trading secrets.

I liked being an only child. I liked the unique relationship I had with my parents, and I liked the independence, and I liked the quiet. I liked having space to myself and a reasonable amount of autonomy. (Of course, the flip side of that is not liking being told what to do.) I think being an only child helped me learn to live alone, be myself. I don’t have the need that so many others seem to, to be constantly in contact and connected with others.

I’ve started reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking—only just started reading it, so I’m not very far along, but based on the true/false list provided in the book I guess I fall somewhere between being an introvert and an ambivert. I can take a certain amount of stimulation, have learned to drown out a lot, but I don’t like to have to do it, and I need a safe haven from it.

In those days, those 9-to-13 days, I would go up to my room and turn on the stereo and sit in a rocking chair and listen to music until the early morning (my parents not caring how late I stayed up so long as I didn’t complain about having to get up for school or church). I like to sing but was too shy to try joining the school chorus. I knew I was good at a number of things, but I also knew there was always someone better—maybe a lot of someones who were better—and that always made it seem useless to try. But my room was my safe haven, and I would roll up the blinds and watch the stars wheel and march and the moon slide across the sky. And in there, I was the best at everything.

My parents were not encouragers; they were too laid back for that. Instead, it was more, “Whatever you want to do . . .” And the problem wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, it was that I wanted to do so many things and never knew where to start. Which explains why I’m behind the curve a bit now.

But tonight, on a beautiful Sunday evening, I miss all the things that were and used to be. There was no hurry to get anywhere in life, only the mandate to enjoy who and what was there with me at the time. Life really was simpler then, and youth really is wasted on the young. Still, instead of wallowing in the past, I will strive to continue to make my life an oasis, a place of happiness for myself and others. And if I need to go hide once in a while, please bear with me. I will return, refreshed and reinvigorated, once I have recharged.

A Light at Easter

There is a traffic light that I can see through the windows of my flat. I find it slightly mesmerizing. For me, it is like the light at the end of Daisy’s dock in The Great Gatsby. I stand at the window and stare at it. I don’t know what I long for—or, I do know, but it’s too much to explain—but that traffic light somehow seems to sum it all up, or somehow hold all of my wishes and woes in its glow.

I’m leaving tomorrow. I don’t know when I’ll be back in London. I had good weather for most of my stay, but London is crying tonight at having to let me go.

I love you, too, London.

Teaser Tuesday: The Raising

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Should Be Reading. The idea is to pick up your current read, go to a page at random, and post two teaser sentences. I picked up The Raising by Laura Kasischke at Target because I was desperate for something to read and the selection was limited. (Well, I should say, there were plenty of Harlequin-type romances and a lot of Nicholas Sparks books, plus a ton of YA supernatural stuff, but . . . my options were limited.)

I’ve been enjoying this book, though, and the quote on the back cover likens it to Tartt’s The Secret History, which I also really liked. This is the story of Craig, a college student who survived a car accident in which his girlfriend died . . . Except maybe she’s back . . .

From page 58:

Craig knew where he was now, but would he ever be able to shake the sense that the other world, the one he’d spent months living in, was still there? That back in that world, animals could talk, just not with their mouths?

Teaser Tuesday: Midnight Riot

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Should Be Reading. The idea is to pick up your current read, go to a page at random, and post two teaser sentences. This book was recommended by . . . I can’t remember now. Neil Gaiman, maybe? But I don’t want to put words in his mouth. Anyway, the UK version is titled Rivers of London, which I think is a much better title than Midnight Riot, but unpopular opinions like that are probably why I’m not a publishing executive.

Author Diana Gabaldon says this about the book: “Midnight Riot is what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz.” What more could you want from a book?

I’ve only just started reading it myself, so I hope I don’t spoil something for me, much less anyone else. (I’ll have to read it quickly, though, since it’s a library book and I’m moving in a week.)

From page 102:

An hour into my practice I stopped, took a deep breath and opened my hand.

And there it was, the size of a golf ball and as brilliant as the morning sun—a globe of light.

Teaser Tuesday: The House of Silk

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Should Be Reading. The idea is to pick up your current read, go to a page at random, and post two teaser sentences. I was given Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk as a birthday or holiday gift (these things might as well be one and the same when you have a birthday in December) but have only just cracked it open. With all the writing and packing and planning to move, there have been fewer chances to read.

The House of Silk is a Sherlock Holmes novel, the only one to be authorized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate. This teaser comes from page 146:

‘And this is Sherlock Holmes! Well, I rather doubt we’ll be reading of this in one of your famous chronicles, will we, unless it comes under the heading of The Adventure of the Psychotic Opium Addict. . .’

It’s not at all a long book, and the print is rather large besides, so I anticipate it’s a quick read.