Non-traditional publishing means poverty, self-doubt, and obscurity, but wait on agents to reject query after query? No way!

Thanks to America's insatiable taste for vampire porn, celebrity memoirs, and fake history, I am never going to get a book deal. I could be wrong. Feel free to prove me wrong. But nearly a hundred rejections of my first book convinced me I was wasting my time hunting after agents. Maybe I could have benefited myself by following the MFA route, by having a shinier personality, by cursing less, by conforming to the desires of the market, but I don't have it in me. In 2016, Ros Barber wrote an essay for The Guardian, "For me, traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way," in which she encouraged writers not to self-publish. While I am confident many writers should not self-publish (I hope they were convinced by her argument), writers can do whatever the fuck they want to do with their work. If you're confident in your work, if you're confident that traditional publishers are too out-of-touch, mercenary, or chickenshitty to publish it, do it yourself. The gates are down. Mostly hacks and morons are storming through, but there's room for us, too. I probably could have emailed an editor at The Guardian and pitched a rebuttal, gotten myself a nice writing credit, but I hate writing query letters. I can say whatever I want here, I can swear, ramble, and run on as I please. And an essay in defense of self-publishing should be self-published. Plus, no editor would have let me get away with letting me blame my success on vampire porn, at least not in the lede.

Opponents of capital punishment often say that it's better for guilty people to go unpunished than for one innocent person to be executed. I concur, and I also believe it's better for writers who can't get any traction in mainstream publishing to self-publish, even if most of those writers aren't any good, than for one good writer to go unpublished or to give up.  

Barber makes some valid points, and, conveniently, they're all bold headers. You can see them for yourself here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/mar/21/for-me-traditional-publishing-means-poverty-but-self-publish-no-way. Your book not be ready, she says, correctly, and if you self-publish it you might regret it later when people are making fun of it. You risk looking amateurish if the cover isn't good enough or if you don't proofread well or spend enough time on layout. All good points, and you intend to self-publish you should pay attention to them. You can pay for a good cover. You can pay for a proofreader. You can pay someone to lay out your text. I paid for my covers, not much. Some people don't like the cover of Barn Again; some people do. Some people have picked up my book because of the cover and bought the book because of the writing. I've gotten very kind emails from strangers who liked my book, from people who would never have heard of my if I hadn't said fuck it and just self-published my book. I do my own proofreading and layout and went through three proof copies of Barn Again before it was ready. I read the whole book aloud, with a pen in my hand. I did the same for The War on Xmas. I've taken great care in proofreading and layout, and I'm confident in the quality of the layout and formatting.   

I agree that a lot of self-published writing is shit, a lot of self-published and "indie" writers are annoying, but the only way to change that is for talented, less annoying people to ignore the stigma of self-publishing and just fucking do it. I feel like a hack sometimes, basically every day, but that's a normal writer feeling anyway. Many talented, hardworking writers have found success, or something close to it, by waiting, by querying, by networking, etc., but the publishing world is still not a meritocracy. I can't say whether it ever was a meritocracy, but the industry today seems to be almost entirely market driven. I am not a socialist, but I'm certainly not a capitalist, and I refuse to languish in total obscurity because there's not an obvious market for my work. There is very little room for literary writers. Good writers aren't getting the chances they might have gotten a few decades ago. One reason for this barricade is numerical: there are just too many of us. Everyone's got a fucking MFA. The other main reason, the bigger one, is that publishers cater to the tastes of readers, and readers just want zombies and hot takes. (Or that's what agents, editors, and publishers think readers want, so that's what they give them, and readers buy that shit and forget to tell the agents, editors, and publishers, that they'd be OK with some non-zombie stuff, too.) A self-published book might be a book that didn't deserve to get published, but it could also be a book that deserved to get published but wasn't, and it's likely that a book that was put out by a major publisher was really a book that didn't deserve, on its merit, to get published. If you see a book you're not sure about, you just have to pick it up and start reading, judge for yourself. Of course, if you're in a bookstore, you're probably not looking at a self-published book.  I might be saying all of this out of self-interest; because I can't get published I want to convince you, the imaginary reader, that the publishing industry is corrupt and stupid, dismissive of talented writers like me, when in reality maybe I'm just not good enough but I don't want to admit the truth to myself. Read one of my short stories. Judge for yourself. 

