Friday, June 03, 2005

Going the independent route

The most difficult part for most writers contemplating a book is actually persevering and ending up with a working manuscript. If only that was all and you could move on to your next project. Obviously, for better-known writers and those with a manuscript that is geared for mass consumption, I’m sure finding an agent and a publisher is considerably easier than my own experiences have yielded. Write the book, send it off and someone takes care of the rest. In addition, they send you an advance and it’s off to your next best-seller.

Having sent out proposals and queries to agents for When Towns Had Teams, only to be met with responses that ranged from being ignored, to receiving a personal “thanks, but no thanks” letter, I’ve decided to take the bull by the horns and take on the publishing myself. Call me an independent publisher, as that is what I’m morphing into. If you can’t find a small press in Maine, New England, or elsewhere to give your manuscript the time of day, then you come to a crossroads. It becomes a case of fish, or cut bait, to use a favorite New England colloquialism.

I have a considerable investment of time and energy at this point. With most of the past year taken up with planning, research, interviews and writing, my efforts have yielded a product that I’m proud of. Unfortunately, the nature of publishing being what it is, none of the small presses that I’ve made contacts with are willing to take on my project.

Amazingly, well-meaning people, who know little or nothing about publishing, are happy to give you their two cents worth of advice. Things like, “have you contacted Downeast Books?” to “You should contact Stephen King” to asking me, “Do you have a copy with you?” The answers are as follows; “I did and they rejected it (not marketable enough)”; “You don’t contact Stephen King, he contacts you”; and lastly, “No, I don’t have a copy, but if you give me a minute, I’ll run down to my basement and start my printing press and have a copy for you soon.”

Certainly, I don’t mean to be condescending. Hell, I didn’t know anything about publishing when I started. No writer truly knows the maze of publishing when they set out to write the “great American novel”, or in my case, a simple book about baseball, from a time when it represented the communities where it was played, several decades ago.

So, at this point, in addition to all the busy work I’m now facing of formatting my manuscript before sending it off to a professional editor, I’m now forced to come up with a website, handle all the aspects of getting my book ready for publication, as well as finding a way to piece together enough money to avoid debtors prison, via articles I write and a part-time gig or two. Did I mention I would be handling all the marketing?

I’ve always been a big fan of the DIY ethic that permeated punk rock in its earliest days. Much of that ethic is still alive and well in much of the indie rock scene. Some of the independent labels like Matador have done very well from their first foray into the jungle of corporate music. Granted, Matador is an exception, but labels like Merge and Emperor Jones have done well enough to keep at it for a good stretch. And then there are the smaller operations such as Secretly Canadian and Scat, of which I’d say I’d be akin to in what I’d like to accomplish. By embracing the "head down and plow through" mentality of DIY, I’m confident that I can get it done, as overwhelmed as I often feel. At this point, I don’t have any other choice, if I want my efforts and the wonderful stories of these colorful former players to see the light of day.

Addendum: Merge will be the U.S. label for Teenage Fanclub's new disc, available in stores next week. You can preview this wonderful Scottish band's new record, currently streaming on the Merge website.


weasel said...

At the risk of joing the ranks of the well meaning, I suggest contacting my friend Richard (another ex-Face fellow under the name 'Guttenberg' and a firm friend of Woodfin's) at He self-published a compendium of police blotter cuttings that still sells fairly well.

Jim said...

I didn't mean to intimate that I don't appreciate advice. I've had a number of folks, like yourself, who've offered helpful thoughts, ideas and contacts along the way.

I'll definitely email Richard. Anyone who has been through the self-publishing (I prefer independent publishing) wringer, can certainly provide some helpful tips and warnings about various pitfalls.

As always, much appreciated!!