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After I self-published my third novel Badge—both in paper and through a number of ebook platforms—in February 2014, I noticed something different about its Amazon page. In the upper right section where Amazon lists Badge’s paper-book availability, it read, “Usually Ships in 1 to 3 Weeks.” All of my novels have been self-published through the print-on-demand company Lightning Source. The availability of my other two, Stuck Outside of Phoenix and Ghost Notes, both published in the aughts, have been listed, with little variance, at the more POD standard “Only 2 left in stock (more on the way).” My books are stored in Lightning Source’s database and can be printed and mailed at will. The beauty of print-on-demand publishing is there is really no way to be “out of stock,” short of a computer crash.

The Gift of No

By Art Edwards

Writing

You’ve submitted your novel manuscript for six months, a year, two years. You’ve submitted it to ten, 50, 100 literary agents. You’ve submitted it to five, 15, 25 publishing companies. And all you’ve gotten for these efforts—when people have bothered to respond—is many clever and not-so-clever variations on “no.”

Well, all is not lost. It’s 2013, which means you can self-publish your novel. For a small fee—or even for free—you can publish an e-book or print-on-demand title and have it distributed to many of the same markets popular writers enjoy. No more do you have to rely on the publishing elite to get your work out there. You can do it yourself, and you never have to hear “no” again.

I received the rejection early yesterday morning, the last one, the one I”d been waiting on.

I finished my third novel, Badge, in late 2010, brimming with the confidence of having finally created something the traditional publishing industry might actually want. Ever since I cracked my first Vonnegut paperback when I was eighteen, I”ve fantasized about spending my life writing novels. Back then, such a dream required—and for the most part still does—getting an agent and a publisher.

I bought a Kindle, which means I’m the devil.

I’m the devil because Kindle is part of the vast network of Amazon, whose goal is pretty much to destroy everything I hold dear in my brick-and-mortar culture. And they employ a morally reprehensible scheme to do so. They charge less than what a book actually costs them, taking a small loss on each sale, with the hope of driving every other book retailer out of business. Kind of like gas wars from fifty years ago, when two competing gas stations lowered their prices beyond profitability to beat the guy next door, but in this situation Amazon’s the only company that can afford to lose money. Their job, as they seem to see it, is to keep dumping cash into themselves until they become the go-to place for not just books, but everything. “Don’t waste your time going to your local store. Buy it from Amazon for less and you’ll never have to leave home.” This drives many independent bookstores—which rely on profits to stay afloat—out of business, taking with them the entire culture of book buying I value (selling back used books, seeing my money go into the local economy, dealing with a bookseller, author readings, creaky floors, participating in a community as opposed to mouse-clicking, etc.)

 

What’s the most common mistake authors make before their book launches?

M.J.:  Not investing enough of the advance back into the book or investing in the wrong things.  At least once a week I get a panicked call from an author who spent her whole budget on PR and a website and now has a gorgeous page and no press.  No matter how great a publicist is you are still paying for effort.  And there’s no guarantee you will get press.  Press is about news.  Not about quality.  My rule of thumb is for every dollar you spend on PR spend $3-$5 on marketing because marketing is guaranteed.  If you split the budget and the PR works – great – you got press and marketing.  If the PR doesn’t then at least you got your ads.  As for the website – no one goes to Google and types in show me a website I’ve never seen for a book I’ve never heard of.  Your site is mostly for readers who already love you and want to see what else you’ve written.  In the beginning – simple is fine – if they’ve heard about the book and want to know more – a pic of you, a cover, an excerpt, review, buy buttons are great.  And please please before you hire anyone – get references.

* at the beginning of a list

* on the vanity license plate of a traveling campervan

* to your dog, followed by a beef-and-cheese-flavored snack from pocket, counting on word of mouth to spread from there

* to your demons

* to your high school guidance counselor

My friend Susie called me the other day.

“Hey Snooze,” I said, putting on my headset so that when the dog tried to murder a squirrel, I’d have both hands free.

“Hey.” There was an ocean of melancholy in that “Hey.” Susie can say a lot in one syllable. I guess it’s not surprising that she’s a poet.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, I went to look at my book sales on Amazon, and I got all excited because I sold five copies.”

Please explain what just happened.

If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. But here’s a few things I just saw (in order of importance): a fist, Tic Tacs, a cup, a video camera, a real old dude and the safe word was “taffy”.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Wait, you mean, in forever? It was probably getting off a plane at Kennedy with throngs of women welcoming my arrival in America. Later that night I played on Ed Sullivan. Whatever, I was four.

 

If you weren’t a dildo polisher, what other profession would you choose?

I’d prefer being somebody that soiled dildos. If I never polish another dildo…..well, it’ll be a happy day.