Barber's main argument against self-publishing is that self-published writers are annoying. I don't disagree, but I interpret that observation differently. She says don't publish because self-published writers are annoying and you don't want to be annoying. I say do publish, if you want to, but remember not to be annoying. The need to constantly promote your work is soul-crushing, but not as soul-crushing as having nothing to promote. If all you ever say, on the internet or in person, is "Buy my book!" you'll be a bore. I'd probably rather talk to some jizzberg who likes Infowars. I do very little promotion of my books. Occasionally I'll post a link on Twitter or Facebook; I'm sure I was annoying on Facebook after I published Barn Again because I probably overposted about it for a while. Although I hate Goodreads, it has been of some benefit. I have a handful of followers, at least one of whom actually bought my my book. I don't buy ads, but I've been doing monthly giveaways; each month more than four hundred people enter to win a copy. I also hate Wattpad, but I am on there, I have a lot of work up there, and a couple people who interact with me there have bought my book. The main way I promote my book is just by adding work to my website, writing that I'd have a hard time publishing in literary journals: light verse, one-off humor pieces, a series of satirical book reviews, plus this fucking feature about unheard-of writers. Writing these pieces takes away time from working on a book, but it's also a good way to distract myself if I'm stuck on another project, and during dry spells where no one wants to accept my fucking short stories, I can give myself instant gratification by doing something for the website. Instead of boring, annoying, soul-crushing promotion, I'm writing. I don't have much to show for my effort yet, but one day someone's going to wind up on my website, find the bookstore, and pay however much money they want to pay because you can set your own price for my books.

The most persuasive argument, for me, against self-publishing, is Amazon. Barber says, "With Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace as the major outlets, [self-publishing] continues to put money in the coffers of the company largely responsible for destroying author incomes in the first place." CreateSpace is easy, but it's not the only option. I use CreateSpace, but I'm working on publishing through Ingram Spark, which will open up more distribution options, although they'll probably be mostly hypothetical. You still have to get a bookstore to order your book. I steal a little bit of money away from Amazon by selling books through my website. I'd love to publish through a local printer, but I don't have the money to cover printing costs.

Maybe this is all self-justification, maybe I should have waited. And waited. And queried. And waited. I'm thirty-six years old. Even if I live to a hundred, I'm going to be dead relatively soon. I don't have time to wait around for an agent to finally get me.

Fuck Oblivion No. 3: Fuck Content, Read Fiction. You Could Start Here:

Sometimes my stories get published in obscure literary magazines. When that happens, I try to read the work of the other writers who are published in the issue in which my story appears. I know this can sound horrible, but sometimes when I read one of those stories I think, "How the fuck did this get accepted?"* That didn't happen with Joey R. Poole. Last year, we had stories published in the same issue of Perversion Magazine, which is how we became internet acquaintances. I've had the pleasure of reading a few of his stories. My stalkers will recognize his name from the excellent review he wrote of my book, but I'm not promoting his work now out of reciprocation. He's a legit writer and you should all read this fucking story. Do it!

*Only sometimes. More frequently, I'm pleased to discover new talented writers. There's a whole mess of them on the internet just waiting for readers. Studies show that your lives will be richer and more fulfilling if you consume less content and read more poetry and fiction. I recommend you start with "The Ballad of Natsumi-Lynn."

#fiction
#shortstory
#agentsnobodygivesafuckaboutwizardsanymoresostartreppingwritersagain

http://magazine.scintillapress.com/ballad-natsumi-lynn.html

 

Fuck Oblivion No. 2: "The Darnedest Train"

Last night I dreamt that someone had made a short film, without my permission or giving me any money, out of "Doppelbänger." The filmmaker changed the title to "The Darnedest Train." He wanted to know if I could come to an event either in Ancorage [sic] or Osage, a town that turned out in the dream but probably not in reality to be in Kentucky. "What?" he said. "You've never been to Kentucky?" "Oh I've been to Kentucky," I told him, thinking it hilarious to have been to Kentucky. I've left out some details, like the part where I was in a night club and my cousin was mouthing something to me but I couldn't understand and it turned out she wanted to introduce me to the guy who'd made the film. I wouldn't normally bore you with a description of one of my dreams, but I also know no one's even reading this so I can do whatever the fuck I want here I can even write a run-on sentence but I think this dream is significant: it's obviously a sign from the cosmos telling me I'm about to linger in obscurity. 

