You’re a what?

A self-published author.  Hold on and hear me out.

Not too long ago, what I do was called vanity publishing (insert sneer).  The meaning of the expression was pretty clear.  It was for authors who couldn’t get a publisher but were vain enough to think they were great writers and that the traditional houses didn’t know what they were missing.  You paid for x number of books and had to sell them yourself.  It was a practice that was ridiculed and looked down upon by “real” writers and publishers.  I recall comments in Writer’s Digest back in the eighties warning against vanity publishing.

I imagine the lack of marketing left many cartons of unsold books in attics, basements, and garages the world over.

Times and technology have changed, but attitudes remain pretty hind bound.  We are still considered by many to be nothing more than wannabes.

Like I care.

A group of us dirty wannabes had a discussion at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium (Clawson, Michigan) last week about these attitudes.  For newcomers, the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium is a bookstore/publisher here in southeast Michigan.  In addition to used books, they feature and support local self-published Michigan authors.  Walk in the front door and our books are the first ones you’ll see.  They carry some 250+ titles, including mine.  The Scriptorium has become my new favorite place.  They offer seminars, host book signings, link writers with illustrators, and are just all around passionate about local writers.  Led by the fearless and intrepid Diana, there’s nothing they won’t do to help an author succeed, including opening up space in the store for us to just sit down and work on our manuscripts.  You can even bring your dog.

Recently, a man entered the bookstore and inquired about the focus on local/self-published authors.  He felt if we were any good, we’d be published by one of the big publishing houses.  He was getting pretty loud about it and as the store was filled with kids attending a book launch for a local author, he was invited to shop elsewhere.

One of our “Idea Lab” members wondered if our critic expected every NFL player to have won the Super Bowl.

He makes a valid point.

Writing seems to be the only art form in which you aren’t considered a legitimate artist unless you have a contract with some faceless entity.

Remember that musician playing the local club last week?  Did they have a contract with a record label?  How many Grammys have they won?  Did you ask for these credentials or just sit and enjoy the music?  Would you have walked out of the venue if these credentials weren’t produced?

Or how about the local art fairs you enjoy every summer?  Did those artists have showings at the Guggenheim?  Do their paintings and sculptures sit in the homes of prominent people?  Did you turn up your nose and walk away when you found out they had no wealthy patrons?

If you can enjoy the work of artists in other fields without asking who “allows” them to create and sell their art, why don’t you give writers the same courtesy?

Granted, there are bad writers out there.  There are also bad singers, songwriters, painters, and sculptors.  Sour apples, I grant you, but none of that would stop you from listening to or purchasing what better artists offer.  Nor would you malign all artists as wannabes who can’t make it, simply because they work out of their garage and personally hawk their wares to the public.

In fact, we even have a name for these unknowns.  We don’t call them wannabes or losers.  We call them local artists and they are given at least a modicum of respect.

Writing is an art form, no less so than painting or playing music.  It’s difficult; and maybe bad writing is glaringly obvious in the sense that we expect stories to be told in a certain way, following certain rules, while the appreciation of other art forms is more subjective.  I get that.  But how will you know unless you give us a chance?

I made the decision a few years ago to stop banging on doors that were never likely to open to an unknown.  I realized that I could spend the rest of my life trying to get some faceless (and sometimes soulless) publisher to consider my work, reaching zero readers in the process, or I could take that leap into self-publishing and sell a few books.

I haven’t sold many yet, but I’ve sold a lot more than those writers who are still waiting for the publishing gods to cast them a crumb.

Your stories are your art.  Do your best and put them out there.  You don’t need permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

still largely considered to be wann

 

 

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A New Venture with a Grey Wolfe

When I wrote Winthrop Risk, Detective, it wasn’t meant to be a picture book.  It’s what I call a transitional book.

Let me explain.

When my younger son was a child, he struggled to read because of his dyslexia.  He loved stories but just couldn’t read them by himself.  After much time and struggle (thank you, Hooked on Phonics!), he began to get the hang of it.  Still, moving him from picture books to chapter books was proving to be impossible.  I managed to find a couple of books that had short, easy chapters and only a few pencil illustrations.  Each chapter he read on his own gave him the confidence to try another one.  Eventually, he was able to move on to full-length books.  At 27, he still struggles with words; but he loves to read and has even started to write a book of his own.  Helping children like him gently transition from picture books to chapter books was what I had in mind when I wrote Winthrop Risk, Detective.

I believe kids who have reading problems (especially boys) lose their interest in stories because they can’t make the move from books where the pictures tell the story to chapter books where there are only words to tell the story.  I wanted to write a few books that would serve as a transition between those two worlds.  Sadly, my attempts at illustration have been, well, unfortunate; and hiring an artist was financially out of the question.  I forged ahead and self-published the book as a simple 32-page, 4-chapter book.

The result was a book with a good story but an amateurish appearance.  I’ve sold about a half-dozen copies on Amazon and Kindle.

A couple of weeks ago, I came upon a TV interview with a local author and he mentioned a place called the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium (http://www.GreyWolfePublishing.com).  It’s an indie bookstore and publisher housed in a strip mall not too far from here.  They emphasize local Michigan authors in their store, offer publishing advice and services (including providing illustrators who work at an affordable price), and host a variety of writing events.  I contacted them and they graciously accepted a few copies of my book for their local authors’ section.

Sometime this summer, they’ll arrange for me to do a reading in the store.  They’ll also spotlight the book on their Facebook page.  I’ve been invited to sit in on their monthly meetings of authors, illustrators, and others in the book industry to swap ideas and get advice.  They’re also going to help me set up a website.  They love books and they respect the people who create them.  Amazon is simply too monolithic an entity for all that.  In fact, from what I hear, not even big traditional publishers put that kind of effort into their authors.

I don’t regret making the move to self-publish on Amazon.  If I didn’t have the book out there, I wouldn’t have something to put on the shelf at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium.  I know other indie authors are doing well with Amazon, but it just doesn’t seem to be working for me the way I have it set up.  I’ll take the lion’s share of the blame for that; but let’s face it, Amazon simply prints on demand whatever people write, and a lot of that is garbage.  They profit when a book sells, regardless of its quality, so it makes no business sense for them to put any effort into promotion.  You have to pay to promote your book with them in the hope it will be noticed among the thousands of other titles Amazon carries.  More money for them.  It’s basic capitalism–they provide a service and we pay for that service.  Nobody holds a gun to our head.  We agree to the terms, but the odds definitely favor the house.

My plan, if the folks at Grey Wolfe agree, is to eventually pull my book from Amazon, have an illustrator do some simple drawings for each chapter, and republish the book through their indie publishing group, Write Duck Press.  The Winthrop Risk sequels I’m planning would go there, as well.  Eventually, I’ll save up enough money to pay an illustrator so I can start publishing the picture book manuscripts I’ve been sitting on.  And I’ll have the backup of experienced people who actually care whether or not my stories are purchased and read.

I wish I had known about Grey Wolfe Publishing/Write Duck Press/The Grey Wolfe Scriptorium a couple of years ago.  If you live in Michigan, check out their store in Clawson, Michigan.  They carry more than 100 titles by local authors.  Buy a book!  Wherever you live, look for an indie bookstore in your area.  They may have services available to you as an author that you’ll never get from the big boys in the publishing world.

Publishing doesn’t have to be the demoralizing experience it has become for so many writers.  There are still people out there who appreciate and respect the storytellers in the world.  Let the big publishing houses continue to crank out formulaic, trendy, market-driven, plotless titles featuring TV cartoon characters.  Thank goodness, today’s writers have other options.

Thank you, Grey Wolfe Scriptorium!