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The Perils & Pleasures of Self-Publishing

Updated on October 19, 2007

Or How I Keep My Day Job

"A Dollar and A Dream" is the slogan for the NY State Lottery. For all I know this could be the slogan for every lottery across the country. Any time I've ever tried to play I had to ask the person handing me the ticket and taking my money for instructions on what I was supposed to do after that. There is a correlation between this fact and my sporadic ventures into the world of commercial publishing, i.e.: some part of my spirit can not help but view it as a crapshoot, and usually an ill-fated one from the start.

There are any number of books and blogs and how-to newsletters which describe the best methods of breaking into print, and even creating a blockbuster best seller. There are a great number of people who promote this subject out of love for the craft, yet I suspect there is an equally great number who make their reputation not by writing literature but selling others on the "how-to" ethic. "How to Write the Perfect Query". "How to Make the Perfect Sales Pitch". Traveler's Advisory, I say. Consider the source with a grain of salt.

In the last twenty years the number of publishers and agents I've contacted could fill an intergalactic telephone directory. Beware when Mercury is retrograde and Mars answers back.

This isn't to say I am not exceedingly grateful to the zines and literary sites which have published my work, both writing and art. This is to say that running concurrent is the underlying message from agents and book publishers that I should not quit my day job. Believe me, I know. I could not afford to, especially with the refrain of pop icon Morrisey's song running through my head: "You just haven't earned it yet baby. You just haven't earned it yet saa---uuu---nn." I wonder if that's the chorus playing in the heads of even those publishers and agents who have claimed to find my work "interesting" and "of merit" but "just not right for them".

Sour grapes on my part, or just an admitting to what is accurate about that particular reality? Either way, so be it. The phrase sour grapes denotes wine which has become vinegar, and it is that astringency that I find cleansing to my own form of persistence. In other words, I roll up my sleeves and get the job done on my own so I can move onto some other project.

Certainly, reading between the lines of every word I put down, you must know of the self-publishing role models I look to whether I deserve to categorize myself in with them or not: Melville, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin etc. It is knowing such role models have paved a path for their own niche which helps give me the courage to try and do likewise. Furthermore, with the wonders of desktop publishing, e books, computer technology and creating works bought as demand comes up (another "dice under the shell game" there), it is actually easier for us lone wolves to get our writing and art out there today. Yes, whether it gets purchased is another story, but at least the potential remains.

There is pleasure in this fact. There is pleasure in learning how to be one's own editor, and even marketer, if a person has the stomach for it. The truth is I simply enjoy creating work more than I have any idea of what to do with it except share it where I can. Once it is out there I have the luxury of experimenting with what other ideas have come along in the meanwhile, and this digital century encourages such a sense of play.

Windows Movie Maker, YouTube, Lulu.com, CafePress and the like, show how technology is revolutionizing the ways we can present our writing and art. A person can hook a microphone to his/her computer and learn how to do mp3s, including downloading or adding music and sound effects. A scanner and digital camera can be a gateway to producing work of high quality resolution suitable for mugs, cards, and clothing. Text files can be converted to PDF, which then can be uploaded to certain template designs and then, abracadabra, converted back to a book formed to fit in some reader's hand.

Magical, isn't it?

So even if I have currently run into a snag with people trying to buy my work through Amazon only to get the message that Amazon is having trouble with their supplier of my work, Lulu, the fact that I find this situation to be an annoying contractual breakdown is not entirely a reason to be discouraged. It is more a matter of the trial and error which comes with the territory of this technological hammer and thumb. Somewhere in my mid-thirties the light dawned on Marblehead that I wasn't exactly destined for overnight success anyways. Meanwhile there's the trick of juggling all of this with a happy relationship and a not-so-happy day job. Finding the energy to be motivated is the hardest part while creativity seeks the flow of its own wellspring whether I can harness it or not.

In my life that is the real lottery, and the richness lies in finally picking up the pen, or the brush, forgetting the ego-ambition aspect, and just shutting up.

Selected Works

Cover of Selected Works By Stephen Mead
Cover of Selected Works By Stephen Mead

Floors Of Fire

Hang Onto Your Teeth

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