Twenty years as an indie publisher

Last night we had the official launch of my new novel Of the Night at the North Battleford Library.

A heartfelt thank you to Wendy and all the hardy souls who braved the first serious cold snap this winter to celebrate the birth of my latest literary offspring.  Sherron and my two sons handled the lights and tech and made sure everything went off without a hitch.  Thanks, guys!

Naturally, I over-prepared, endlessly rehearsing my introductory remarks and the three excerpts I had chosen to read.  Ah, well.  I think it went off well and the good vibes bubbled over into the book signing afterward.

Speaking of those remarks:

I’ve decided to post them, since they’re a good, concise description of my experiences over the past two decades as an independent author and publisher.  I hope these words will inspire others while, at the same time, providing insights re: some of the difficulties and frustrations I’ve endured for choosing the less-travelled path (my essay “Solace of Fortitude” covers similar territory, albeit at greater length).

To all the indie authors out there, struggling to make themselves heard:  write on!


* * * * * * * *

 

What do you do when you’ve written a good book and no one wants to publish it?

Twenty years ago, when faced with that dilemma, I made the somewhat irrational decision to go ahead and print it myself.  I knew nothing about what went into producing a physical book but, to my mind, that was beside the point.  Getting that book, that gruesome little book, into the hands of readers was paramount.

Because the alternative—giving up, throwing in the towel—means that a good book never even has a chance at finding a readership.  It languishes in a box somewhere, years and perhaps even decades pass and it doesn’t see the light of day.  It might be a lost classic…or a piece of garbage.  We’ll never know.  Book-lovers aren’t accorded the opportunity to render their verdict.

And let’s take a look at the recent track record of the folks who decide what gets published and what doesn’t.  Hardly encouraging, to say the least.  Sales figures are dropping precipitously, bookstores and chains all over the U.S. and Canada are closing or seeking bankruptcy protection; independent bookstores have almost entirely disappeared.  Venerable publishing divisions have been lopped off or dramatically downsized, layoffs announced, the demise of the book predicted, onset of a post-literate culture looming—

Doesn’t sound like publishers and retailers have succeeded at capturing the contemporary zeitgeist, does it?  Why have so many people, apparently, stopped reading or scaled back to the point where a substantial number of respondents in one poll indicated they hadn’t read a single work of fiction in the past year?

Could it be that the industry is printing and selling books that nobody wants to read?  Perhaps in their efforts to meet the lowest common denominator, rehashing the same types of books over and over again, scraping the creosote off the bottom of the barrel, traditional publishers have alienated serious readers; worse yet, bored them with formulas, derivative prose, copycat covers and cookie cutter authors.

Publishing today has been debased by celebrity and dumbed down to attract people who normally wouldn’t tackle anything more demanding than the back of a cereal box.  This mentality is abetted by greedhead agents looking to nab their 15% of the pie and corporate editors who know full well the suits upstairs want big numbers, bestsellers…and if they don’t deliver, they’ll lose that rent-controlled apartment, all those sweet perqs and per diems that make their lousy lives bearable.  Shit, let’s face it, the markets take one more big dip, the guys in the boardroom start getting nervous and anyone could end up in the street.  There are more than a few ex-CEOs and executive vice-presidents living behind 7-11’s, begging spare change so they can get their Blackberrys out of hock.

So let me ask you something:  why should I, as an author, defer to anyone affiliated with an industry that publishes godawful tripe by the likes of Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, Sophie Kinsella and…well, feel free to fill in the blanks with your most detested hack of choice.  Those inept scribblers aren’t better writers than I am:  their prose has all the symmetry and grace of someone slipping on a wet floor with an arm-load of pots and pans.  Understand, I don’t resent their big money contracts, but I sure as hell detest them for taking up valuable shelf space and making mince-meat out of the printed word.

I love good writing and revere authors who trust and respect their audience enough to break away from convention, fearlessly leading readers into strange, unknown terrain. But it’s getting harder and harder to find work that seems fresh and exciting.  You have to look farther afield, to some of the small and micro-presses out there…because traditional publishing is a wasteland of zombies, vampires, tepid romance and poor-me memoirs.  It’s enough to make a book-lover weep.

But there are alternatives.  Those small presses I alluded to…and a growing number of independent authors who, taking a cue from their musical counterparts, have gone their own way, demanding total autonomy over their career and creations.  Seizing control of the means of production, refusing to be exploited and humiliated by a system as ancient, obsolete and calcified as a dinosaur turd.

Independent authors…like me.  Back in 1990 I knew I had a good book, a cool collection of short stories that counted among its fans none other than the great Timothy Findley.  How could it fail?  But that volume, titled Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination, was turned down by literally every press and publisher you can name.  So I released it myself.  We sold out the entire print run in 4 1/2 months…and I was hooked.  I loved the sense of empowerment the process of self-publishing gave me, loved how every decision–from the selection of cover art to the choice of interior font–was left completely up to me.

This year, 2010, our imprint Black Dog Press is two decades old and it’s my 25th anniversary as a professional writer.  Usually I’m not one who displays much interest in birthdays or anniversaries but I felt compelled, on this occasion, to do something I hadn’t done before, which is release two books in one year—just to prove my oddball micro-press is still alive, still kicking.

I think the books in question, So Dark the Night and Of the Night, are representative of the best of what independent presses are capable of producing.  Thrilling, literate, original fiction; books for readers who still treasure a well-told story.

And aren’t they beautiful?  For that, credit belongs to our long-suffering cover designer, Chris Kent, working his magic with lovely artwork created by Ado Ceric and Adrian Donoghue.  I also want to say special thanks to Sherron, for the invaluable role she has played in the conception, creation and release of literally every single thing I’ve written for the past quarter century.

So…what do you do when you’ve written a good book and no one wants to publish it?

D.I.Y.  Do it yourself.  Use new technologies like print-on-demand and e-books and blogging to get your work out there.  Let your readership decide if your prose is worthy…or not.  Write as well as you can and edit your work carefully; do a better, more conscientious job than your traditionally published, over-paid counterparts.  Help defeat the impression that the indie movement is nothing more than a haven for amateurs and never-will-bes.  Most of all, don’t let anyone deny you a voice, your rightful place at the campfire.  Your story is important.  It’s part of a long tradition, a Great Narrative as timeless and enduring as the very fabric of Creation.

“In the beginning was the Word…”

And don’t you ever forget it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s