Give It Away: One Solution To The Book Publishing Blues
It's been slightly over two years since I finished writing my first novel, The Paths Life Takes. Since that day she has sat quietly in various computer hard drives, on CD data discs, on a floppy disc, and even in a cardboard box awaiting shipping to a publisher. She's been very patient waiting to see if I'll ever help fulfill her purpose of having people read her. Not once has she raised a fuss when I've let months go by and not even made an effort to find her a publisher. Even when I've ignored her completely, forgotten her existence entirely, she has continued to wait for me without a word of complaint.
Every so often I might open one of her files and dust off some of the language in an attempt to pretty her up, but my heart isn't really into it, and I think she must some times know it. Yet, she is very understanding and doesn't take it personally, accepting my cowardly behaviour without criticism. For what else but cowardliness can explain my inertia when it comes to seeking out publishers for her more actively? If, as I claim to do, love her so greatly, why am I unable to commit myself to applying to one of the many publishers still out there who look at writings from new writers, if not because I'm afraid of something?
Once in a while I'll make the effort of looking up the submission guidelines for various publishers, and will even go so far as to bookmark the page on their web site where they outline exactly what they want from writers. For a half hour or so I tell myself that I will really do it this time, send off the thirty pages that they want, with the synopsis and covering letter. Yet in the end I don't - there's always some excuse. I don't have the postage to pay for sending off the required number of pages, I'm too busy to write the chapter by chapter breakdown that one publisher requires, or the marketing plan that another requires are three of the most common ones I've used recently.
I don't know what happened, because it never used to be like this with me and her. When I first finished the manuscript I had no trouble motivating myself to do anything required by a publisher - heck I even paid the postage required to send a three hundred page manuscript to India on the chance that Penguin India would be interested in it (no). Even the four rejection letters that I've received by mail and by e-mail were like badges to be displayed in honour as they proved my gallantry under fire, and only made me more determined to win a place for my beloved amongst others of her kind on shelves.
So why than do I now feel such an overwhelming sense of disquiet, a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach, whenever I contemplate another publisher's submission page? Why has the strength of my desire dissipated to such an extent that all I end up doing is saying "What's the use"? I went back and read over the first chapter again, and realized I still liked what I had written - so it's not a matter of doubting her quality. I still think she's a good as most of what's on the market, if not better, and don't feel the least bit of embarrassment in saying so either.
Yet still I stall and refuse to do anything about publishing her, so I have to figure that a part of me is afraid, but afraid of what? If I'm honest with myself the fear is that I will be found out as a fraud and somebody will finally say it to my face that I'm not a writer and should seriously consider finding something else to do with my time. That this flies in the face of all the evidence that's been accumulating over the past year or so that says otherwise does little or nothing to console me. Deep seated insecurities quickly overwhelm concrete evidence when left alone to dominate your thoughts in the middle of the night.
So what if the German edition of Rolling Stone published /commissioned me to write a feature article and interview with Willy DeVille last February? Who cares that I've signed a free lance contract with Deutsche Welle to write an article a month for their English language "Qantara.de - Dialogue With The Islamic World" web site? It all sounds very impressive but it means absolutely nothing to the inner demon who whispers in my ear, "Who do you think you're fooling and how long do you expect to continue to get away with it?"
The standard advice that is normally given when dealing with fears like this is that one should face up to them in order to prove them wrong. I can understand the logic behind that as I've done just that in the past with other things that have required a leap of faith, a leap in the dark. The problem in this case is how can I get people to read the book if there is no means available for them to do so? Sending thirty pages to a publisher to have them write back and say its not what we're looking for at this time, or words to that effect, isn't going to tell me whether somebody liked reading my book or why they didn't. What I need is a way of getting people to read the damn thing so that I can face the people who matter - readers of books, but without a publisher how do I do that?
Well I guess the answer would be obvious to most of you, but it had to be pointed out to me. Yesterday I reviewed on these pages the novel Little Brother by Cory Doctorow that I had downloaded for free from his web site. Even though Cory has a publisher, Tor books, and his books are available for sale in book stores and on line, he has free download sites for all his books and encourages people to translate them and distribute copies of them in countries where they're not available for publication.
He cites as his inspiration for doing this somebody saying to him once that his problem is not people pirating his work, but his obscurity. Reading his site, and reading about what he does with his books, inspired me all over again. True I don't have a publisher for my work, but I do have the potential for putting things on the market if people want to buy a hard copy through any of the print on demand options available to writers these days. Why couldn't I do what he's doing and offer copies of The Paths Life Takes as a free download in PDF format at my web site? I could give them the option of also purchasing a copy through Amazon.com, or maybe even making a donation through my PayPal account for the download?
Supposedly I receive around a thousand unique visitors to my Leap In The Dark blog every week, and there must be a few people who read me here at Blogcritics.org. Some of them could be curious enough to download a free copy of a novel I've written, just to check out what I've done. They won't be risking anything, all it will cost them will be the time it takes to read enough of the book to decide whether they like it enough to keep reading it or not. I don't expect everybody to like it, but maybe some of them will, and maybe some of them will like it enough to translate it into other languages for me so it can be made available for other people to read in other countries. The possibilities are endless - heck there's even the chance a publisher will notice me and offer to publish, if not this book, but it's sequel. Heck if this works out it will even give me the motivation to finish writing the sequel.
Look, I know, the reality is that probably very few people will actually download her, what motivation will they have for doing so other than the fact that I'm offering free copies. In all likelihood the fact that I'm offering it for free will turn most people off because they'll think if its free it can't be any good. However, as it stands right now, nobody is reading her, and at least this way somebody might. I've recently opened my own Facebook and My Space pages where I can create download centres and promote the book as well.
What have I got to lose? I'll feel better about myself for having done something, and I'll be facing up to my fears. A writer isn't a writer unless he or she is willing to let people read what they have written. I'm willing to let people read what I've written - now the question remains are people going to be willing to read it? Well, are you? As soon as I figure out how to go about setting up download sites I guess I'll find out.