Thoughts on Self-Publishing
specifically, on self-publishing this book
“But I didn’t know what was waiting for me. What was waiting for us.
“Because what I didn’t know then, what I couldn’t have known, was TIME — how it smashes, how it burns, how it dissipates everything you’ve known and everything you think you know, until everything you’ve experienced no longer bears any relation to reality. Time kills and destroys, and it rebuilds and grows, but most of all, it changes. I couldn’t have known it then, at least not the same way I know it now…”
Hardcore bands put out free EPs and rappers make mixtapes. Street artists paint entire city blocks for nothing. So I’m not really sure why self-publishing always had a kind of stigma for me.
Probably it felt like an admission of failure to me. Self-publishing is an admission that you don’t measure up: I’m not a wunderkind who writes a masterpiece and publishes it at 23 like Carson McCullers or at 25 like Jonathan Safran Foer. I’m not a child prodigy, and I’m not even an adult prodigy. In punting on seeking outside validation, approval, and promotion from a publisher, I am actively failing to be exceptional. I will not be a shooting star of literary genius, the kind that only comes once every 76 years.
Why does that feel like failure to me? Who set my expectations so high?
As the dying punk said in Repo Man, “I blame society.”
Lately I keep thinking about how everything in America has to be the best all the time. We have to go to the best restaurants. Our children have to be the best children. We have to drink the best craft beer (in some of my circles at least). Any NBA team that does not win the championship is an abject failure. Any smartphone that isn’t the latest and biggest might as well be a paperweight. Our definition of success, or, hell, of being a good person, has become incredibly narrow. Unless you’re the best, you might as well be dead.
So I stress about the fact that I’m not the most talented or highest-achieving writer. (Which, I mean, duh.) And I worry that self-publishing means I’m not “good enough” and never will be.
But I’m starting to get sick of wanting to be the best. I need to make some mistakes.
My fiction writing career is nowhere near where I want it to be, and I mean not even close. Trying to get started in fiction feels like trying to chop down a tree with a butter knife. However — I’m sick of waiting around for the stars to align (not that I’m actually waiting, mind you — I’m out here compiling rejections, like a good writer is supposed to do).
Time to just put stuff out myself like one of the DIY punk bands that doesn’t sell out. I don’t know why I never thought of this before.
Anyways I’m done pontificating, and that quotation at the top is from a story I wrote called “Memorial Day.” It’s like 12–13,000 words long and I think it’s pretty good and that people will like it, but I don’t think any literary editors have the attention span for it. It’s longer than most short stories but way too short to be a novel, or even a novella. It doesn’t start with a “hook” or with a snippet of snappy dialogue. It starts with a paragraph describing a car. It gets better from there, but it starts with a paragraph describing a car.
It’s the kind of story that I think you need to actually read, not just skim. How most editors, professors, and teacher’s assistants read submitted material is this: They carefully read the first paragraph and quickly skim the next few paragraphs. If something catches their eye or holds their attention, they read a little more closely, and they may end up accepting your work for publication, or giving you a good grade, or whatever. They read like this because they have to; usually they have hundreds of stories or essays to get through. (This is how recruiters read resumes and cover letters, too.)
“Memorial Day” does not lend itself to this kind of reading, and I don’t think that makes it a bad story. I think that makes it the kind of story I could get published if I were a well-known author. Being a nobody, my choices are pretty much: I have to either butcher it, chop it up and make it palatable for the harried, skim-reading editor, or I have to self-publish it, promote it, and hope that people like it.
It’s the kind of story that you’ll have to sit and think about for at least 2–3 minutes in order to “get”— not because it’s incredibly intellectually challenging, but because I’m trying to reach something just a little higher than pure narrative: emotional resonance. In my travels and in my research, I have not found too many forums for 12,000 words of emotional resonance.
Just 2–3 extra minutes — that’s all I ask — and I think you’ll dig the story.
At about the same time I wrote “Memorial Day,” I also wrote “16th & De Haro.”
“16th & De Haro” is not quite as long as “Memorial Day” — together they add up to about 20,000 words — but it shares very similar themes, and it has much the same problem as “Memorial Day,” meaning it’s not friendly to skimmers. The first sentence is, “Soiled pieces of paper mix with dead brown leaves in the drying gutter.” Of course, the story gets much more exciting from there — but you see what I mean? I’m setting the scene instead of jumping into the action, and I just think that’s going to be a tough sell.
So I’m selling it myself.
“Memorial Day, with 16th & De Haro” is coming out, if all goes well, some time in the next week via Amazon Kindle. I have edited and revised and edited and revised and copy edited the damn thing again and again, to the point that I’m 99.9% sure there’s not a single spelling or grammatical error in it (even though Amazon doesn’t recognize “shitshow” as a proper word, which we all know it is).
But I’m pretty sure it’s not perfect. It’s not 100% there. It’s like 99.5% there, but it’s not 100% there. And I have to say: Screw it.
There’s got to be some kind of beauty in imperfection. Maybe it’s our mistakes that make our endeavors beautiful. It’s been said before, but who the hell wants to go see the Upright Tower of Pisa?
Let there be glitches. I love glitches. I think they’re artistic.
“Memorial Day, with 16th & De Haro.” Coming soon. Content rated “R” for language and sexual situations, and I think there might be some drug abuse. Certainly there’s underage drinking, and driving.
Please like my Facebook page to get updates on the ebook’s release: https://www.facebook.com/bryanvalewriter/
Cover design by Sam Watts (my talented wife). http://www.samwattsart.com/
Read it and find out about TIME.
Glitched images created at https://snorpey.github.io/jpg-glitch/