So your book is published and that first burst of excitement and adrenalin has coursed through your veins like the hit of a great drug. You wrote up a press release and emailed it to everyone you could think of inflicting it upon; banner ads now adorn all the pages of your website advertising the fact the book is on sale, and links to a point of purchase are splattered like grape shot throughout your whole electronic presence.
A PDF version of your manuscript has been sent to Google so your work will be available for the whole world to search for online, and you've obtained an ISBN so anybody can walk into any bookstore in the land and find your book in the great big computerized database of bookland. Short of taking out paid advertising you've done everything possible to let the world know they can now own a piece of your mind and heart.
It has now been a month since your publishing debut and you've sold exactly one copy of your work, and if you're being honest with yourself you know you're lucky to have done even that well. The fact that it was a friend who purchased it, and according to his initial reactions even liked it to date, doesn't diminish the brief glow of pride at your accomplishment, but even that doesn't prevent your heart from sinking slightly each time you check your sales figures and see it stuck resolutely at one.
The worst of it all is it all seems so anti-climatic after everything that's come before. Putting aside the initial writing of the pieces, which was spread out over the space of about six months, the work began with having to reformat the original material into shape for publication. There was a certain fun to the frustration of trying to get Microsoft Word to do what you wanted it do to when it came to juggling boxes of text into position.
You may have noticed the standard book format is to have all chapters begin on an odd page. It's not often your writing will conveniently work out that way, and in order to compensate you have to insert the occasional blank page. Of course there was also the delight of trying to figure out how to work the chapter and page number insertion in Word.
I'm sure there is someone who has figured out how to work the headings, but that wasn't me. I settled on having the book title in one header and the chapter number written out on the facing page. There was also the fun of coming up with a title page, acknowledgments, and, perhaps most fun of all, the copyright page. (I believe my copyright page alone is worth the purchase price.)
But that's all in the past now and the only reason for reveling in it is to help compensate for the feelings of emptiness that come with having completed something and waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Shouldn't there be more to this than what I'm feeling now, which is pretty much nothing whatsoever?
When the copy I ordered to send off to The National Library of Canada in Ottawa in exchange for my ISBN came in the mail the other day, my wife asked why I hadn't ordered one for us to keep. "It's your work after all," she said. "We should have a copy in the house." It hadn't even occurred to me to think of owning a copy. Even when I had been holding a copy of it in my hands, I hadn't felt any real sense of accomplishment or fulfillment of purpose, so why would I want to own it?
For one thing it felt like this book was sort of cheating; it was merely a reformatting of something that I had already written. It wasn't as if I had written it especially for this moment. Oh perhaps when I had started writing the posts months ago I had some vague idea of gathering them together to publish as a companion piece to the novel whose creation they had reflected on, but that was it.
Perhaps that's part of the disquiet right there. NaNoWriMo Notes doesn't have the same investment that The Paths Live Takes has, and was merely a diversion. To me at least it's not the real thing. The real thing has been in the hands of an editor at a publication house for close to four months now awaiting a decision on its fate.
Than there is the whole legitimacy issue that raised its ugly little head around the whole question of self-publishing. It doesn't take any special talent to publish your own stuff; anybody with a computer and a remote association with literacy can publish a book if they want to. It's no big deal.
There's a reason these sorts of services used to be called vanity presses, because they fed the vanity of people who believed they were authors but whom no publisher would touch with a ten-foot pole. No matter how I slice it there is not much of an accomplishment in my mind associated with publishing through Lulu.com.
This was a pleasant distraction, but it had nothing to do with actually creating anything or furthering my growth as a writer. In fact it may have even been in some ways a hindrance because through it I lost track of why it is I write. I got caught up in the idea of publishing and all that entailed, instead of the idea of writing. Product replaced process and in forgetting that, I lost my way and could no longer be in the moment of my characters' story because I was too busy looking into the future.
When I decided to self-publish NaNoWriMo Notes I said it was going to be an experiment in how successful you could be self-publishing with a minimum of funds. Only accomplishing what I could without spending any money on advertising and promotion, just using whatever tools I had at hand and that were free.
When I working in theatre, the companies I used to work with would apply for grants from both the Canada Council and the Ontario Art Council. Periodically I would even apply on my own for funding of a personal project. Each application was judged based on your history as an artist and a proven ability to be able to complete what you started. Juries of your peers who worked within your discipline made all decisions.
Much like book publishing, receiving or not receiving a grant was not a final judgment on your abilities, but the sense of accomplishment when you were awarded a grant was like the seal of approval for your professionalism. Self-producing a play was one thing, but to be able to have the support of the Canada Council for the Arts or the Ontario Arts Council took you to another level.
I feel much the same way now about self-publishing a book through a print-on-demand company. In the later case there has been no appraisal of the work by anyone in the profession before it is produced or published. In the former you have elevated your work to a certain standard that is recognized as sufficiently proficient that it deserves to be supported by an outside body.
Perhaps for some the feat of completing a book and than self-publishing it is accomplishment enough, but I have discovered it is insufficient for me. Perhaps that's a weakness in me, needing the approval of others to feel like I've done something, but I won't really have a feeling of accomplishment from the writing of a novel or full length book until it is published by someone other than me.