In his first book (co-authored by journalist Dori Jones Yang), Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz admonished: “Don’t be threatened by people smarter than you.”

(Full disclosure: I represented the book as literary agent.)

Howard went on: “There’s a common mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make. They own the idea, and they have the passion to pursue it. But they can’t possibly possess all the skills needed to make the idea actually happen. Reluctant to delegate, they surround themselves with faithful aides. They’re afraid to bring in truly smart, successful individuals as high-level managers.

In a recent email to some of his supporters, Richard Nash (formerly of Soft Skull, now of Red Lemonade and Cursor) provided the following short history of desktop publishing. Richard, by the way, is a mashup kind of guy, so I’ve left his mashups exactly as he wrote them:

“When asked to discuss Publishing 2.0, as I often am, I immediately reply that we’re actually nearing the end of Publishing 2.0. Why? Because Publishing 2.0 begins in 1985, in July of that year to be precise, when Aldus Pagemaker, the first desktop publishing software solution, went on sale.

I read with interest Roxane Gay’s piece a couple of weeks ago at HTMLGIANT called “Taking No For An Answer: Some New Thoughts on Self-Publishing.” I can understand her motivation for writing such a piece, and I’m generally sympathetic with her opinion, namely, that despite the success of Amanda Hocking and the like via self-publishing, there is much writing that shouldn’t see the light of day. As a self-published novelist since 2003 and a consultant to those who pursue self-publishing, I say the same to writers all the time.

Just after the new year began my agent called to tell me that Harper, which published my first novel and had a right of first refusal on my second, had indeed exercised this right.

They said no to Novel Two.

Eric Norris is a New York poet, born in Buffalo, and educated in Boston. After studying astrophysics, archaeology, and acting, he settled down to pursue English at Boston University, with a minor in Classics, Latin language and literature. Although he has been writing poetry for twenty years, only within the last three years did he begin submitting his poems for publication. Then all Hell broke loose. Terence, his first book, is not a book of poems, but a love letter to A.E. Housman, author of A Shropshire Lad, humanist, editor of Manilius and Juvenal, and perhaps the most feared and formidable scholar of the 20th Century. Encouraged by Housman, who published A Shropshire Lad at his own expense in 1896, and by the example and success of his friend, and fellow New York poet, Jee Leong Koh, author of Equal to the Earth, and founder of Bench Press, Eric has published Terence, with two other books (one co-written with poet, lyricist, editor, Tom of Finland model and former pornstar, Gavin Dillard) planned for release later this year. The landscape of publishing is changing. The way we connect to one another is changing. The old authorities are dying. New ideas are everywhere. We are re-thinking who we are as writers, as poets, as people—from the ground up. In the following interview, Eric discusses what shape our Renaissance may take and how we can bring our discoveries to the world.


Q: Terence is being officially released today. What is the premise behind the book?


A: Terence asks two very basic questions. What makes us human? What makes us different? I do not think Terence answers these questions. But Terence does pose them to the reader, I hope, in an entertaining way. They are two of the most important questions we can ask. The reader must arrive at his own conclusions.

Q: How did you come to the decision to self-publish it with Lulu rather than find a conventional publisher?


A: I decided to publish on Lulu.com because Terence is an experimental story and I didn’t think it would find a home anywhere else. Poet and Professor A.E. Housman, whose dry, scholarly shade haunts the action in the story, published his first book of verse, A Shropshire Lad, independently, at his own expense, in 1896. It sold very few copies at the time. But it proved to be enormously popular in subsequent decades. Since, in many ways, Terence is my love letter to Housman, as scholar, poet, and self-publisher, it seemed right to me that I should do the same.

Q: How do you plan to market the book?


A: I plan to market Terence on Facebook, on Lulu.com, on Amazon.com, through readings here in New York City, and elsewhere, The Rainbow Book Fair, perhaps a few paid ads on different blogs and websites. Also by giving interviews to online journals like this. Most importantly by establishing networks of friends here and abroad. The English-speaking world is much larger than the United States and the United Kingdom. Right now a copy of Terence is winging its way to Singapore. Marketing will take patience, time and ingenuity. That is part of the challenge of self-publishing. That is part of the fun.

Q: Do you see yourself following an alternative model for publication for all your work?


A: I think so. Publishing is changing, it is evolving. We are the plucky little mammals who will one day inherit the Earth. We move faster. We nurse our young. We can cope with the cold. It is easier now than it ever has been before for an author to compile and publish and market his own work. You begin by building up a small base of readers and branch out, online, at readings, in blog comments. You interact with them. E-mail them back when they e-mail you. Literature has always been a dialogue of great ideas which takes place over time. Now, thanks to technology, that dialogue can take place in real time. Anytime. Now.

Q: What would that model look like?


