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.