The Good Gray Poet in all his glory
Even though many successful — and I mean New York Times best-selling authors — authors have turned to self-publishing, self-publishing today still carries a certain stigma to it. Many readers think that if an author self-publishes, it means he or she failed at landing an agent or a publisher. That may be true for some authors.
However, there’s another truth.
There are some authors who self-publish and then get picked up by major publishers. There are other authors who never bother trying to place their work with so-called traditional publishers at all. Further, some authors have found critical and monetary success in traditional book publishing, and then have turned to self-publishing.
I am an editor at a book publishing house, so I’ll say that I have firsthand experience as to the many benefits of signing with a traditional publisher. That said, there are also benefits to self-publishing. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I think it’s a matter of knowing your strengths and knowing what works best for you and for your book.
There is no shame in making the decision to self-publish. It gives you complete creative control over your words. This includes selecting the title for your book. Many first-time authors don’t realize that, though they submit their book with a title idea, the editors, marketers, and publishers at traditional publishing houses have the final say and may completely alter your title. Same goes for cover. Most authors have little, if any say, as to their cover design. As a self-publisher, you make all the decisions. You also generally have a higher profit margin, though you personally will incur the cost of hiring an editor, hiring a cover designer, hiring someone to layout your interior pages, printing the book, marketing the book, shipping the book to retailers, and so forth. There’s an incredible amount of dedication and work that goes into self-publishing. It’s not the easier route.
And if someone still shames you for self-publishing, just tell them Walt Whitman did it.
Walt Whitman self-published the seminal poetry collection Leaves of Grass in Brooklyn in 1855. Bridges and schools have been named after him. His birth home is a pilgrimage for poets.
For the 150th anniversary of the self-published book, literary critic Harold Bloom said:
If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself, you have never composed a line of verse. You can nominate a fair number of literary works as candidates for the secular Scripture of the United States. They might include Melville’s Moby-Dick, Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Emerson’s two series of Essays and The Conduct of Life. None of those, not even Emerson’s, are as central as the first edition of Leaves of Grass.
I don’t mind being in the company of Walt Whitman. Do you?
Happy New Year!
I’ve been thinking a lot about what specifically I want to accomplish with my writing this year. My Burnside Writers Collective friend Adam P. Newton recently posted Brooke Warner‘s piece “52 Things Ideas for Writers for 2015.” I’ve read a lot of generic lists, but this list had some great ideas on it.
Since I tend toward the stream of conscious, I particularly thought this idea would be helpful for improving the structure of my memoir:
Map a book you love. It will teach you a lot to outline a book you’ve read more than once to see how another author thinks about structure, scenes, and narrative arc.
I guess I better get to work!
Along with two other very talented writers and editors, Maurice and Nana, I will once again be hosting the Redeemer Writers Group after our summer hiatus. The dates for our fall “semester” have now been finalized:
September 22, 2014. 7-9pm.
October 20, 2014. 7-9pm.November 17, 2014. 7-9pm.
That’s Cute that You Think You’re Subversive: How the CIA Promoted the Radical Arts During the Cold War29 Jul
During a recent writing workshop that I’m part of with two female writers, our conversation rambled along to the topic of how the CIA had advanced abstract expressionism. That weekend one of the writers asked if I’d pass along the article I had referred to. I did a quick search for it online, and realized I’d actually read several articles about how the CIA had been involved in promoting artistic and intellectual communities that many people tend to think of as nonconformist, liberal, and subversive.
Here’s a quick roundup of articles about the CIA promoting nonconformist art and literature:
- The article I was thinking of was The Independent‘s “Modern art was CIA ‘weapon,’” about how the CIA used art to show how free-thinking the US was in comparison to Russia during the Cold War
- The Chronicle of Higher Education published “How Iowa Flattened Literature,” which shows the CIA’s involvement with the esteemed Iowa Writers Workshop
- Work in Progress’ “George the Gentlemanly Ghost,” references the CIA being involved in The Paris Review. It’s worth noting that Jack Kerouac’s first clip from On the Road was published in The Paris Review. (You can read more about that in my book Burning Furiously Beautiful.)
- Encounter Magazine, the UK lit mag founded by poet Stephen Spender and journalist Irving Kristol in 1953, was funded by the CIA
I’m sure there are more, some we know of and some we don’t. Please add your stories and links in the comments section.
There’s a lot to be said here, but it raised a few questions for me:
- Without the CIA’s help in funding and promoting modern arts, would these works have remained obscure?
- Is modern art a scam, and traditionalists correct that it’s not real art?
- Is the art and literature of the 1950s and ’60s a reaction to or a product of its times?
- Can something be subversive even if it’s a political ploy?
Whole books could be written in answer to these questions. They’re important topics to consider and discuss, but I want to take a far less Big Brother approach and ask:
- What are you trying to accomplish by being subversive?
- Why do you want to be different?
- Where do you get your information and how do you evaluate it?
- Who is challenging you to think outside of your own box?
I’m all for dancing to the beat of your own drum. But is that what you’re really doing?
Happy Friday! I’ve rounded up a bunch of Buzzfeed articles that feed my need to travel. Hey, if you’re a starving artist and not traveling anywhere this summer at least you can read!
The Trainspotting Guide to London
12 Literary Spots in London That Every Book Lover Needs to Visit
23 Beautifully Bookish Places to Explore This Summer
26 Real Places That Look Like They’ve Been Taken Out of Fairy Tales
40 Books That Will Make You Want to Visit France
This upcoming Monday, June 23, 2014, I’ll be leading a writing workshop with my friends and fellow writers Nana, Maurice, and Jane at the Redeemer Offices.
Last month when we met I walked away feeling so blessed and inspired. Even though I’m one of the leaders of the group, I get so much out of it. Everyone’s working in different genres and is at different places in their journeys as writers, which could make for an awkward workshop experience, but in actuality has turned out to be really great because people give and get such fresh insight. It’s exposed me to types of literature I wouldn’t normally choose to read on my own, stretching me to be more open minded. As a writing instructor, I’ve grown as I’ve thought more about how to encourage craft above genre and what makes for great writing. I’ve been surprised to discover I actually want to read more of genres I thought I disliked.
We don’t demand commitment to the group, but we’ve found that we now have a group of “regulars.” We’ve seen their work evolve and improve in such tremendous ways. Some people have started out with so much heart but less craft, and they’ve worked hard and brought revised pieces in that show how much they’re growing. Others are natural storytellers, and I’ve been blown away by how great their work is. There are some people in the group who are published authors. There are others who need to finish their manuscripts already because their works are funny and meaningful, and I want to see them get published.
Here’s the essential info if you’re interested in joining us:::
- When: Monday, June 23, 2014
- Time: 7-9pm.
- Where: Redeemer Offices (1359 Broadway, 4th Floor, Main Conference Room)
- Bring: Please bring 1 to 2 pages of your writing in any genre to share for critique
- Cost: Admission is free.
What do you think makes for a good writing workshop?
The next Redeemer Writers Group after that will be July 21. For a full schedule of my workshops and readings, see the Appearances section of my website.
For more of my posts on writing as a craft and as a business, see Writing Wednesday.