I have read multiple accounts of how many of our legendary authors started out by self-publishing. They doled out many dollars and much time in a sacrificial way just to get their works into the hands of a few people who just might read their books and then tell their friends about it, who would tell their friends about it. All this was in the hopes that someday . . .
For some, their initial publishers pressed them to buy back the first runs of their books because they were not selling. Some probably ached to buy them back, but could not afford to do so. Others wished to retrieve them so they could be burned. I have heard more contemporary authors speak of having a garage full of books and being unable to sell them.
I suppose I muse on this today to say that I am grateful, deeply grateful, for this time of digital self-publishing. I don’t own a garage, so have no idea where I might store unsold books. Perhaps I publish too quickly and the work could have been better if it had percolated on an editor’s desk. Indeed, some of our works could use the dutiful and careful work of editors in the large publishing houses and the seal of approval of a well-known publishing moniker on the spine of our books. But this new, wonderful and wide-open door has helped authors like me to write freely, without regard to how much it might cost to publish, with abandon, and perhaps with more hope than our fore-writers might have experienced.
I will be the first to admit that getting my books and stories into the hands of readers really is not that different or less difficult than some of our legendary writers. It is hard. There still is the sacrifice of pride. At times I feel embarrassed by my shameless self-promotion. I wish I could just write and magically readers would appear. There is the sacrifice of time I do not have as a full-time employee. The long hours of editing and re-editing and asking friends and other writers to read or listen to my work can be daunting. There is the sacrifice of friends and family displaying their agitation that I was late because I was caught up in the words again. Coming home bleary-eyed at the end of a long work day to put down words that I want to write, stories that I want to tell, images that I want to capture—well, that’s just satisfying and exhausting. But, I enjoy the sacrifice because I love to write.
There are times that I imagine my books being discovered long after I am gone. Someone might pick it up in a used book store or find it in their great aunt’s attic or check it out from a public library or get it free on a digital provider because it became public domain. When I imagine this I have hope and the present sacrifice really is worth it and it presses me to write more and write better. Maybe my book will rise to the top many years after no one remembers what I looked like. But will they enjoy the read? Will they experience the journey? Will they be inspired, amused, moved, maddened, or encouraged? Will they want to read it again? Will they hold an image in their hearts that I held in mine? The answers to these questions will most likely be hidden from me, the author.
I read books that are centuries old or that have been decades sitting on the shelves just waiting for me. They have changed me, challenged me, angered me, amused me and made me glad to read. So, I hope that, with my new freedom because of the digital age, I am able to make a vibrant contribution to the world of readers because of the sacrifices, new and old, of a writer.
May 13, 2015