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.

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WENDY CHIN-TANNER is the author of Turn (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014), which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Awards, and co-author of American Terrorist (A Wave Blue World). Her poetry has been nominated for The Best of the Net Prize and the Pushcart Prize, and has been published at The Rumpus, Vinyl Poetry, Denver Quarterly, The Huffington Post, RHINO Poetry, The Normal School, The Mays Anthology of Oxford and Cambridge, and elsewhere. She is a founding editor at Kin Poetry Journal, poetry editor at The Nervous Breakdown, staff interviewer at Lantern Review, and co-founder of A Wave Blue World.

14 responses to “Self-Publishing Fiction: An Interview With Eric Norris”

  1. Jessica Blau says:

    Really interesting, thanks for posting this, Wendy.

    I know a woman who self-published a book, promoted it heavily and then landed a three-book deal where they are going to republish the self-pubbed book plus two more she’d already written. There’s much to be gained from just putting yourself out there.

  2. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Hey Wendy, keep on broadcasting the revolution, sis. I see you were too modest to link the Jee Leong Koh interview, so I’ll do the honors:

    http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/wchintanner/2010/08/self-publishing-poetry-an-interview-with-jee-leong-koh/

    I agree that the old publishing regime seems to have ossified, and is now like the Tin Man of Oz after the rain, desperately trying to swing its rusted joints back in the direction of the Yellow Brick Road to Oz. But one thing I wonder about is the role of editors. How will editing fit into the emerging new models? Question in particular for Eric Norris: How was Terence edited? I reluctantly warmed to editors in my technical writing, and I think I might be able to warm to them in non-fiction. With my poetry, I’m always scared that I’ll never consent to the guidance of an editor, but deep down I know that some day, when I’m at my most serious, I shall do so. A good battle improves any work. But the professional editor is an important product of the old model, and I haven’t heard much about how that will be replaced. Will it be a free agent model where authors and editors find each other on Craigslist and negotiate royalty on proceeds? Will the new media corporations, the Amazons and Lulus and such, rear their own school of editors in order to drive content on their list “up the value chain”?

    • Thanks for posting that link, Uche! It was an oversight on my part, due mostly to cupcake baking and overall technical deficiency. The revolution is indeed coming! What interesting times we are writing in.

    • One possibility is that work for editors (and designers) will become more freelance in nature. Which is sometimes the case now (publishers sometimes farm out work to freelance editors), but authors never really see that transaction.

      Now it may be more transparent.

  3. Eric Norris says:

    Hi Uche,

    I edited ‘Terence’ over the past two years. When I felt the story was ready to be edited more professionally, I asked around and I found a few understanding, super-smart friends with editorial experience. They were willing to take the time to look things over. ‘Terence’ is a small book that takes a few stylistic liberties, perhaps a few too many, but we managed to arrive at something that would work, that seemed to please those who read it. Enough positive responses came back that I decided to go forward.

    I imagine some kind of freelance or free agency model will evolve. I wouldn’t be surprised to see large publishing houses begin to offer specialized services to the on-demand market. They have the infrastructure. They may lumber like dinosaurs and eat money for breakfast, but they are not stupid. Competition is good. If there is enough competition, prices will fall, our options as authors will increase.

    How earnings from a book are divided between the author and his creative partners in such a marketplace will depend upon the size of the book, the nature of the writing and the expected audience. I prefer a fee for service arrangement: edit this or lay this out and I will pay you X amount of dollars. Or I will buy you dinner. Contractual arrangements will be determined by the individuals involved.

    Lulu offers a base price for a book, depending on its length and the price of materials for production. You select these. The author is then at liberty to charge whatever he feels the book is worth and what the audience will pay. I know that Lulu offers editorial and graphic design services. As for me, as much as I can, I prefer to see whatever money I plan to invest placed in the hands of someone I know and trust.

    I mostly write poetry. I know that editorial input can feel like a hot poker up your—um—begins with an ‘a’—‘art’— but it is always useful to get a second, a third and a tenth opinion on something. Ultimately, you decide what the reader will see. It is your ‘art’ on the line.

    The most important thing is to be true to your vision. That is how Orson Welles worked. That is also how Edward D. Wood, Jr. worked, too. I think the thing you will discover, Uche, is that the world has room enough in its archives for ‘Citizen Kane’ and for ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space.’ Both are now considered classics.

    -Eric

  4. Eric Norris says:

    If you are curious to read an excerpt of ‘Terence’ please check out his page on Lulu.com.

    http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/terence/14736987

    Thanks!

  5. J.E. Fishman says:

    “Academia is the Appalachia of the mind.” I am going to try to remember that line.

