I ruminate how to start. I want to say it succinctly but I want to say it all. The only way is to dive in.
I am a writer. I have been a writer since I was about seventeen years old. I realized it during that crazy year at Santa Clara University; it’s one of the only positive things, in fact, that I salvaged out of that experience. Writing is my talent; it defines me as an individual.
It was because of the writing that I took off on the road and traveled around the world and got myself into all sorts of bizarre and dangerous situations: I realized that I had to live life in order to write about it. Well, life intervened and for many years I put the writing aside, as we had our first children and they began to grow up – but around fifteen years ago I began to write again. When I was younger I was beset with doubts that I didn’t know what to write about; now I am surfeited with ideas.
But even if I discount those lost years (and I rue that I lost them, that is, that I didn’t write my way through them) I have been writing altogether for about twenty-five years now.
When I was twenty I attended the prestigious Clarion West science fiction writing workshop. Several years ago I joined Science Fiction Writers of America, a professional organization – though I must point out that I don’t write only science fiction and
fantasy. I also write mainstream fiction, essays, and memoirs. I have had stories published in a number of science fiction, fantasy, and literary magazines and anthologies in several countries, and most of those stories have been very well-reviewed.
About a year ago I started self-publishing some of my material. I came to this decision after studying blogs and articles about the current state of publishing in the United
States and around the world. The rise of electronic text and e-readers certainly plays a major role, but so does the state of world finances. The largest publishers are huge corporations whose concern is not literature but their own bottom line. Then there are smaller publishers which turn out only a few titles per year. But large or small, all are struggling to adapt to major changes in the field. Borders, one of the largest bookstore chains, collapsed into bankruptcy; Barnes and Noble, the largest, is reducing its shelf space for books and stocking other odds and ends which are not books. In other words, shelf space for physical books is decreasing. As a result, traditional publishers both large and small are producing less books, and they are more cautious about the books they do produce. They tend to stick to known writers and the types of books that have sold well in the past, and are less open to newer writers and unique or original or quirky books. At the same time, though, space for electronic books is unlimited, but traditional publishers, for many reasons, have been slow to catch on to the up-and-coming phenomenon of e-books. Now these publishers are just starting to awaken to the importance of e-rights and are offering writers horrendous terms in order to secure them. In addition, other contract terms are getting worse and worse and author’s advances are shrinking.
Well, I don’t want to bore you with too many details. Suffice it to say that things are changing in the publishing world, and not changing slowly – it is in the midst of a storm
of change. And one trend that is becoming more and more popular with new and established writers is self-publishing. It used to be self-publishing was equated with vanity publishing, because it was so expensive to do it and there were no outlets for the completed books. No longer. There are a number of self-publishing venues online, which charge nothing for their services, offer viable sales outlets, and only take a percentage of sales. Among these are Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace, and Smashwords, an e-distributer. At CreateSpace you can upload interior and cover files to publish an actual paper book; the others publish e-books.
I began, as other published writers have, mainly with my backlist, that is, stories that had already been published. It was an experiment, a test run. I put together a collection, and also put the stories up individually. Nowadays many people download individual stories to read on their phones or iPads or whatever. Some of those early stories have decidedly mediocre covers – as I said, I was just learning. But more recent ones have improved. And the paper book covers are brilliant; loved ones who are graphic designers stepped in and helped me with them. So far I have two physical books available for sale, “The Dragon Ticket and Other Stories” and my memoir “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search“.
In addition, in electronic formats there are around twenty or so individual stories and two more books: “Painsharing and Other Stories” and “Love Children“, my first novel. The
second story collection will be available on paper in about a month.
This is a phenomenon which will not go away. As traditional publishers give up the ghost,
or constrict and shrink in fear of originality and innovation, artists will step in and make their work available themselves. We don’t need publishers anymore. They have been a sort of bastion, a citadel guarding the gates of art, but now that production and distribution are no longer solely in their hands they themselves must adjust to the changes
too. I still, in fact, publish my short stories traditionally sometimes. Just a few months ago my story “The Customs Shed” appeared in the anthology “Triangulation: Last Contact”. But writers, including myself, now have a choice which we never had before, and I for one am taking advantage of it. Royalties have begun to trickle in too. May they become a flood.
It is a great feeling to see the writing on which I labored for so long available to readers. And it is wonderful too to know that I can follow my muse and write whatever I feel led, without fear that powers-that-be can veto whatever they deem inappropriate. They deride independent authors, and why? Because they have set themselves up as watchdogs at the gates of literature, and they have been bypassed and bark in vain. We are already inside the house, roaming freely wherever we will.
In closing, lest you think independent publishing is too much on the fringes, I will share a list of writers who in the past have self-published at least some of their work. See if you recognize any of the names: William Blake, Willa Cather, T.S. Eliot, John Grisham, James Joyce, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, Marcel Proust, George Bernard Shaw, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman. They are all of them giants of literature; there are Nobel prize winners among them. This is just a sampling; there are many more – not to mention the many best-selling contemporary authors who are turning to self-publishing. Among them is J.K. Rowling, who is handling the electronic publishing of the Harry Potter books herself.
So support your local writer. Buy a book.