Okay — so I wrote a book. And published it. Well…self-published.
Now before we get too far, let me just add that I’ve had short stories (mostly SF and fantasy) published in various magazines, webzines, and book anthologies. Stories accepted for publication by real editors who paid me real money to publish my writing and which, on occasion, received nice notices from real readers. Whether I’m an “okay” writer, a “good” writer, or even — if less likely — a “great” writer, the reason I decided to embark on this self-publishing venture was simply because I was following a muse and had an idea for a book that I suspected would be a tough sell to an editor.
So today I’m gonna talk about the what n’ why (and hopefully it’ll be a little bit interesting and not overly navel gazing — stress on “not overly” as, let’s face it, there’ll be some navel gazing).
The book is called Masques & Capes: An Imaginary History and it’s a collection of adventure and mystery stories spanning most of a Century (hence: “history”) involving…superheroes. And it’s set in Canada, naturally — simply because where else would I set it? I had a lot of fun working on it over the last year or more — the most fun I’ve had in years, frankly — but it was also challenging in a lot of ways. That’s because I was, to use an analogy of which I’m fond, spinning a lot of plates at once; the whole book, and many of the individual stories, operating on multiple levels.
Now I’m old enough to remember when self-publishing — or “vanity press” as it used to be called — was the ultimate “no no.” Of course even then there were exceptions; mavericks who would self-publish and catch the eye of a legitimate publisher and land a book deal. Plus there was always the irony that in book publishing, to self-publish was seen as a creative failure, whereas in the comic book world, to self-publish was seen as the mark of the true artiste, not beholden to the corporate giants (part of that may have been because there were far fewer comic book publishers, so the business was more obviously controlled by a very small elite publishing a very limited type of stories).
Anyway — that’s changed a lot. Self-publishing is now quite common, in some cases almost seen as simply a dry run for a work before it gets picked up by a major publisher (Terry Fallis’ “The Best Laid Plans” was self-published — and subsequently was picked up a major publisher, won awards, and was even turned into a TV series). Gary Pearson, a successful TV writer, elected to self-publish his comic novels I suspect because, even with his resume, he was having trouble breaking into the prose field.
In some cases self-publishing might be the recourse of last resort for works that aren’t very good and have been turned down by every real publisher.
But, equally, a writer might have written a perfectly good, perfectly enjoyable work — that just didn’t stand out from the hundred other manuscripts an editor had to sift through that month. There are a lot of fantasy quest sagas and military SF series being self-published — genres already heavily represented in the mainstream publishing world.
Or maybe a writer just couldn’t get his/her foot in the door, flummoxed by the arcane rituals and obstacles (sometimes deliberately) put up to weed out would-be writers. They couldn’t find an appropriate publisher. They couldn’t locate the name of a good agent (I knew a writer who spent literally years just trying to land an agent!) Or the publisher for which they’d spent weeks prepping their pitch suddenly announces it’s closed to submissions for the next year while the editors sort through the accumulated slush pile. Perhaps they just didn’t have the patience of Job that’s sometimes needed, even if you have a good book (I believe Frank Herbert’s “Dune” — a classic work of SF — was supposed to have been rejected by over two dozen publishers; that’s a lot of perseverance on Herbert’s part, especially if you assume the turnaround at each publisher was a few months!) And so on.
Maybe the writer has a thing about “vision” and even if they could get their work accepted, didn’t want to compromise aspects they suspected an editor — with an eye on “marketability” — would demand they alter or remove.
And maybe…they just wanted to write something a little quirky, that they hoped would find a small, niche readership, but they suspected a lot publishers (with their eye on the commercial potential) wouldn’t want to roll on.
In my case it was a few of those things.
Since I was writing about Canadian superheroes, I set my sights on Canadian publishers (I think the book is perfectly accessible whether you’re Canadian, American, Japanese, etc. — but I just didn’t think an American publisher would be especially intrigued by a pitch that went: “A collection of Canadian superhero tales — cool, huh?”) Yet the Canadian publishing field is limited and I was having trouble finding any likely target, what with reading windows that might be months away, guidelines that didn’t seem especially encouraging toward the subject matter I was working on and, perhaps even more insurmountably, guidelines stating they weren’t interested in short story collections — period.
So in my case, this is not a book that was rejected by every editor of discerning taste — I was pretty much stymied trying to even find someone to look at it!
But the thing is — I liked my idea. I became excited about the possibilities, the concept. And it was me trying to make the case I’ve been making for years as a blogger — that you can use Canada to tell populist stories!
And, in short, I wanted to write a book that, I suspect, I would have loved to have read!
I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I think this is an unusual book. Remember how I earlier mentioned that a lot of self-publishing can involve people simply writing in established genres? Tolkien-esque fantasy, Starship Troopers-esque military SF, Twilight-esque y/a romantic horror, hard-boiled crime dramas, etc. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure those others feel that they are bringing something to their genres, that they have a distinctive voice. But equally I think most of them would agree they are trying to add to an existing genre.
But I genuinely felt that I was trying to do something I had never seen before in print (or anywhere — comics, film, TV, etc.)
And I’ll explain why…next time…