A Writer’s Story, Abridged
From September 2009 to November 2021, I published eight books of fiction: five novels, a collection of poems/stories, and two screenplays. It was a productive time before and during those 12 years.
In 1971, at age 22, upon graduating from college, I started writing my first novel. The working title was The Center’s Edge. During the first 25 years, after deciding to be a writer (also a graphic designer), I wrote three unpublishable manuscripts. They were all sizable novels (approximately 500 pages) that included several rewrites. I felt the general concept for each story was good, but my skill as a writer had not fully developed. I was still searching to discover “my voice” – a unique style.
Upon starting a family, renovating a house, and working at my graphic design business to keep financially afloat, I took a 5-year hiatus from writing, then began to write again. I had a notebook in which I composed what I coined “storypoems” during my spare time – on a plane, vacationing, taking my kids to play at the parks, et cetera. This collection of writings eventually became a book titled Light-Years in the Dark. In the mid-90s, when I finally embarked on writing Exploits of the Satyr – an epic novel idea I’d been harboring inside me – it took 5 years to research and complete the first draft, followed by 10 years of revisions, meanwhile trying to land an agent and publisher.
As stated above, I initially sought out the traditional channels of publishing. But things didn’t work out as planned. Advice from a New York literary agent, who read my work and wrote me back, said this:
“Yours is the most ultimate challenging book I have come across: since it really belongs in a class of its own. It combines so many categories of fiction, and offers so many tricks of time and narrative devices that I sometimes kept at it because it enlivened my brain.
Publishers, and agents, think always in categories: categories of books and of audience, and your book subsumes so many that it would be impossible to “slot.” I think the best course would be to self publish, self produce, using one of the reliable services for this.
It is the unusual, nature of your achievement, and your achievement is mammoth, that spurs me to suggest a “different” (and often successful) approach to the question of publishing. It is a work outside my own categories of agent, but I found it a fascinating read, and a true spiritual journey.“
Upon receiving his letter, I was somewhat encouraged by his comments, suspicious of his praise, and reticent to take his advice. Print-on-demand technology became available around 2000. Before that, a writer would pay a “vanity press” to self-publish, as did Edgar Allen Poe and others. I was already versed in the process since I had designed book covers and helped produce works for other independent authors. However, I was disinclined to take this path for myself. That is, until the financial crash of 2008. At that pivotal moment, I thought this: Why should I trust the supposed wisdom of the “powers that be” in an industry, such as publishing, to know and dictate what is good or the best course of action?
My favorite novel is Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. I consider this book to be a masterpiece. It was a huge inspiration for me. It is what a novel should be – defined as new, original, and unusual. Virginia Woolf and her husband founded Hogarth Press to self publish their writing and maintain control over their work. I, too, have that desire to own and control my artistic visions. I suppose you could equate this to a screenwriter who not only wants to tell the story but also wants to produce, direct, and act the parts of each character in the movie version, as well as edit the footage and be the one who determines the final cut of the film. Which is an apt description of a novelist. Especially one who opts to self-publish. As I finally chose to do – to be an independent artist.
That said, I’m not a narcissistic control freak. I often work with editorial consultants. I have others read my stories before publishing to critique and catch things I might have overlooked. And I work with copy editors to scrutinize the writing for grammatical and spelling errors. Even though I am the primary driving force, it’s a collaborative effort. If you sign a contract with a publisher, you’ve essentially given your rights away. You are obligated to agree with the changes your publisher wants to make – to your story, book title, cover design, and format. As the author, the architect of these creative visions, I refuse (unless I agree to a suggestive change) to alter the novel’s structure or revise the ending so that it is presumedly more marketable. My primary goal for self-publishing is to maintain control of my original vision and create literary art that I believe to be unique, authentic, and meaningful.
Here is a hypothetical question: Which would you choose: 1) to be a bestselling author of a book you feel is not quite right since the story has been compromised from input by a publishing company; or, 2) same as above except the novel is not financially successful, is out of your control, and languishes in the marketplace; or, 3) an author who feels the result is an accurate depiction of the story you meant to tell (and which you own) – even if it means the novel might not be financially successful, yet it is emotionally and spiritually rewarding. Imagine, if you will, Vincent Van Gogh’s A Starry Night and an art dealer requiring that the artist remove – by repainting – those bewildering swirls of motion in the sky to make the painting more conventional and accessible.
At present, 2022, age 72, I don’t know if I have another compelling story to tell or the willingness and energy to write whatever that story might be. Nevertheless, I will wait and see if a spark of inspiration strikes me again – a novel idea that will haunt my mind until it becomes unshakeable, compelling me to bring that story to life. Writing novels, for me, is both a visual art form and a passionate endeavor. I equate this notion to what Michelangelo said: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
For more read 3 Tips for Writing a Novel