Of Time, Human Imagination, and the Gift of Self-Publishing…

Life in a Savanna by Wajahat Mahmood
Life in a Savanna, a photo by Wajahat Mahmood on Flickr.

I recently read a discussion, Attention Self-Published Authors at Definitive Serious Writers Group at LinkedIn, on the stigma self-publishing bears and that many self-published authors perpetuated by not giving enough attention to the quality of all aspects of creating a well-written narrative and packaging it in enticing aesthetics.

I turned to self-publishing because I am a wife and mother and needed adequate time to write and refine my book.

My first publication, a collection of short stories, served as my MFA thesis and was published in 2007. Two years year after earning my MFA in Creative Writing, I wrote a novel.

On seeing the manuscript lying on the coffee table in the study my husband lifted and read it.  “This needs to be published,” when he reached the end. My husband is not a writer and has the patience of an ant.

He’s what I would define as typical and no less demanding reader who wants to be taken away. My husband is a sharp thinker. If the story and drama do not engage him he throws it down, even if his wife wrote the novel–just the sort of first reader a fledgling writer like me needs.

Despite his compliments, I reminded him, “We’re in the beginnings of a recession.”

I a celebrity and at the time lacked anything close to rudiments of a platform. Publishers then as now, are reticent to contract with new and untried authors. And when they do, they provide little, if any, monies towards publicity and promotion. This key responsibility falls upon the shoulders of the author.

Yet the author’s name resides in big print on the cover of any book. Should its sales, as often occurs, not recoup the publisher’s investment in bringing their words to print, we are held responsible.

In short, a traditional book contract is but a loan, one that uses the author’s name and reputation, often untried and unsupported, as collateral.

Giving an unknown author a book contract is in many ways not unlike banks and credit companies that lure college coeds and graduates into taking out Visas and Mastercards when they don’t even have a job or a way to produce income to pay the bill.

Unlike America Express that in times past did not report your credit history, the publishers closely watch the books that pick up speed and sell.

My husband’s next words regarding how to bring my words to print inspired me. “Then I’ll self-publish it,” which ultimately meant he would provide the money.

He had faith in me. Something I had to develop within myself. Writing a novel is one thing. Refining it to a point of entertainment worthy of a reader’s money and time, both of which stand in short supply introduces a whole new set of rules.

I took my husband up on the offer so I could learn. It was hard, grueling, at times depressing, time-consuming, extremely frustrating, quite transformational and impressively educational.

With my novel available for purchase and public consumption for more than a year, I have on the edge of entering final revisions on a novel, the rough draft of which I wrote in 2001, that’s right a decade earlier.

On the precipice of having worked with a graphic artist to create a book cover for my 3rd work I stand at a crossroads.

I like working with editors of publishing companies. They teach me so much. The company that published my collection of short stories was great artistically.

Regarding economics, they suffered from much of what most, if not all, publishing companies do–a real challenge in understanding and applying the concepts of product/entertainment promotion, marketing and distribution in such a manner that recoup the money spent on publishing a book.

One would think that with the advent of e-books, their plight might of lightened. Sadly, and as with other publishers, it has not.

And so when my husband suggested at I self-publish my novel and second work, I accepted the opportunity, not because I had been rejected by any publisher.

After having sent out hundreds of queries on previous novels I had written, I chose not to attempt the impossible. It made no business sense for any publisher of any regard to publish my book.

I am an unknown who will not garner enough attention for them to sink the money required in advertising to raise my level of recognition. And even if they did, I possess nothing to guarantee sales.

Never mind most books are sold by word of mouth. It takes time to build a reader audience. Which brings me back to the silver lining that exists for me in self-publishing.

Self-publishing allows me, a wife, mother of 3 at critical stages in their lives, psychotherapist and abstract painter to continue working at a much slower pace than any publishing contract drafted by any agent or publisher would find lucrative enough.

In truth I possess neither the time nor the skill at this point in my life and that is required of published authors to remain so.

The 21st century author needs more than one story in her or his grasp. They need at least 7, the first 5 preferably written, under their belt so to speak, allowing the writer to develop and refine not simply her or his skill at crafting and revising fiction, and working with an editor.

They also need to have a very good understanding of her or his process for writing. When writing for a publisher the author must honor the time constraints. No longer is your novel simply a work of art. It is a commodity whose refinement and publication pay the salaries of the many who work for the publisher.

While computers, the Internet, and bookbinding machines allow for instantaneous printing and binding of words already written, revised and edited, the human imagination works on its own time.

As a blog talk radio host who routinely interviews novelists and writers I continually hear from traditionally published writers who live on a tread mill wherein which their imaginations are continually drained as they work to honor the contracts in to which they have entered and fight to keep.

I love writing and view each manuscript I seek to write, refine and edit as a process through which I become a better writer, and ideally an improved individual. I can’t do that if I rush my writing.

I’d rather publish nothing than send a story out that is unfinished. Some stories take 1or even 2 decades not simply to write, but for the author to mature into the person we must be to write and revise the work.

Present financial woes and the nature of the publishing world prior to and as a result of these difficulties leaves little if any time for untried authors to have this time.

The 21st century author who has prepared her or himself in both the honing of her or his skills at both drafting and writing a novel and who has also laid the foundation for a platform as through maintaining a website and blogging stands in a position to benefit from gaining a traditional contract from a publisher than one who only focuses on her or his writing.

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2 Responses to “Of Time, Human Imagination, and the Gift of Self-Publishing…”

  1. Bartholomew Thockmorton Says:
    December 14th, 2011 at 7:08 am

    Well done, Anjuelle! However, I am constantly confused as to why writers, established and newcomers, often hesitate when approaching self-publishing.
    As you have discussed, self-publishing allows an individual to write when they want, what they want, and where they want without worrying about appeasing the ever-insensitive gate-keepers who reject the J. K.’s and Herberts every day of the week.
    My first work saw print over 40-years ago and I have not mailed a submission in 30-years. Why? I simply detest gatekeepers, shortsighted publishing companies and the onerous egos found throughout the industry.
    Did I also stop writing? Of course not! But I write for myself and consider that the only worthwhile reason to do so.
    Plus, I have 35-plus-years technical writing experience. I’m a whiz at contracts, procedures, tech-manuals, grant proposals and other various boring whatnots.
    I jumped at the chance to self-publish!
    Congratulations on your well thought-out strategies! I wish you all the best and hope the muse treats you kindly!

  2. Profile photo of Anjuelle Floyd Anjuelle Floyd Says:
    December 14th, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you, Bartholomew. It is good to learn that others in the writing world see the benefit of “captaining” their own ship. So much of writing and learning to do it well comes not simply from writing and reading, but gaining confidence. We gain confidence, after learning the rules and standards of craft and putting them into use, by setting out upon uncharted waters. Notice I prefaced this with learning the rules and putting those rules and standards into practice. The traditional way of gaining confidence in writing has been to wait for someone from the publishing house to anoint you or me, the writer with their blessings. As national and international economics shift and take on different shapes, or fail to hold any form previously recognizable authors are let to create the crucible upon and in which we will sail.
    In so doing we effectively use the steam of shifting paradigms to move us forward in what our hearts so love to do, write and make our words not only entertaining and engaging, but available to a broader group of people and potential readers.
    Again, thanks so much for taking the time to comment.
    Much luck in all your endeavors. And do come back.
    Peace and blessings.

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