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Fear and Loathing in Self-Publishing

Where I’m from it’s impolite to speak of those that have passed, but I’d like to apologize to Hunter Thompson for the title of today’s post.  And in other news…I’m cured!  The madness that has remorselessly held me in its grip the past month or so has suddenly subsided, and for once I’m focused on something that isn’t orange and bouncy. It’s a miracle!  No. It’s the fact that the Wildcats lost to UCONN in this past weekend’s Final Four. Oh well. There’s always next year. And besides, I feel more like my old self again and it’s back to the books and literature for this blogger. And if all goes well then more historical fiction and more writing about historical fiction to boot.

I had planned on posting a review of Ben Kane’s newest book, The Road to Rome, but fate or the postal service is to blame for best laid plans going awry. Either way, the book has not yet made it to my doorstep. Until The Road to Rome does arrive, how about taking a peek at an excerpt from a historical novel I recently finished (writing):

“Over two thousand years ago, in a vanished world in which gallant death and honor still holds sway, Gaius Julius Caesar is crushing Briton’s fierce, blue-painted warlords and exacting a heavy price in exchange for peace. News from Rome and word of rebellion in war-ravaged Gaul cut short Caesar’s invasion of Briton, leaving him little choice but to return to Gaul. Leaving for Gaul, Caesar entrusts a depleted legion to Cussius Caesar, and senior centurion, Marcus Rulus. With orders to further explore Briton and return to Gaul with the tribute, Marcus and Cussius find themselves in a remarkable quest to carve a future out of the land.  A Roman Peace in Briton: Blood on the Stone follows the lives of those left behind whose fates become bound to the people of the fabled, fog-bound lands of ancient Briton. Filled with dramatic scenes and abounding in fictional and historical personalities, this first novel in a planned trilogy hooks with passionate storytelling and engulfs the reader in events of historical legend.”

And there it is. The proposed contents for the inside of my novel’s book jacket laid bare for all the world to see. Trust me on this. Condensing a 112,000 word novel into a catchy squib and synopsis is not as easy as it would seem. As a matter of fact, its nigh impossible. Perhaps if I were pursuing the traditional route of publishing, an in-house editor at xyz literary agency would come up with something catchier and squibbier than what my efforts have yielded to date. (xyz agency would likely tell me that “squibbier” is not a word and justly so) Or maybe not. That’s part and parcel of the beauty of self-publishing.

There are risks involved, even for something as seemingly minor as coming up with the jacket squib. On the plus side of the ledger, the writer maintains control of his or her work. On the negative side of the ledger, the writer maintains control of his or her work. Confusing? Not really.  Unless you’re Stephen King  and don’t give two twits about punctuation and sentence structure, most times it just makes sense to have other folks eyeballing your work.  Experienced readers, and proof readers and copy editors will notice things the writer’s mind skips over, or is just too stubborn to notice without the proper prompting.  No matter which route is taken there remains one unavoidable fact: a lot of hard work goes into producing a quality product.

Though I intend on self-publishing (insert horrified gasps here) I have been fortunate in that my manuscript’s odyssey started way back when I stumbled across a local book club whose members just so happened to have an appetite for historical fiction. Though I’m not a member of their book club they were  kind enough to read the manuscript in its infancy.  Suffice to say their reviews and feedback proved invaluable to the evolution of the novel. The novel continued to form as it made its rounds amongst interested family and valued friends. More feedback resulted and revisions quickly followed. Finally, a veteran copy-editor with an eye for details and historical context undertook the project after a chance encounter at a second-hand store.  Another round of rewrites ensued.  During this three year period the manuscript had also been accepted for review by a couple of literary agents who ultimately declined representation.  Boo hoo. How will I ever recover from the stigma of rejection?

By doing it myself that’s how. Gasp. Sniff. The horror of it all. Yes. All of that. I’m sure some of you must think this blogger to be quite mad and still mired in the last ebbing throes of Final Four fever. I assure you that’s not the case. I’m content and at peace with self-publishing.  Don’t get my meaning crossed. It’s not that self-publishing is any easier than having an agent and publishing house.  It’s not. It’s actually harder. Looming great is the proverbial mountain that must be scaled.  But it’s not as if I’m the first writer to go it alone. He of the wanton punctuation, Stephen King, and others like Virginia Woolf, Thomas Paine, John Grisham, Mark Twain, Hemingway, T.S. Elliot and Beatrix Potter are a mere handful of the literary giants who at one time or another took a rejected manuscript and published it themselves.  Self-publishing stories invariably make for good story telling as well.  It’s hard not to admire the pluck shown by John Grisham who wouldn’t give up and sold copies of his first novel from the trunk of his car.  Or how about the most recent self-publishing hero Amanda Hocking who endured rejection after rejection from agents and publishing houses, but still managed to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of her self-published novels.

My hat is off to all of them and from their examples I will take inspiration and be ever mindful to hone and polish my work before releasing the same for public consumption.  That day is not too far off.

