Friday, August 27, 2010

Experiments in Self-Publishing

There is a general belief held by The Public that self-publishing only happens because the author's work wasn't "good enough" to get a book deal (or "be published for real"). It's like when a college student and a professor hook up: it's not against the rules, but it is frowned upon (plus, sometimes, super hot). This same Public, on the other hand, praises indie rock bands and gets super pissed when their favorite underground band does, after many years, get a record deal, lambasting them for "selling out".

"Do I get an A, professor?"
Well, friends, the reality of the publishing industry is that it is a business; their bottom line trumps all else. While many a good book is published every year, there are thousands that aren't so much "good" as they are "marketable." The ridiculous hoops an author must push their work through just to get someone of any level of influence to read passed the blurb on their query letter is daunting, exhausting, and discouraging. Unless, of course, you have "networking skills," which basically means schmoozing your way into collecting names and numbers of the people who can help you out. Only the strongest survive in the cut-throat world of publishing - and, friends, strongest does not always mean "best," but rather "most persistent."

But there is hope! And that hope takes the form of technology. E-readers and internet publishing, along with print-on-demand publishing, are not only greener alternatives to traditional publishing but also take some of the power away from the publisher to decide what is "good" and puts it back into the hands of the authors and the consumers. Because a publisher's cost to put out an ebook is drastically lower than a bazillion hardbound copies that are on an indirect journey to the local landfill or recycling plant anyway, the cost to the consumer is also drastically lowered. Lower fiscal risk to the publisher means they will take more chances on unknown authors or unconventional work, and the consumer, paying now ten or fewer dollars as opposed to twenty or more dollars to try something new, will take more chances on these same books. Print-on-demand publishing offers the same benefits.

p.s. don't actually watch this movie, it is terrible
One advantage traditional publishing (or having a literary agent) does give the author is a paycheck. But most authors worth their weight in words (even those you suspect are being paid quite highly per manuscript) have a "day job", usually teaching or in a similar field, and certainly don't expect to make a living off their passion (though, wouldn't it be nice?). It's more about getting the work out there, finding a readership, and sharing the love. Which, I admit, traditional publishing, once again by means of shelling out the greenbacks, can help the work reach more readers than if the author does all the marketing themselves. But if it's a choice between letting your manuscript collect whatever the microchip equivalent of dust is sitting on your hard drive, or putting it out there to possibly connect with even one reader who doesn't know you or owe you anything who might just like it, then I choose the former.

All of this to say, I'm experimenting with self-publishing through Amazon's print-on-demand imprint, CreateSpace.  In the next few weeks, I am going to be publishing my novel Sleep Like This, which I would tell you more about but, man, I wrote a lot of stuff here already. So I leave you with the cover image of the book, provided by the awesome and generous Louise ORourke, and a promise to tell you more about it as the release date nears.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer Reading in Review

Gay, straight, whatever. Pls lern to spel.
My goal at summer's outset was to read everything by my current professors that I could get my hands on, everything by Martin Amis that I had recently purchased, and everything by Philip K Dick that I had also just purchased. Lofty, lofty goals. Here is what I actually ended up reading (in the order in which I read them):

1. A Boy in Winter - Maxine Chernoff. This story explores the aftermath of a child's fatal mistake from the point of view of first his mother and then himself. It's interesting terrain, but I must say I felt the ending was too "oh no this thing needs a plot?!? crap." Because, really, it didn't need that extra plottiness at the end; I was digging it as just a kind of portrait.

2. Battle Royale - Koushun Takami. Ohhhh yeah muthafuckin society all defunct to shit with government sponsored kiddie battles to the death, yo. This was really way more interesting to read to discover the parallels and disparities between it and its movie counterpart than for any other reason. Which I seem to recall having reviewed many months ago.

3. House of Leaves - Mark Danielewski. This is definitely one o' them love 'em or hate 'em books. My money is on love, but I do have to admit that I skipped sizable chunks of what I considered to be the secondary narrative and concentrated on only reading the "essay" of the house and its explorers. It was pretty creepy.

4. I Drink for a Reason - David Cross. Sometimes when I am on break at work I just try to read books that don't make me think too hard about anything. This is one of those.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Steig Larrson. I finally caved to the hype over a six hour plane ride and subsequent vacation cruise. There is not a lot to do on a cruise ship besides eat, drink, gamble, sunbathe and read. This first installment lives up to the hype - I especially like its "closed room" mystery feel, and the characters are definitely original and finely tuned. Too bad this is the only book in which the main characters, Lisbeth and Mikael,  truly interact face to face.

6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K Dick. This book has, hands down, the most hilarious opening scene I've ever read. The entire book is actually quite funny (and brief), completely different from the movie, which was turned into some sci-fi crime romp entirely devoid of humor. And sheep, incidentally.

7. Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote. I'd seen the fantastic Infamous, which spurred me to read In Cold Blood, but never had I read any of Capote's straight fiction. This was a fascinating piece of literature, and I was surprised (though perhaps I shouldn't have been) at how little has changed over the years in regards to language and what is considered taboo. Sex and sex work, real or imagined, is kind of still regarded in the same "wow that's kind of erotic...maybe we shouldn't talk about it" kind of way. (Interesting side note, depending on what you find interesting: a had a customer sell some books the other day whose last name was Golightly. I asked if that was her given name, and she said, "Yes. At least my parents didn't name me Holly." I forget what her first name was.)

8. The Girl who Played with Fire - Steig Larsson. I ran out of things to read on my way back form vacation, so I bought this second installment in the airport, even though I had a perfectly good copy waiting for me back home. It got me through the flight, but it was not nearly as captivating as the first, especially with all the convenient "twists" in Salander's past. Whatevs, SAPO, who gives a shit...I wanna see Mikael and Lisbeth hug it out, dammit!

9. Soon I Will Be Invincible - Austin Grossman. Man, this guy killed a promising premise by faltering into the first-time novelist trap of summarizing instead of giving us scenes. I don't actually know if this was his first novel, but it sure felt amateurish. Seriously, I can pick out like maybe seven actual, full scenes that went on for at least five pages. SEVEN. It was all exposition, exposition, cardboard characters, exposition, explosions, the end. Disappointing.

10. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Steig Larsson. Speaking of disappointing. This final installment takes this series into full-on conspiracy thriller mode and leaves me wondering why I wasted the time slogging through the six-hundred page tome in the first place. Granted, I did skip many sections, scanning the pages for mention of Lisbeth Salander. She's the real draw. NO ONE CARES ABOUT SAPO. It's like the editors were too afraid to dissect Larsson's manuscript after he passed, and the story suffers immensely for it.

11. Silent Bob Speaks - Kevin Smith. Haha, Kevin Smith thought Jersey Girl was the best thing he'd ever done.

"My mom says yum."
12. I Love You, Beth Cooper - Larry Doyle. This is the second best book I read this summer, and probably one of the funniest books I've ever read. It is an excellent example of how deeply a unique narrative voice can effect a story; I mean, it was all about that voice. Which, unfortunately, could not be translated to the screen, as the film adaptation clearly demonstrates. But Hayden Panettiere. Yum.

13. Geek Love - Katherine Dunn. This was the best book I read this summer, maybe even of all time, I have not decided yet. It is just one of those stories that claws its way into your stomach and nests there, seeping its juices into the rest of your bodily functions on the daily. It's just so incredible. I had the same reaction to this as I did when I first read The Poisonwood Bible a few years ago: "Holy shit, how have I not read this before now?" Life is not the same after you read this. Trust me.

Well, there it is. Only thirteen books the entire summer seems small for me, but let's not forget this list does not include graphic novels or books I started but could not get through out of supreme lack of interest (cough Children of Men cough).

Yay!  Books!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Some of the Rejection Notes I've Gotten Lately

"Thank you for submitting "Benign," but we've decided that A cappella Zoo isn't the best venue for this story."

From Hobart:
"Thank you for sending us "Benign". We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us. That said, it is a strong piece and I both wish you luck with it and encourage you to submit again."

"Thank you for submitting to The Los Angeles Review.  While we have read your work with interest, it does not meet our editorial needs at this time. We appreciate your efforts, and wish you all the best in placing this work elsewhere. "

"Thanks so much for letting us read your work. We do so appreciate your interest in the Camera Obscura Journal and that your chose to entrust your story with us. Unfortunately, this story was not chosen for publication. We wish you much success with your writing."

From my brief semester as a Fourteen Hills staffer, I know the art of typing up the rejection letter is a fine one. In a rejection, you never encourage an author's writing unless you mean it, because when you say, "please submit again," they will submit again. I find each of these rejection notices encouraging in their own way. But goddammit, somebody publish my story because it's short and weird and I don't know what to add or remove to make it more appealing!

P.S. I use Duotrope for all my "trying to be a real writer who actually submits things for publication" needs.
P.P.S. Is "gotten" an acceptable term? Or is it like "boughten," which I accidentally say all the time?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

There Are No Stupid Questions

The other day, an elderly gentleman asked me to locate an old book for him. He said he was hard of hearing and I didn't want to continue yelling in his ear, so I told him we didn't have it. He then asked me if I could order it, and I said, "No, we're a used bookstore," to which he replied, "I'm not a bookstore! I live down the street, in a house." He was very polite, though.

This is the first image that came up when I typed in, "He lives down the street, in a house."

Awhile ago I overheard this exchange between two young adults:

"I like to read Stephen King, what about you?"
"Oh, I don't read, I write." 

