One of the writing prompts for the Author Blog Challenge questions how we came to choose ebooks. Did you ever see the movie Annie Hall? Woody Allen gets stopped by a cop after crashing into several cars. He drops his license and the cop says, “Pick that up.” Woody tells him he has to ask nicely because he has a problem with authority. The cops sighs and says, “Please.” Woody picks up the license. “I just have a thing about authority,” he says, “don’t take it personally,” as he tears the license to bits and lets the wind carry the shreds away.
Cut to a few years ago: I was at a writing conference in Victoria, British Columbia. There I met the first person I’d ever met who had given up on paper books completely. It was ebooks or nothing for her. It was the early days of early adopters and missionary zeal. It all seems evident to most of us now, but at the time, the self-publishing revolution was still new to many. Naysayers and doubters noted that Stephen King had tried an ebook and it hadn’t achieved flight. Actually, what hurt that venture was a lack of convenient reading technology and he said he wouldn’t continue the story instalments if there was an insufficient audience of subscribers. It wasn’t the death knell to ebooks. Mr. King was just a little ahead of the audience. Seeing the future at that writing conference was the moment I’d been waiting for: the technology was catching up with my anti-authoritarian temperament.
For me, the revolution was less about ebooks per se and more about the potential for achieving autonomy. I began to prepare in earnest. I stopped buying Writers Digest and started researching the net for all the latest information. I didn’t want to read the old guard’s bias toward so-called “real” publishing still evident in industry magazines. The web was full of what I needed: new friends and DIY information.
Go back farther for a little history: Before Amazon, ebooks and CreateSpace, there were vanity publishers and scandals and writers defrauded, writers ignored by the establishment and a market that was very much a buyer’s market. By “buyers” I don’t mean actual readers like now. I mean agents and editors who were reluctant to take a chance on new authors. I didn’t even bother knocking on the palace door.
I had worked in traditional publishing for five years in a variety of capacities and I wasn’t that impressed with most of my colleagues. Almost all of the publishers I worked with from those days are gone. Harlequin (where I got my first publishing job) is still around. So is Douglas & McIntyre. That’s about it. Cannon Book Distributors, Lester & Orpen Dennys, The Canadian Book Information Centre, and numerous publishers I repped are all bankrupt and gone.
Instead, I wrote for myself, not a nameless agent’s whims. I went away and did other things: magazine columns and editing. I dabbled and freelanced. I wrote short stories and entered contests and several of those ended up winning awards. Eventually those stories found their way into my collections (Self-help for Stoners and Sex, Death & Mind Control.) I wrote several books, but given my experience with traditional publishing, I was averse to even trying to get my work published. I just wasn’t interested in going anywhere to a gatekeeper on bended knee. Let the palace burn. My practice was to write a book and then, before I could even think of sending it anywhere, I wrote the next one. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? Like Woody Allen in Annie Hall, I was headed to jail and I didn’t care. Jail was preferable to being a cog in a machine. I hate having a boss so much, I haven’t worked for anyone else since 1991.
With self-publishing, finally what some considered a flaw in my character can be a virtue. I approach the work not as a self-publisher, but as a publisher. I have higher hopes and lower overhead than all those companies I worked for so long ago. It’s not a question of whether founding Ex Parte Press and doing the DIY thing is a good idea. My personality allows nothing else: Does not share toys, does not play well with others. Many are familiar with “ex parte” from watching Law & Order. The strict Latin definition means “from one.” Sure, I still hire out jobs I need done that other people can do better, but basically, Ex Parte Press is “from one.” Is it scary? Sure. But then, this morning, I got two beautiful reviews, one for my new crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus and the other for Self-help for Stoners. I get all the blame and all the credit and I didn’t have to ask permission from The Man. I haven’t felt this free since I was twelve when I didn’t have to work at all. I am Spartacus. I am Woody Allen in Annie Hall. I am a child again. I am a free man.
- Day 8 of the Author Blog Challenge: Indie Self-defence (chazzwrites.com)
- Self-publishing, why did you? Questionnaire (wordznerd.wordpress.com)