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My Wicked, Wicked Ways

August 27, 2012

So I have a few goals this week, the first week of school and therefore the de facto start of fall. Or at least close enough for me to use it as a justification for a fresh(ish) start. It’s funny – for some reason I “Amazoned” myself for the first time in a long time, maybe to see if all of my books were out of print or not, and a result popped up at the end of the list for “Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio,” with a text reference to “…her second husband, Orland T. Outland…” I immediately knew this was about my grandmother, “Akron Mary” Chambers, who achieved some notoriety as a gangster’s girlfriend after running away from her husband and kids (my father and aunt) back in the 30s. Fortunately, I was able to use “search inside the book” to find some photos I’d never seen, and immediately bought the book. Oddly enough, I can no longer search inside said book, all the guts of it “not available for preview” even though they were a few days ago… At any rate, she’s on the back cover in both a glamour pose and a mug shot (the “vicious” part is hyperbole as far as grandma was concerned; she was at worst a reluctant witness to the whereabouts of her boyfriend):


I loaned the book to my mom (Akron Mary was my father’s mother but I knew mom would get a kick out of it) so I don’t have the text in front of me, but there was something in there about how she “craved variety, change, excitement.” Well, I thought, that’s a family trait. Not that I didn’t already know that, but it’s always interesting to see it confirmed in other members of the tree. For me, a routine is both necessary and wearisome, so I need a routine but one that changes often at least in a couple ways. School starting and having class two nights a week will work for me as far as an “excuse” to pretend that everything’s different enough that I can press reset on my weight loss (stuck at 30 lbs. for the last six weeks, with another 15-20 to go, more a question of psychology than physiology now), and push forward on the book, especially now that I have such a clear vision of several chunks of what comes next.

Mostly what I wanted to write about today was self-publishing, based on an article in yesterday’s Times and emails I’m getting from Amazon, having prematurely signed up for Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s to be expected that the Amazon emails would be full of testimonials from happy self-publishers, but what I find interesting is how they accentuate the horror stories these writers have about trying to get published “indirectly.” One of the stories in the latest email was about a writer whose story included the anecdote, “One prominent editor even asked her to add 20,000 words to one of her manuscripts and resubmit it. Theresa did. Then she never heard from him again.” Another wrote,

…very quickly, the rejection letters began piling up–hundreds of them–from agents who had neither the time nor the resources to represent more than a few new clients per year. It didn’t matter whether my book was good or not–it was about selling "units," in a system that was overloaded, antiquated, and broken, one that was keeping talented authors from finding readers. The slew of rejections continued coming, and with each one, it seemed my dream of being a published author was slipping away. "Sorry, not for me," started feeling like my second name. Many agents flat out told me my book "would never sell.

Then of course someone tells him about KDP and he is SAVED! I’m not so naïve as to think that’ll be my case, since I’m not Harvey Handshake and won’t be using my vast social network (ha!) to promote it. These emails don’t indicate how much effort on their own behalves these writers put into self-marketing, only that traditional methods failed. At this point, all I want is to finish a good book and see it out there. Priced at $.99, I’d get some sales, and therefore be making more on my fiction than I’m making now, so good enough.

But there is a dark side to self-publishing, as seen in an article in yesterday’s Times business section, about a hustler who ginned up a website that sold positive Amazon reviews to authors. In a nutshell, he gave self-publishers the five star reviews necessary to get the wheels of commerce turning, for a price. I’ve noticed that in myself, how bare a product looks with no “legitimate” reviews and a sorry-ass “be the first customer to review this” link.

Though it turns out the legitimate reviewers aren’t so legit anymore themselves. I remember when I was delusional enough to think that my gay novels would conquer the world, I waited with bated breath for the oh-so-important Publishers Weekly and Kirkus reviews to come out, which would determine whether or not the book would be picked up by other media outlets for review. I was absolutely crushed when some queen was assigned Publishers Weekly’s review of “Different People,” and dismissed it because the sexy nakedish cover cruelly promised him soft core porn which was not delivered in sufficient quantities for a gay novel. (To quote directly: “More experienced gay fiction fans might find this book on the bland side of pleasurable, super-sexy cover art notwithstanding.”) Is it any wonder I stopped writing for that market…

Now it turns out even these ever-so-important outlets are turning tricks on the corner.

In seeking some attention for [a self-published book], she checked out Kirkus, a reviewing service founded in 1933 that has branched out into self-published books. Kirkus would review “Sex” for $425, a price that made her balk. Another issue with Kirkus was that it did not guarantee its review would be positive.

Wow, $425 and you don’t even get a kiss.

But another compelling reason I have to self-publish is time. Let’s face it, when you’re writing speculative fiction about the near future, the near future can become the past before a print book makes to the shelves. Given the timeline I put out earlier (find agent tick tock find editor tick tock get contract tick tock get the book actually published tick tock), there could be an “Alex” before the story gets published. And if technology does overtake me, I can edit right up to the day of publication, just as I had to include Siri’s existence in a way I wouldn’t have if I’d finished the book say a year after I started. And you can even go all George Lucas on it and “fix” it after the pub date, if needs be. Now all I have to do is finish.

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