 

 

Fuck Oblivion No. 1: Go Read "The Educator" by Sarah Melton

Part of me appreciates the convenient symbolism of receiving the notification that I did not win, am not even chosen as a fucking finalist for, the Colorado Book Award on the same day I launch Fuck Oblivion, my blog that no one will read about writers whom no one fucking reads. Indeed, the blog would have been launched a couple hours before I received the rejection email if my goddamn baby had taken a nap at his normal time instead of raging against sleep like he's Vladimir Motherfucking Nabokov. As I write I am a special degree of pissed off. And part of me, the rational part, wants to smash, maim, and destroy. This is not an interwebbian meltdown, it's just my honest feeling: what Coloradan—no offense to Coloradans, but Colorado isn't exactly a literary center—published a better book than mine in 2016? I'll find out soon, steal it from the book store, and probably be a lot more angry when I'm done reading, unless it genuinely is better instead of merely more pretentious. If I develop into a supervillain (The Rejector, my first target will be Narrative Magazine, with its $23 reading fees), today is integral to my origin story.

"The Educator," by Sarah Melton, was published in the same issue of The East Bay Review in which my story "SuperChad" appeared (March 2017). Did I just link to my own story while trying promote someone else's story? Obviously. Fuck yes, because who else is fucking doing it? That would probably cross some ethical line if I were a journalist, but I'm an obscure writer. The benefit of being invisible is you can do whatever you want and no one will say anything because no one will notice. I know you're not reading this, the first post of a blog no one has ever heard of or gives a shit about. I'm sorry, Sarah Melton, that your story is the subject of this pointlessness, but to get back to it: I don't know Sarah Melton. We're not friends, not even on Twitter, where I'm @TheAlanGood by the way.

So, "The Educator." It's about an underappreciated writer who makes his probably meager living teaching creative writing. Not so original, but about eighty million desperate writers can relate: "When I was hired I fantasized about National Book Prizes and intimate literary gatherings at George Saunders’ house. I pictured a big paycheck alongside evenings of writing novels. I didn’t expect long nights, weekends, and lunch hours sorting through twenty-somethings’ muddled thoughts about drinking on rooftops and dysfunctional families. I also didn’t expect that I’d enjoy it." The last part is hard for me to swallow, maybe because I teach comp. and not creative writing. I like, sometimes love, being in the classroom, interacting with students, but I'd rather pick up dog shit than read essays. Our back yard is spotless.

George, our writer-teacher (and narrator), develops a fixation on one of his student's, Carole, convinces himself there's nothing wrong with pursuing her. She seemingly reluctantly indulges him to a point, meeting him for lunches to discuss her writing, but when she doesn't reciprocate his feelings he turns into a creepy but articulate stalker.

One of those lunches gets a little self-referential: Carole, always wanting to talk to him about her writing, asks the narrator "if the characters are likable, if she deals with loneliness in cliche ways." If we pose the same questions about Melton's work, my answers are not so much, but who decided characters have to be likable all the time? That's a stupid rule. And no, probably not. Maybe it's the Whedon fan in me, but loneliness, one of the oldest and most important themes in literature, is handled well in this story: "When it comes to not waking up lonely, I’ve learned to strategize. I look up university protocol and find vague condemnations. Nothing that’s not maneuverable. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve wrapped my arms around warm curves, or had someone to watch Firefly with."

There's nothing terribly novel in the set-up, a term I use because the story is essentially a joke. I don't mean that disparagingly; I mean it's a good long joke with set-up and punchline. You might be inclined to think the whole teacher-in-love-or-lust-with-his-student scenario is trite, but the pay-off makes it all worthwhile. The punchline stings me upon rereading it because George ends up winning an award for his writing. Fuck you, George. (I feel horrible saying "Fuck you, George" because my oldest son is named George. Super weird. Fuck it.) I'm not going to say anything more about this story, other than go fucking read it.