I’ve been writing this blog for a little over a year now, and my audience has grown dramatically. My initial posts were read only by a close friend and some random guy in Brazil; now I have 26 official followers, and have had several thousand unique visitors over the course of the year. Many have left comments, ‘likes’ or have joined me on Facebook, and it’s all been good. With the launch of my latest novel, Wives of the Saints, I’m seeing a new surge in visitors, and it occurs to me that it’s time to re-introduce myself and talk about my work overall. I’ve also been reassessing my career and my goals, and am about to make some big changes, based on what I think is happening in the publishing industry—both independent and traditional.
My first novel, Secret Vow, was published by Dutton/Penguin/Putnam, and as far as publishers go, you can’t get any bigger or more traditional than that. I wrote about this experience (see the archives), and how it led me to self-publishing, or as I like to call it, independent publishing. I have ‘independently’ published five novels, with varying degrees of success. I don’t regret it, not one bit. And boy, have I learned from it. The experience has bolstered my confidence as a writer, if not my bank account. And after really studying this whole self-pub thing for the last five years, I’ve decided now that “Wives” is out there, I’ll do what I can to make it float. But I think this will be my last self-published novel. I don’t want to say forever. But I also don’t want to go through this again.
It’s not that I’ve lost faith in the power of fiction; nor have I lost my love of writing it. And I have no end of ideas for novels and novellas. But I’ve lost faith in the process. This is not a process for those who have a vocation to write, who connect the craft to their very souls and identity. Self-publishing only works if you consider your writing, your output, a product; and if you are willing to alienate both friends and strangers to relentlessly market and promote it. It’s becoming so desperate that we independents are basically turning ourselves into spam: No one really wants to see our stuff. That’s an illusion, of course, but when you’re competing against some 5 million other ‘independent’ writers (that’s the last estimate I’ve heard), you’re basically a voice crying out in the darkness, but one that no one hears.
What self-publishing is, really—as far as serious, literary fiction is concerned—is a kind of crazy apprenticeship, where you can practice your art in real time in front of an audience: You can flop or you can soar, but you can keep on going until you get it right. It’s like being in a perpetual slush pile, but at least one that’s mildly entertaining, and that you have a chance of earning a few dollars off of. And for older, midlist writers, such as myself, it is a way of simply surviving and staying ‘out there’, as you work on perfecting your art. I’m glad I did it, but my apprentice is over now, I think. Time to look for alternatives. And yeah, this means returning to literary agents and big publishers, but I’m hoping they’ve learned from their own hard times and will be a little more friendly to serious writers. Despite all the ballyhoo about the travails of the traditional publishers, they’re still out there, still producing books, still dominating the bookstores and libraries, if not the Internet.
And to be honest…Not liking the direction independent publishing is going in. I don’t think 2017 will be a good year for self publishers; I think it might actually be the worst yet. I don’t think Amazon has a clue, or if they do, they don’t care: They seem to be playing some kind of trick on all of us, with their evil algorithms and glitches in sales reporting, as well as falling prey to a number of scams that they seem unable, somehow, to foresee, or stem.
I’m not giving up on fiction, but I am abandoning the novel for a while, and focusing on non-fiction. I do have a book project I am working on for 2017. Not going to announce the subject just yet. I’m always secretive about my books in the beginning, as I try and set up a special kind of intimacy with the subject. But I will be chronicling that process, and my attempts to find a publisher (this is a ‘small’ book so don’t feel the need to wade into the literary-agent nest of vipers yet), as well as commenting on my gainful employment as a language teacher, and my quirky and sporadic travels about the US (maybe I’ll even get abroad this year). But for now, my only goal is to get through the remaining crumbs of this insane tumultuous year.
Mandatory Goodreads giveaway reminder for Wives of the Saints: It ends December 31, at midnight. You’ll find it easily under the ‘Contemporary Novels’ tab—curiously, despite the crush of books, not so many of those…