Thursday, May 07, 2009

I think I'm Scaring People Away from Publishing

(image by Robin Mills)

Last Saturday, May 2nd, I taught a workshop with Amy Wachspress about starting a small press. 22 people came with their notebooks and questions, eager to learn how we did it.

I think I scared them.

Half way through the class, after Amy had talked about marketing her book and I talked about why I started a press and all the steps I had to take, I realized the room had grown quieter. People stopped jotting notes and instead stared at me with huge, quasi-vacant eyes. Their bodies slumped into their chairs, and the woman closest to me gripped her pen with exasperated tension. A few hardy souls continued to ask questions, but their eager little voices faded into a dull, weary, tone. Luckily, the class was only an hour long, otherwise half the group would have run for the door, fleeing from their dreams of publishing.

I wasn't trying to scare them; I was being honest. Hearing about all the work and money it takes to start a press or self-publish seems to elicit the same kind of terror as the Swine Flu; it's too big, too incomprehensible, and too difficult to deal with.

I changed my focus and talked about what was so great about owning your own press: the creative freedom, control, and collaboration with other artists. I tried to make my voice more cheerful when I explained what an ISBN was. When someone asked what programs Lightning Source wants, I fielded it to Rick (my designer) who explained the process of transforming a file into and Acrobat format they would accept. Someone else asked about editing. These kinds of questions were concrete and specific, so the mood seemed to lighten a bit. But I still had the feeling that I'd tried to cram too much info into one hour and had overwhelmed my students in the process. Had I just deterred a whole room of people from wanting to publish?

The thought annoyed me. If they don't want to hear what creating and managing a press is like, then they shouldn't bother starting a press at all. This is why I wrote my book! The world is full of too many wanna-be publishers who don't take the work seriously and end up with a garage full of books they'll never sell. Serves them right!

Then I remembered how I felt when I was starting, how insurmountable the work seemed, and how I almost quit numerous times. I remember sitting in a room taking notes at a workshop and trying to figure out why the hell I wanted to start a press at all. Was I crazy? It felt impossible, but I had to try. So I kept at it, and slowly I figured it out (mostly), and now I have two published books.

I wrote my book to help people, not frighten them: to give them a road map to follow as they figure out how to start a press and publish their own, or another's, work. I am rethinking the way I present the material so they will understand that YES, the work is hard, but the rewards are addictive. I want people to have success, not a garage full of unsold books.

Or maybe it's a good thing that a bunch of people may have decided self-publishing is not for them before they invest too much money in the process. Instead, they can think about other options.


Mother of Chaos said...

People are funny that way; most people are hoping for the get-rich-quick-and-easy answer, no matter WHAT you're bringing to the table.

When it turns out there's some hard work and/or personal sacrifices to be made, suddenly they're all, "Ehhhhhh...nevermind..."

Those who have a real passion for it won't run off. They'll think "hard work but worth it" and stick around.

Those who don't, well, you're right. Better that they put their energy into something else.

Jane Mackay said...

I agree, Chaos Mom. And I would add...

and pay those of us who are willing to put in the hard work and time!

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

I say let them have there garage full of books. I represents a dream fulfilled, well, the "I published a book" dream, forget the "I am shit load in debt and have boxes of recyclables i don't want to bring to the dump." part. Truly, at the heart of most of it, is vanity.

Jeanette said...

Most creative people have all kinds of dreams and ideas that don't look so feasible once the real world demands are factored in.

Sounds like taking your class is a good way for people to decide what they really want before they go down the wrong path. A good reality check is best served up in the beginning, I say. The sooner the better. Let those people go on to excel in something more appropriate for them. Kudos for being honest and not peddling fake "anyone can do it" philosophies, for the sake of filling classrooms.