I hear a lot from writing friends that self-publishing is the way to go. And I’ve got to admit, it looks promising. The idea that whatever you write, you have an avenue by which to get your work to readers, that the hindrance from publication is only yourself. At first look, I have to agree, that’s a great deal. Just write, do some extensive editing, if you have friends get them to edit too, learn a little about formatting, then just upload to your desired platform. Done.
Why even bother submitting work to large publishing houses or independent presses, where you have to wait for months on end not knowing whether your work has been read or not, whether the editors enjoyed it or not, whether they even got the email or mailed manuscript or not? And even if they accept it, which is not very likely, are they going to have extensive editorial notes or not that could, and often do, alter the integrity of the piece in question? And those are only a few of the complications that can arise.
I recently sent off a non-fiction piece to a lit journal. The piece in question had a unique format where I experimented with the shape of the piece and the idea of footnotes that work to distract the reader from the main narrative in order to explore the main theme of the piece. Yesterday I received a nice email which asked the following: I think it's very well written but just a suggestion before I give it to the editor to review: the body of the essay reads very well but the footnotes I feel takes away from the storyline. Could you revise it and resend with just the main story for review? Although the person who sent this email was very nice and appeared accommodating, this person wanted me to remove a majority of the writing in the piece. A change that would have transformed the entire meaning and purpose of writing in the first place.
That is just a small glimpse into the world of standard publishing. Often it is littered with short form rejections suggesting that the work you have devoted thousands and thousands of your precious hours to have not even been read. This is what drives many to self-publish. It eliminates the stress and defeat and overwhelming weight (wait) that accompanies submitting to publishers and literary journals.
So why do anything else but self-publish? Why waste time with publishers and editors and rejections and all the crying at night at your computer desk?
Because there is nothing more satisfying than having someone else tell you that your work is worth something. That email, or phone call, or whatever it may be, that tells you: “Hey, I liked what you did there with those words and stuff, it made me feel something, I want others to feel something to, let me show it to them.” That is beautiful.
As a writer and publisher, I see publishing as a communal activity. Publishing is a collaboration between artist and art lover that connects the rest of the world with the beauty that words can created. Granted publishing has lost its way in the last 100 years or so, the United States on a whole being controlled by the Big Five, and soon to be Amazon.com.
I’m not naïve to ignore that publishing in our age--publishing in the classic sense—is next to impossible. I know that beauty and power and brilliance are no longer causes for publication. I know that the book has become a commodity for the world at large, that readers are simply consumers devouring what is shoved down their throats. I know. But that doesn’t mean I need to be part of that world. Nor does it mean you need to be part of that world either.
If you are after money with your writing, by all means, self-publish—just make sure you are a killer marketer and publicist.
But as for me, and From Sac, we’re about beauty.
A few days ago I unpacked my office. Having been without my books for several weeks, this was a moment of joy. In the time without my books I discovered a feeling of displacement, a kind of disorientation of self. I have many books. Some I have read, some I have analyzed and written papers on, some that are waiting to be cracked open. While unpacking and placing them on their shelves it was as if I was unpacking parts of myself. All these authors whose words I once felt on my tongue and the memories of moments in time when we (the narrators, authors and I) became friends: William Carlos Williams, Carole Maso, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Lewis Carol, Jean Rhyes, Raymond Carver, Silvia Plath, Saul Williams, Edwidge Danticat, and yes, even J.K. Rowling. These and so many more, now a part of me.
To touch them again. To open them up and smell their pages. To run my hand over their covers.
I can’t imagine a world without them. Without the tactile experience of “the book.” Today I sat in the middle of the floor looking over every spine. I grabbed a couple books and opened them, reading the first words I saw. When I got to Rilke’s, Letters to a Young Poet, the first words I read hit the spot:
“There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all –ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.”
When I step inside this doorframe I am stepping into myself, into home. The same smells and feelings of comfort. My writing is guided by their influence. They offer me worlds I may never get to experience, people I will never get to meet and ways of structuring language that I learn from. Attachments to such things seem silly to my logical mind, but to my soul this all makes sense.