‘Tis the season of hand-picked guest posts that will hopefully keep you entertained while I sand down my fingerprints finishing my novel at a clip of 3,000 words per day when it’s going good and 3,000 extra calories consumed when it’s not. There was a fantastic reaction to Pat Fitzpatrick’s guest post last week on the 3 things he wishes he’d known before he self-published, so I hope there’ll be just as much enthusiasm for today’s: Dan Holloway’s Do It Your Way. (I’m sure there will be.) Take it away, Dan…
“Do it yourself. That’s what self-publishing is all about. Isn’t it? I don’t mean that you literally have to stand over the press as your printed pages speed off it, or that you should be frantically coding away as your Word document morphs into something fir for Kindle. Or even that those artistic ignorami among us should slave away with paints and Photoshop to create our own covers. What I mean is that, like a ghost in the machine, a puppet master pulling the leavers, a legion of tired metaphors searching for somewhere to lay their head, in control of the whole thing is you.
And yet the more I look around a self-publishing universe expanding faster than the Hubble constant should permit the less I see it.
It’s something symptomatic of our age. The three key letters in all of this are “you” – the three letters I don’t think I’ve seen really properly considered on more posts than I could count on a pair of mittens. We live in a society that is focused more than ever before on the individual. And yet we have less of a concept of individuality than, well, than is sufficient to satisfy me in any way, shape or form at any rate.
Let me explain.
As a digital society, we are bombarded with ways to be unique, to express ourselves, to be quirky and individual – Instagram being the paradigm. And we are bombarded with websites like Buzzfeed that extol the virtue of individuality. It is no surprise that self-publishing, especially digital self-publishing, is booming at a time when other forms of self-expression are frotting each other so vigorously in the cultural air.
But the closer you look, the more you see that the “self” involved in all this, the “you”, the “individual” doesn’t actually mean anything. It stands simply for “agency”, a force as impersonal as gravity or electromagnetism (perhaps the third force in any twenty first century’s Grand Unified Theory). It means simply the process of pressing the relevant button. We live in a world that has created a myriad ways for us to proclaim our individuality by performing an action a million other people are also performing.
The “you” of “do it yourself” has been lost to the extent that the “you” who self-publishes, if you believe many of the blogs and articles and media coverage, is simply the action of pulling together a set of discrete tasks (editing, design, formatting, distribution) and pressing buttons. In other words the “you” who self-publishes is so much a completely different entity from the “you” who writes, it would be a category error to compare the two.
We still see lip service paid to the wonder of a writer’s voice, to the thing that makes their words unique, gives their vision a singular power to move readers in ways nothing else can do. And yet this ocean of dazzling difference is, we are told, to be delivered with utter homogeneity.
We have lost a beautiful truth – that there are as many ways to make a book as there are to tell a story. Of course I know that if we write a certain kind of thriller people will expect a certain kind of cover, and that if we write a certain kind of poetry people will expect a certain kind of mysterious use of line breaks. I’m not suggesting you write the 17th edition in your erotica series in alphabetti spaghetti on the floor of the local bus station (though now I’ve said that I really want to). I know there are practicalities to think about.
But those practicalities shouldn’t close your mind off to your wonderful creative individuality. Even if you absolutely, positively have to present your book in a certain way (say, it’s the 6th in a very successful series about what goes on behind closed doors at a cupcake store) – there’s nothing to stop you baking cupcakes for your book launch, and putting a picture of your cover on the bottom of the casings. Likewise I have a friend who knits and sells characters from her stories (http://www.wigglypets.co.uk/). Or you can make special editions. Richard Pierce recently created a limited edition of five beautiful artisan bound copies of his erotica novel The Failed Assassin, thus enabling himself to fulfil genre expectations with the ebook and let his creativity fly with the limited edition.
Perhaps the most exciting form of expressive self-publishing is when form and content collide in a perfect storm. Two wonderful examples of this are Rohan Quine’s The Imagination Thief, an ebook that links to video and audio material, not only immersing us in the surreal trance-like world of the novel but fully utilising Rohan’s skills as a professional actor, and Lucy Furlong’s Amniotic City, a psychogeographical poetry map of hidden feminine imagery in the heart of London.
Even a very cursory search of Amazon will reveal a whole plethora of books about making books – books about binding, about folding, about decoupage and collage. There are numerous ways to learn the crafts that will then allow you to create books that express what it is that makes you you, and that is one of the most truly exciting things about self-publishing. Most of all, always remember the three most important letters in do it yourself – “you” and never let people tell you “that’s a silly way to make a book.” There are so few writers who stand out in the self-publishing world, and the sad fact is that this is by and large because so many of them try to blend in – what kind of way is that to stick in a reader’s mind?“
Dan Holloway‘s Self-publish With Integrity: Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve it is now available for Kindle. The book, which includes chapters on community building, handling self-doubt and never being afraid to be yourself, is intended as a guide to help self-publishing writers discover, and then stay true to, their fundamental writing goals, helping them steer a path through the maze of how to guides, helpful advice, and other obstacles that beset them at every stage of their writing life so that achieve long-term happiness and success on the only terms that count: their own.