A: For some it will resemble a military campaign, brutally establishing a beachhead in the imaginations of others. For me, well, I am a better lover than I am a soldier. I would rather woo my readers with a word, with a kiss, like the English King does to the French Princess in Henry the Fifth: “You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate: there is more eloquence in a sugar touch of them than in the entire Pulitzer Prize Committee.”

Q: Self-publishing seems to be growing in popularity as well as credibility amongst poets and writers who find the orthodox literary field to be increasingly less democratic and difficult to penetrate, in part because of the impact that the Internet and devices like the Kindle have had on print publishing. Do you think that online journals and self-published books are where the freshest work is coming from?


A: There is a lot of inbreeding which goes on in the cocktail party circuit of the respectable world. Academia is probably the worst offender in this regard, probably because the booze is so inferior at most faculty parties. Academia is the Appalachia of the mind, in some ways, incestuous and largely insulated from the universe except for the science and engineering departments.

The liveliest stuff I see is coming from the online world, from all over the planet. In the gay and lesbian pavilion, saucy upstarts like Jee Leong Koh’s Bench Press, Bryan Borland’s Sibling Rivalry Press, and the late John Stahle’s Ganymede, have produced beautiful collections of poetry and prose. I have no interest in penetrating the orthodox publishing world, unless it is to crash the party with a pin and pop a few balloons. Whether a reader buys Terence or downloads Terence to his Kindle does not concern me. That Terence is read and, possibly, enjoyed is all that really matters. If the reader wants to say, “Hey, that was funny!” or, “Son, you should be crucified,” I have included an e-mail address so he or she can do just that. Even on paper, Terence is a fully interactive book.

Q: As well as playing the role of gatekeeper, traditional presses have functioned as the arbiters of taste and quality in the field. As we do away with this convention and self-published books come into the market, how do readers separate the wheat from the chaff? Will there be a new system of critique to go along with the new system of distribution?


A: Taste and quality. Yes. Well, there are many tastes, many piquant and poignant qualities.  In the 19th Century, editors redacted Shakespeare’s more peppery passages for the eyes of easily corrupted young ladies. The other day I learned that some well-intentioned moron was trying to do this to Mark Twain. I am not sure this is to my taste.

I would rather decide on what is quality literature for myself, rather than outsource my intellect to some caffeine-addled intern condemned to a slush pile somewhere. In the future, as more and more independently published books tumble forth from the presses, the hardest thing will be for the reader to pick out something good to read. Here, I think the reviewing system on Amazon and Lulu is a help. It is democratic. It is slightly chaotic, as all good democracies are. Any madman can post his opinions. (Look at me.) So can any genius. It doesn’t take long to identify who is who. With practice, one can learn how to skim through the reviews, sample a page or two, and make up one’s mind to click ‘BUY’ for one’s self. And then, there are the blogs, e-zines, sites we have developed a relationship with, friends on Facebook we trust.


Q: How do you intend to help readers differentiate your book from the morass of self-published vanity projects?


A: That’s easy. If you look at the back cover of Terence, you will notice that I got very favorable reviews from William Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, W.H. Auden, and from some spooky, ectoplasmic entity calling himself ‘Terence.’ Working the Ouija Board was a little tricky, at first, I admit. But once I figured out how to connect it to my computer’s keyboard, excellent reasons to buy my book practically flowed from my fingertips.


Q: How do you think the politics of your work comes into play?


A: There isn’t really very much politics in Terence. Though the question of what makes us human, what links us to one another, the principal question asked by the book has the profoundest moral and political implications.

Q: Gay writers, as well as writers from other marginalized groups, have tended to be anthologized more in conventional publishing than they have had their work published as part of the general pool, as it were. Is self-publishing Terence an attempt to break out of that mold?

A: In this particular case, no. There is very little market for stories like this, where one man confuses another man with a cow, so I thought I should take responsibility for Terence myself. Hats are another matter. Oliver Sacks made a bundle of money off a man who mistook his wife for a hat several years ago. I have plenty of hats, but I am not married. Being gay, I am not even able to get married in New York State. So, I had to write a different story. All I had to work with was myself, a man, a carton of milk and a cow. I did the best I could.

Jee Leong Koh is a New York poet hailing from Singapore via Oxford University where he took his degree in English Literature before moving to the US for an MFA in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College. In 2009, defying the conventions of the professional poetry world, Jee self-published his first collection, Equal to the Earth, and has successfully managed to independently promote and distribute it against the odds. Not since the days of William Blake, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf has self-published poetry been taken as anything more than the work of amateurs publishing their purple verse at vanity presses. Now, with the strategic use of social media, the landscape of poetry publishing might be subject to change. In the following interview, Jee Leong Koh shares the secrets of his success.