Ever the Fool

Draining another cup of complimentary coffee, I tossed the empty Styrofoam cup into the waste basket and sidled into the chair opposite a neatly dressed gentleman whom I only have occasion to see once a year.  As soon as my bottom touched down, an overwhelming sense of dread engulfed me. The temperature outside was not even 40 degrees, but my nerves did not know the difference and the sweat  poured from my face, stinging eyes and continuing in salty rivulets as it coursed through the stubble of my unshaven cheeks and jaw and into the cotton fabric of my hoodie.

“Do you have everything?” the gentleman asked.

“I think,”  I said, frisking my jeans pockets one last time and emerging with stray lint and an old piece of gum. Not surprisingly, the gentleman refused the offer of gum.  “It should all be there,” I said, sliding the manila folder across the desk and into the practiced hands of  my tax preparer, Rob.

Rob opened the packet and riffled through the assortment of documents, clucking his tongue against the side of his cheek. “Here we go,” he said, his hand emerging with the sweet stuff: w-2′s, student loans and mortgage interest documents, charitable contributions, etc. “Let’s see what the damage is.”

My heart leaped into my throat and the walls seemed to push inward, the room suddenly grown smaller.  “Damage? What do you mean?” I asked, already knowing the answer but loathe to accept it.

“What you’re going to owe to the state and Uncle Sam,” came the reply.

And there it was. The proverbial shot across the bow. The dread words most taxpayers never wish to have muttered in their presence.  My adrenal glands reacted as expected: overly so. Squirming in the chair, images of indentured servitude and debtors prison competed for slots in my mind’s eye with visions of stony-faced tax collectors demanding my eldest born in exchange for clemency.

Rob took in the spectacle, a sympathetic smile turning up the corners of his mouth. “If anything,” Rob added, his fingers already gliding over the keyboard of the computer, feverishly adding and subtracting, exempting this and crediting that.  It was not long before the familiar whir of a high speed printer spat out the sum of last year’s labors.

Rob scanned it over and looked up, his expression flat and unreadable. He cleared his throat.  “Your refund is…”

I never heard the amount.  It didn’t matter. I was too busy reveling in another year of mediocrity to really care.  Thanking Rob, I left his office with dreams of converting the tax refund into  a cross-country flight to Houston and hotel room and a pair of seats for the Final Four.  That’s right. I’m still struggling with madness, or as someone with no medical training diagnosed; I have Final Four Fever.  What? You thought this blog post was about taxes? Not a chance. Not with UK still playing ball.

Mad Monday

It’s Monday, March 28th. Three days have passed since my last day of employment as a magistrate. This morning passed as any other morning before it. Yawn, shower, dress and go. I was downtown before the first stirrings of dawn, except this time I remained huddled outside in the chill stamping my feet and sipping hot coffee to stay warm. I waited for the line at the temp agency to form, but none ever did. The coffee dried up and my interest with it so I left for home, hoping to put some time in on my manuscript. That never happened. The unfinished book sits alone, a mere arm-length away, loitering and collecting dust on the corner of the desk. And it can stay there, at least for time being. And why is that?

Because I’ve been stricken with madness, that’s why. March Madness. And I’ve picked up a serious case of it and don’t see my condition improving until at least this coming Saturday. You see, I’m a University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan, which means that I’m prone to extremes when the Cats are performing well at this time of the year. (You should see the other extreme when the Cats are playing poorly. Not pretty) And they are performing well. Just ask Ohio State and North Carolina and West Virginia and Princeton before that. But that’s yesterday’s news and now it’s off to Houston, Texas for the Cats, and into the Final Four. I want to be there and I know that every day this week will find me wrestling with the impulse to road trip it to Houston and try to score tickets. Until this Saturday’s match-up of UK v UCONN comes and goes, I will probably think of little else. See. I told you. I have it bad.

Now everyone out there in the blogosphere can stop the bellyaching and groaning. I assure you that Joe Unleashed is not going to suddenly morph into a sports blog. But until my obsession with writing and literature returns, let the madness continue…

Lost in the Grip of Madness

Powering up the laptop, I had every intention of scratching out a quick book review on a novel I had just finished the day before.  Setting fingers to keyboard, all my intentions amounted to nothing more than a blank screen and blinking cursor.  Curses!  Writers block? Not exactly. It was a good book and worth mentioning, but all I could think about was this Friday,  the 25th of March.  No, I’m not referring to this Friday as being my last day employed as a magistrate. Though it is, of course.  But joining the great mass of unemployed pales in comparison to the cataclysmic event set to go off at 9:45 p.m. in Newark, New Jersey.

I’m talking March Madness, player! (I wanted to say ‘baby’ and not player, but baby belongs to the bald one, Dicky Vitale) I’m talking about the number one overall seed, the Ohio State University Buckeyes, colliding with college hoops royalty, the fourth-seeded Wildcats of Kentucky. Even the most lukewarm of hoops fans should be excited about this one. It’s a Final Four worthy match-up the world will be treated to come this Friday evening. So gather with friends and family and park yourself in front of the big screen and enjoy what I suspect will become an instant classic.  Until then, this speck of blue lost in a sea of scarlet and gray can only hope that March’s Madness will soon recede and lucidity makes a welcome return. When it does, so will the blogs.  Until then, for all you hoops fans salivating over the match-up, check out my boy at tencentbeerblog See you all Saturday.

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