Self-Publish or Self-Perish

Most Saturdays, husband Dave and I push a cart around Costco, sampling the latest tooth-picked sausage dipped in some sugary goop. Across from the massive freezers, we observe self-published authors sitting at card tables behind piles of books. These artists are eagerly trying to catch passing shoppers. The lucky ones sign copies or hand out promotional brochures.

The other day a friend called to say her husband had been published by Publish America, a company that offers a shared-effort on getting your book onto shelves. Would-be writers dream of an acceptance check from Random House, imagining power lunches and sales strategies, a rarity. Some entrepreneurial authors choose to front their entire project, paying for an editor and printing costs. Advertising is job-one after producing a “good read.” You’ll need to spend money and don’t forget to calculate your profit margins. Some stores let self-publishers set up sales tables and you can go on-line with Amazon. There are also local and national fairs (the Anchorage Museum has a book fair over Thanksgiving). If your book appeals to tourists, gift shops may give you space. Sometimes a party is a great way to get started. Make sure your guests leave with a gift, maybe your book. A former professor who worked for the New Yorker told of editors endlessly rummaging through reject piles searching for a new Updike they’d overlooked. Evidence those days are gone can be found on book store tables where formulaic sameness appears the norm. Occasionally, self-published books are picked up by national houses. On the flip side, authors may get published only once or thrill to see their book made into a movie only to be forever shelved.

Universities have ramped up writing programs, money makers as students arrive with their own equipment/computers. Art departments subsidize costly film classes with proceeds from writing courses. You can join an organization like AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) or CAA (College Art Association) as a way to connect. Memberships come with magazines featuring articles on how to write (CAA is weekly on-line). These are good resources to find seminars or degree granting programs in both creative and art historical writing. Joining an on-line literary group keeps writing skills sharp while networking. Google National Book Network and discover trade shows—good places to find editors, agents or just browse the newly-published tomes. Some writers rent booths, usually pricey.

With all forms of creativity, it’s a hard job to convince the world you are worthy of attention. And luck plays a big part. Slaving for years on your project doesn’t mean others will like your results. Even if you are receptive to changing the length of your work or tweaking a character’s dialogue, it takes practice to obtain a voice. On the other hand, stick to your guns, be assertive about the message you’re conveying. Taking a writing course can provide constructive criticism and help you learn to revise. I think about the game Tetris when I “cut and paste.” Instructors encourage reading aloud or trading your verbiage with classmates. Bouncing ideas around increases self-confidence as you begin to understand what and how you like to write. Try reading unfamiliar genres to stretch your creativity. What about a mystery or see how a law book reads, they all have specific sets of rules and you’ll discover how different authors attract audiences. I had another professor who’d recite Kenny Rogers’ song “… you have know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em… .” when making the point about knowing when to put your pen or brush down.

Today’s writing is peppered with poor grammar, run-on sentences and slang. If it works, fine, but be careful not to have colloquialisms fetch up in wrong places or x-rated language sound forth from wrong characters. Buy an English Grammar Book for Dummies, they’re surprisingly more user-friendly than those four inch bricks you received in high school. I turn to other art forms to strengthen my writing. Paintings that have too many shapes and colors are a visual way to illustrate how writing can be cluttered. I enjoy books where a character or an object touches every aspect of the story and pulls me along. “The Wizard of Oz’s” Dorothy permeates every witch and flying monkey. The summer house in Virginia Woof’s “To the Lighthouse” does the same thing.

Computers not only make the physical task of writing easier, the internet has given would-be authors a fighting chance. As an art form writing isn’t messy and takes up little closet space. Everyone has a story to tell and if you have a gimmick don’t be afraid to push it onto the public but realize it may not be everyone’s taste. Write for yourself, for your dog or for the anthropologist who will uncover your rough draft and shout Eureka!

Guardians of the Glacier by Tim Saunders (Amazon) is a self-published science fiction book placed in the Alaskan wilderness.

“According to Tirin history logs, 10,296 years ago a small colony of Mieks had migrated to Sirin-plex from an underground metropolis known as Evircal….”

Twelve year old Jon and his mother Mary spend seven months with extraterrestrials who inhabit a glacier. There are talking animals and crystal caves. Of course these ETs have enemies and engage in fantastic battles in the Bush —nicely described by Saunders. A device called an “astral belt” has useful magical powers. Characters who read minds amuse and annoy. A lovable lizard named Enogwa is comic relief and flying birds called Qualmirs are one kind of transport. There is tasteful romance between Mary and Seth, the lead Tirin, and an adolescent crush between Jon and Perth, a teen-Tirin. The Tirins have acquired an incurable disease and Jon has something to do with the quest for a cure, helped by Choknar the shaman, who teaches him life’s lessons. Perth is a tomboy heading into battle, which might be why young girls enjoy this tale. When Jon finally returns to reality and his neighborhood school, Perth is magically sitting behind him waiting for Tim Saunders’ sequel.

Seth is heard to say, “I believe Jon is destined to be my replacement…”

Keep reading, keep writing.