Op-ed: How to Self-Publish and Not Perish in the Process




What’s happened to traditional publishing? It’s changed. And like most change, it’s complicated. Global economic forces, shifting tastes, technological innovation, politics, the usual suspects. For me, it started one night 20 years ago, when I was one of a group of young writers who showed up for a reading of our work at A Different Light Bookstore in Silver Lake, where Santa Monica Boulevard meets Sunset in L.A. Dutton had just published a collection of our work called Hometowns: Gay Men Write About Where They Belong, edited by John Preston. It was an exciting night, I remember. I was new to L.A., new to a relationship with the guy I’d come to L.A. with, new to the idea that I could really be a writer. Exciting and scary too. The world seemed full of possibilities. The ’90s were going to be amazing.

The ’90s ended up amazing all right, but not in the way I’d planned. My life took a few turns, and along the way I decided there were other things I needed to do besides write. The relationship I came to L.A. in ended on the drive out here, around Denver I think, but I stayed in it a year to be polite, and then moved on. Things changed. Got better, got worse. Got better, got different. Now A Different Light in Silver Lake is gone, and so is the West Hollywood store. So too, as I’ve mentioned, are a number of the gay publishers whose books and publications A Different Light used to carry. Some of the writers and influential voices in the LGBT community are gone too, like our Hometowns editor, John.

And then, because I seem to have terrible timing, a few years ago I decided I’d like to get back to writing after all. In such a changed landscape, however, I balked. How to begin again? What do you do? All this perishing before you even get started on the publishing part can be a little discouraging, I can tell you that much. If you have any interest in being a writer, and even if you already think of yourself as a writer, you have to wonder what’s going on in the world of publishing. So I asked my friend Gloria, who knows about these things.

“Darling,” she said, “there’s lots of work. There are no jobs, you understand, but there’s plenty of work.”

What I found out Gloria meant was — and you need to know this — there’s a whole lot of writing going on these days, to feed the beast called the Internet. But finding an agent to sign you, hooking up with a publisher who will pay you to publish your book, landing a full-time job as a writer? Difficult. And yes, I know, I know, it has never been easy, but trust me, it hasn’t gotten any easier.

And so, because I managed to do it myself and lived to tell the tale and now have one book self-published — On Wings of Affection —and another on the way, and because I have a big heart and I’m generous to a fault and I want to spare you some of the heartache and sorrow and frustration I’ve endured, I am sharing here my Seven Steps for Publishing Without Perishing:

One: Start by Looking Ahead. Whether you’ve already got a finished manuscript or you have nothing but some notes and a few good ideas, the day is going to come when that book of yours is published, by you or by somebody else, and then what happens? People are going to ask you about it, and they are going to ask about you. So be ready. Buy a domain name — ideally your own name or the alias most people know you by. I picked up GeorgeSnyder.org because apparently George Snyder is the Dutch equivalent of John Doe, which is to say exceedingly common. Plus the dot-com was taken. Once I had that, though, I was off and running. “Do a blog, darling,” my wise friend Gloria advised. “It’ll be good exercise.” So I started blogging. Now, you don’t have to blog, but in my case it helped, because when I did self-publish my book, I had a ready-made place to advertise it, talk about it, and refer people to. Plus I had a little following of devoted fans and readers. And the other side effect of having a blog is that I did what Gloria suggested. I exercised. I developed discipline around writing. I learned to get up in the morning and write. Which, ironically, is what I said I wanted to do. I just started doing it. So do that. Do it. Get started. And look ahead. What you do today creates your future.

Tags: Books