    Indeed self-publishing, like self-promotion, is really nothing new. I’m gratified to hear the story of Housman’s A SHROPSHIRE LAD, which I didn’t know. I hope, like Walt Whitman, you’ll also review your own book under a pseudonym.

    Any other examples of self-published authors making into the canon? Someone should compile a list.

    • There are a lot of authors who printed and sold their early manuscripts independently. A start: Poe, Twain, Thoreau, Williams.

      Ben Jonson effectively started a trend when he issued his own folio of his plays and poems. Some had been available in other editions, but printers had–up until then–rarely given the treatment to plays, which weren’t really considered “literature.” Shakespeare’s first folio was issued seven years later (and seven years after the Bard’s death).

      Much of the canon is comprised of authors for whom “publication” meant something very different than it does nowadays. E.g., many of the most respected and famous members of it never actually had, say, a literary agent in the modern sense of the word. Then again, most modern authors have never had to seek patrons like Shakespeare had.

  6. Nice interview. I’m really pleased to see you have certainly the start of a marketing plan (that’s probably even more detailed than you elaborate above–and rightly so, because who wants to actually read a marketing plan). I think a lot of authors who decide to make their work available without the support of a corporation behind them do so, in addition, without the proper strategic plan behind them.

    I think independent authors are in a unique position to really connect with readers (in exactly the ways you mention, in fact).

    Also, love your notes about Housman and your reasoning.

    Hope you have a great experience.

  7. Eric Norris says:

    I’m very happy that you like the Housman. In his overcast way, he’s always been very kind to me. It is nice to return the favor. We all have authors we go back to when things get rough. It depends on how rough they get, I suppose, the ones we choose. Housman is good if you feel like you need a friend. Joseph Conrad is better in a typhoon.

    I hope I didn’t come down too hard on Academia. I loved college: the moonshine, the banjo lessons, the dissertation candidates behind closed doors squealing like pigs. That sound alone almost persuaded me to become a professor. Alas, I left school at the end of my four-year term a new man—wiser—humbler—with a greater respect for my Kentucky cousins.

    It is important to have some kind of marketing plan in mind if you are going to publish. It is equally important to be prepared to be disappointed. You must write e-mails, network online, whore for links, send out review copies, most of which will never be read, let alone reviewed, all sorts of things which might seem discouraging. Self-publishing can be tedious work. Don’t let yourself be discouraged. You must have faith in your work. If you do not, no one else will.

    Eventually some stranger will write to you and say that something you wrote made her cry. When she goes on to say she is forwarding that other piece—the poem—you know the one I am talking about—the really sad one—about the lonely night in Bangkok you spent with a baboon—to her sister in Niagara Falls, “because Noreen will just get a kick out of it,” you will probably be tempted to drop dead. Try to resist that temptation.

    Ask for Noreen’s address so you can tell her about your new book.

  8. Eric says:

    For those checking in, there is an interesting article in this week’s Publisher’s Weekly about Cory Doctorow’s experience with publishing on demand (Lulu specifically) on a large scale. Including numbers, for a sense of scale.

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/cory-doctorow/article/46105-with-a-little-help-the-early-returns.html

  9. This is very interesting. I’m glad for your enthusiasm and vigor, you’ll need them.

    For myself, I worked professionally in marketing, graphic design, and advertising for decades. A whole career in book and magazine publishing, in which I did every task, one time or another, from design and copywriting to printing and bindery.

    So I’m burned out on self-marketing. I could go the Lulu.com route, it’s appealing. I could do that. But frankly, at this point in my life, it seems like so much more effort than I have left to give. I’ve done that route before—before the internet, before Lulu, before Facebook, before all these tools of self-marketing. And it got me absolutely nowhere. Zero results.

    So I appreciate your enthusiasm and energetic application. I truly do appreciate it, and wish you all the best with it. May you inspire others.

    And there are those of us who find this an impossible task, anymore. Because we did it, back when it was even harder to pull off, and “failed.” Why would I possibly want to put my foot into those exhausting waters again? Can’t think of a single reason to.

    • Eric says:

      Hi Arthur,

      It is hard. Anything worth doing is hard. Even getting up in the morning, some days, is hard.

      And yet, billions of people get up every day, whether they want to or not. Most of them, I suspect, manage to extract something meaningful from the day, even if it is only one more indrawn breath and another tomorrow. I am with them. And, I suspect, since you had something important to add here, so are you.

      But where does that leave your writing? In your hands, the same place it has always been. The new publishing technologies, sites like Lulu and Amazon, might allow you to do things now in easier, less expensive ways than before. You have a keyboard, you have experience, you have a pair of hands. You even have an audience. If you didn’t, I wouldn’t typing this paragraph.

      You still might surprise yourself with what you can do.

      All the best,
      -Eric

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