I think any author worth their weight in words will tell you that a fundamental component of being a good writer is being a good reader. In a lot of ways, being a good, attentive, thoughtful reader is more difficult than writing, but the challenge gives you the perspective you need to be a better writer. It's like when you first learn to drive and highway driving is hella daunting (oh no! the California vernacular has invaded my speech!), but then you do it and realize, gee, highway driving is actually so much easier than city driving. I'm not sure which is reading and which is writing, highway or city driving....This analogy has gotten away from me a little here. I would delete it and start over but I never delete anything I write, I just save it in a different file. I have a lot of files saved on my computer titled "Crap."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Year of the Dayna

Some people's year begins January first. Some people's end December 2012. My year begins on the 24th, when classes start back up.

I seem to live my life as if my entire year were condensed into one month of competing in NaNoWriMo. In the first three months (week one on NaNo time), I get really excited about all the new projects I want to start and all the cool things we will be doing in classes this semester. I generate some new work and many, many lists of further things to generate. By month four (week two), I'm cruising along at a nice clip, confidant and reassuring myself that yes, I can do this writing thing, yes I can do this being-social thing, yes I can poop and eat a sandwich at the same time and not feel too bad about it. Then month six or seven hits (week three). Oh the dark, dark days of summer, where all my buried thoughts of self-loathing spurt up into the sparkly recesses of my brain and start setting fires. In response, I develop a "can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality and allow the procrastination (which has always been there but in a slightly subdued form) and lethargy to take over my body, mind and sleep schedule. And Chris Baty isn't even here to talk me up! Only once I've completely given in, to the point of disgusting even myself, do I begin to start to commence to initiate to engage in an active role in my own life. Thus, by the final few months (week four) I have bounced back into a caffeinated delirium of optimism and multitasking, finishing projects and creating others, taking the world by the balls as long as it means never leaving my house. I feel accomplished! I feel like an Adult! I feel like sleeping, jesus I am fucking tired. I collapse and wake up three hours after midnight, crying into my worthless hands as I realize I have missed the deadline yet again. Wait, that happens in NaNo time. In Me-time, it's pretty similar except I don't cry. I'm a man, dammit!

The point is, here is a list of projects and other things to which I may try to apply myself this year:

1. Do homework the day it's assigned. Usually, I do all my homework the night before it's due and then I feel really shitty when I'm underprepared in class, and feeling really shitty about something I'm perfectly capable of preventing causes me to blame society and my mother and all these effing delicious drugs for all of my short-comings, and oh look a mouse! Anyway, do your homework, Dayna. It's fun! (Holy shit, I believe you! Now sign over that lease for my beachfront property in Arizona.)

2. Make my dog fat. I will begin with human treats such as donuts and twinkies, and move on to the fatty meats like beef and bacon. Ice cream topped with straight-up lard for desert. Absolutely no moving except to pee and poop, which will be excreted into tubes that run over the balcony and deposit into the neighbor's living room. Two birds, one stone! 

3. Engage online writerly communities. A blog is not enough! I must read other blogs, and make comments, and promote others who in turn can promote me. Because everything, in the end, is about me. And sharks.

4. Devote time/monies to reading more independent/small press/self-published/online-only authors. Most of the big-name and mainstream authors everyone reads today are disappointing. Time to think outside the bookstore. Plus then I can interact with the authors (maybe) and again get that wheel of reciprocal reviews-promotion thing going.

5. Punch a random stranger in the face or stomach. I mean, what would they do? Not talking some huge guy or a junkie or a homeless man with nothing to lose, I mean more like a soccer mom or, better still, her ten-year old child. What would they do? I bet it's cry and run away, maybe pee a little if it's a stomach hit. We shall soon see!

6. Finish dormant writing projects. In the pipeline are: first draft of a novel, a book of short stories set in a Nevada brothel, and a short story about an endless staircase (stolen idea? whose stolen idea?).

7. Experiment with self-publishing. It gets kind of a bad rap, as many people think self-published titles are those that weren't good enough to be chosen by publishers to back in the market. But there are many factors that can lead to rejection from traditional publishing means. I plan to use Amazon's Createspace to publish my Senior Project manuscript. More about this in the coming blogs.

Notice how nowhere on this list is the item Blog More.  Suckers.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

(Possible) Return from Hiatus!

Dear Fellows (and Fellowesses),

My third semester of grad school looms ahead, reminding me that I need to start writing again. "BUT WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME!?" You scream at your freshly polished toes. Why, dear fellow or fellowess, it means that I may be posting here more often during those prolonged bouts of procrastination from my homework and/or during "personal days." Before you jump for joy, I must warn you that such an activity is ill-advised; it may ruin the fresh coat of Flaming Red 95 on your feetie digits.

Hey look! According to this scientifically accurate program that is never wrong ever, I write like David Foster Wallace. I have never even read that guy! Perhaps I should?

Here are some things to look forward to in this blog:

Tricked you!

And now, a message from our Corporate Sponsor:

"I like cheese."

What the hell does that have to do with anything!? This place is insane. I don't like this anymore. Get me out of here. I'm calling my lawyer! ....Mommy?