As a self published author, there are a lot of things I don’t have. I don’t have a large staff, fully employed to make my book look as perfect as possible. I don’t have a publicist, sending my book to reviewers months before the publication date. I don’t have the reputation of a large publisher to lean on, to speak on my behalf to booksellers and readers.
I have me.
This lack of support means I could easily cloister myself, furtively hiding my process to avoid the stigma of self-publishing. I could pretend that my process looks identical to an author with a big NYC agent and Broadway based publishing company. I could do it. Many indie authors do.
But that would indicate a shame for my chosen path. It would foster the idea that my choice to self-publish is somehow “less than” rather than intentionally chosen into.
So instead of shutting myself off to outside scrutiny, I chose transparency. I vlogged about my process, even when it felt humiliating or demoralizing. I posted unedited excerpts from Lunatic Fringe. I questioned the book’s title on Twitter, talked about painful editing processes on facebook, and ultimately published a book that is my first ever attempt at writing one.
I choose transparency for many reasons:
- I believe that my journey in learning how to unlock my voice, write my first novel, and publish it, can help other nascent writers with their own processes.
- I believe in the value of seeing artists as human, who all have our own learning curves. Books do not spring fully formed from our heads like Athena. They often start out frail ugly little things that require constant feeding, nurturing, and tough love to turn into the critters we see sitting on our bookshelves. It’s important for wannabe authors to see this, in order to develop confidence in their skills.
- Writers are made, not born. Writing well, like any skill or art, is a matter of practice. I’m going to keep writing books, and they’re going to keep getting better. I don’t want my debut novel to be the top of my career. I want to constantly learn and tighten my prose. I want each book to integrate all the lessons I’ve learned from the ones that I completed before it. Part of this means that every book will have problems. Some folks may dismiss me as an author because of this, but I hope that others will see what I’m up to and appreciate, not only the stories I tell, but how I’m telling them.
- The way we relate to technology these days means we are all more transparent about our lives. We’re sharing our relationship statuses with everyone on facebook, we’re tweeting about the fight we just had with our mom so that not only our closest friends know, but so do our 650 followers. Some bemoan this turn towards the voluble. I exalt it. This transparency creates connection and undermines the ivory tower effect. When I read Neil Gaiman’s ga-ga tweets to his wife, it reaffirms the fact that Neil Gaiman is a real human being; he’s a writer who has achieved outrageous fame, but he got that way by writing and learning and writing and connecting and writing and working like a maniac. He is not some avatar granted fame by the fates. He’s not fucking Harry Potter. He’s a dude that worked hard and earned his worth. This means that I can have opinions about his work and study his process and that I can actually learn something from it.
- Connection. I love it when readers tweet me or send me emails. I love it when they ask questions or offer suggestions. I love posting a reading on Facebook and then seeing people there who learned about it through friends. It makes me realize that my very real book is making a very real difference in people’s lives. Maybe not hugely, but I don’t need to be huge to be important. Particularly because Lunatic Fringe is a story about queer people and sexual identity, it’s more important to me that some folks connect to it deeply rather than a million people thinking, “not bad” and tossing it on the shelf.
- Transparency makes me braver. Writing a book is scary. Publishing it is fucking terrifying. Two years of my life are on sale for $14.99 and people are judging it on the internet. Fuck, right? People I really care about are reading it. People I want to respect me are reading it. People I want to sleep with are reading it. And people I want to hire me are reading it. So, every time I see someone I know who’s read the book, my heart starts getting a little overeager. And sometimes these people tell me they loved it, or that they thought it was okay, or they give me the coldest silence I’ve ever felt. And then I get to choose how I react. As someone who was a producer and curator before I endeavored to create my own art, I’ve learned both sympathy for the creator and calm gratitude in the face of criticism. Of course I want people to like my work, but I also enjoy learning greater inner-strength when encountering the thoughtful (and sometimes not so thoughtful) opinions of readers.
I realize that, like self-publishing, not everyone will resonate with transparency. But to me, it’s essential. It’s why I self-published live on the internet, and why I’ll continue to connect this way, and share work in various stages, and post videos of me crying. It’s who I am, and I want readers to see that, to relate to it, and to find their own voice by watching me find mine.