DIY fiction

Listening to: Madeleine Peyroux. On Spotify.

About a year ago, when I told my friend, Ann, that my agent had declared my first novel “done,” she advised me to self-publish. At the time, I didn’t consider it. I’d been working on my book for 3 years, done a number of substantial rewrites, supervised by my very-successful-with-big-clients agent, and wanted to sell my novel to a traditional publisher so that I’d have an opportunity to work with a top editor. That was my dream: to have my work expertly edited and polished by someone who loved my story and wanted to collaborate on making it great.

I then embarked on a year of frustration with a busy agent who didn’t have time for my book and probably never read it. I do believe that someone at the agency sent my manuscript to a number of editors, but I have no idea what happened after that, if anyone followed up, if anyone pitched my story, if a conversation about my work ever happened. All I know is that my book didn’t find a publisher, and at this point, I doubt another agent would touch it.

If I could, there’s a lot I would do over, but I can’t, and this is where I am: I have a finished novel my friends and the agency readers seem to love that is sitting on my hard drive. So I’m rethinking all my prejudices against self-publishing. Because there is something to be said for knowing what is happening with your work — being the one making the decisions and moving the project forward.

Believe me, as I watch writers I met in college and in my MFA program get book deals and publish their novels with imprints I dreamed of working with, it’s painful and humbling to acknowledge that my novel didn’t make the cut. Maybe it wasn’t good enough, maybe I picked the wrong agent, maybe my story doesn’t fit what mainstream publishers are looking for, or maybe I’m missing a zombie or two.

I don’t have the answers. What I do know is that I believe in all the simple bits of wisdom that Flannery O’Connor and Stephen King have said about writing. That getting published doesn’t make you a writer. That writers write. And that they do so because they have to, and not for any other reason.

If I take my pride out of the equation, these are the facts: (1) I write stories because I want to, because I have to; (2) I want people to have the chance to read them; (3) I have a good job, so (4) I don’t need to write for money. (Well, actually, I do write for money. That is my job. But not fiction.)

I’ve decided to put my novel as an ebook on Smashwords. It’s a big project, one that takes up time that I would otherwise devote to chastising myself for being a failure. And also because the process doesn’t allow for disappointment and self-flagellation, I find I enjoy it. I’ve hired an artist to design my cover, and I’ve done the first pass at ebook formatting. (Smashwords provides a great style guide. But I’ll probably hire someone to add the frosting.)

And while my designer is designing, I am editing. This requires a very different hat from “writer,” and though I didn’t want to wear it, I’ve let go of this last resistance. Because I’m actually a good editor, a brutal editor, one who has learned from years as a speechwriter how to distance myself from my work and see the text only as text, rather than something personal. It’s a long, tedious process, but I should finish about the same time the artist completes the first layout of my cover.

I’ll let you know when the book is ready for download. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from writers who have self-published. Any advice to share?


5 thoughts on “DIY fiction

  1. Anne, I’m so happy you have found an alternative to make your book public. I’m sure when people read it, they will love it. You are a great writer and a great talent and I can’t wait to get my copy to read. Love, Dad

  2. Anne: I am getting ready to let you know of one of our DC classmates that self published his first book. But first, I want to say that I know there is a number 5 which probably is number 1 but which didn’t make the cut for some reason. You write because you love to write. I know this to be true because you could never make it through all you describe unless you love it. That alone is reason enough to do it and that, in the end, is the source of your disappointment. So self publish this one and take what you have learned into novel #2 !!

    You may recall Jerry Meyer from our class of ’85. He has contrived to live a very interesting life from years with the State Dept (+CIA) moving from station to station from Nepal to Delhi to Cairo to Yemen to first civilian into Bagdad during the invasion to being dressed down by Rumsfeld himself. He now moves seasonally between Borocay in the Phillipines during the fall to Northern India in the winter to Pawleys Island for the summers. His first book is a narration of a cross country trip he took with his father in his pickup truck camper a few years back. Its a pleasant read. I took the e-version for free from Lulu and also purchased a paperback version just to have it. I recall that he experienced many of the same ambitions, setbacks and frustrations as you.

    He took a break after the first and considered what to do next. He loves the writing. And he soon realized that he had more to write. His second book, a historical fiction loosely based on his Bagdad experience is with the editor you describe now. I think he said that an agent pitched it to 20 publishers before one took it. I am sure you have more to give. Can’t wait to read this first endeavor!


  3. Thanks, Gene. I appreciate the support and encouragement. And I’d love to know how to get in touch with Jerry. Can you send me an email address? Or is he on FB?

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