So, of late, I’ve been plugging away on a new collection of short stories that will be released as an ebook in pretty short order, that is to say within the next couple weeks. To that end, here is a draft of my introduction that will appear in the new effort.
In it, I wanted to again emphasize my enthusiasm for the new framework in publishing that allows people like me to even be able to do this sort of thing, absent any support of the currently-flailing old publishing infrastructure. That’s why I’m publishing it here early, it fits in with a common theme of mine, that the new connected world we live in has spurred a great capacity for individual efforts that no longer require yesterday’s institutions to validate our work.
Ain’t technology grand? I find it more and more amazing, every day, the possibilities we now possess as writers. Even a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for someone not independently wealthy to publish a book outside of the established publisher framework and have it seen anywhere except small local enclaves and their own bookshelves. It wasn’t called the vanity press for nothing. And in that name was the unfair implication that your book didn’t deserve to be printed. The lockdown by the industry at large was so strong and all encompassing that they had gone beyond simply printing and marketing books into the realm of arbiters of our culture. After all, if a publisher didn’t decree that your literary efforts were worthy, you were basically out of luck. This framework, while productive for publishers, who controlled the expensive printing apparatus and dominated the retail markets with favorable contracts with the then-increasing big-box book store chains and book-of-the-month club type offerings, was extremely limiting for the actual creators.
To be certain, there were the gilded few who navigated these sheltered waters successfully, but how much quality work, how many entertaining, thought-provoking creative efforts died an unseen death because of a publisher’s arbitrary declarations of unprofitability? That was, to me, always the fatal flaw in the old system. How could publishers be simultaneously gatekeepers for cultural relevance and necessarily profit seeking? These are, sometimes, common ends, but far more frequently, they can be mutually exclusive. Profit isn’t always the first thing on a writer’s mind when they have something to say. Often, it doesn’t cross their minds at all. And that’s how it should be.
Writing is itself, at times, an act of creative destruction. By that, I mean that the best writing causes the reader to question things–themselves, their beliefs and the institutions that uphold them. Where’s the profit to be found in work that criticizes some of the very institutions you must depend on to get that work in print in the first place? There is intellectual “profit”, as in new thoughts, new ideas, an expanded mind and point of view. And then there is cash profit, made so by obtuse concepts of wide-scale marketability and mass-market acceptance that, in some cases, by very definition must be somewhat homogenized. After all, too much controversy can and will hurt the bottom line. Just ask any athlete or entertainer who has expressed a controversial opinion, however well considered, and then lost product endorsements. As if a football player’s opinion on Osama Bin Laden has any bearing whatever on whether we, as consumers, should trust his judgment in workout attire choices.
Yet that is the way of controlling market forces that depend on mass appeal with the least possible controversy for profit’s sake alone. The farther we get away from that kind of world, as creators, the better we will be for it. Certainly, selling tee shirts and selling literature are vastly different exercises. Profit motives for ideas can be somewhat self-defeating. But the expense previously involved in bringing books to market necessitated that profit be the key element. Not any longer.
That’s not to say that we don’t want to make money. Many of us unquestionably do. It’s just that the necessity to make large profits has been removed from the equation. A book can now be written, published, marketed, sold to virtually anyone on the planet, read on any number of devices and the upfront costs to the author for doing so are virtually nil. And, whatever the old and antiquated publishing network tells you, it works.
This book is my second collection of short stories. In effect, it’s actually a prequel to my first as most of the work contained herein pre-dates the work in my original collection, Bad Timing, published last year. Admittedly, my previous effort, which is available both as a print edition and an ebook, was far from a best seller. But that doesn’t mean it was a non-seller. I’ve sold hundreds of copies to this point, totaling a couple thousand dollars or so, and I continue to get quarterly checks from Amazon and others outlets even though I’ve done very, very little marketing, no advertising and the book itself has been out well over a year. It’s not a fortune by any means, but it has more than compensated me for my efforts, and it’s infinitely more than I would have received from the traditional publishing world who would never have published it in the first place.
Before we decry the end of publishing and writing as a profession, as some have done, let’s consider that I, on a laptop in my living room, wrote, produced, distributed and sold a very appreciable number of copies of a book that would not have been possible before. I added a not-insignificant amount of money to my yearly income in the process, money that didn’t come through the old way of doing things, but wholly by circumventing that route. It won’t pay all my bills, but it certainly paid some, and far more than it would have as a rejected manuscript collecting dust in my bottom desk drawer. So I repeat, ain’t technology grand?
As I said, much of the material here is older. Some of the tales are my very earliest attempts at short stories. They show a lot of the influences that drove me, and the kinds of concepts and ideas that have always interested me. Exploring the darker side of things has always fascinated me, and while some of the works contained here are somewhat lighter than the general theme of my previous collection, they still come from a place that illustrates how the darker side of humanity can be far more fascinating. Everyone wants to find the happy ending in their own lives but, as I’ve learned too well over the years, there are far more bad results in life than good, and it is only through knowing the bad and getting past our inherent fear of all things dark that we can truly appreciate the light when it does shine down upon us.
So, thank you for coming back. I hope you enjoy this book and find something within that you can carry away. Lessons about how to handle life’s difficulties can sometimes be hard earned. But the one I’ve learned well over the past few years, one illustrated by the very fact that you’re reading this right now, is that however impossible it may seem to find your way in the world, however daunting it may seem when faced with long-standing institutions blocking your path, there is always a way around those roadblocks. Don’t be afraid of the dark; revel in it instead. I know I do.
Keep watching this space. My new book will be unveiled very shortly.