Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I'm contemplating self-publishing my novel

Off and on over the past three or four years, I've been writing (and rewriting) a novel about an autistic poker player.  It has a beginning and a middle or an end, so technically I could say it's finished and ready to be self-published. But I'm not sure. This is my second more or less completed novel.  My first novel dealt with the autobiographically inspired adventures of a young autistic boy in a special education school and his mother's attempts to garner him the best help and services based on having to go through the rigmarole of getting the best stuff possible included in his IEP and having to go through the ins and outs of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  I've flogged that first novel and given up on having it published or self-published, but more on that later.

Now that I'm contemplating self-publishing the second novel, I've been looking over the Amazon-owned website, create space, which helps in self-publication for supposedly affordable amounts of money.  It was hard for me to understand the ins and outs of their webpage.  They charge $65.00 just for helping you format and upload the novel to Kindle Direct Publishing.  I was rather stunned when I was told you could just log onto Amazon's self-publishing website and do it yourself for free.  A friend from the internet writer's workshop I've participated in said he'd help me do it.  I also bought a new kindle recently and have purchased a few ebooks to get used to the idea of maybe having an ebook of my own and the concept in general.  Until recently hard copy books worked well for me and I saw no need to purchase a kindle.  Changing with the times seemed necessary.  I've now downloaded the instructions on how to do it on my kindle, so I might be able to do it myself.  If not, hopefully my internet pen pal can assist me and I won't have to cough up $65.

Cover art is most likely another necessity in the endeavor.  I think create space charges about $365 for that.  I have a friend (or friendly acquaintance) who's a professional author and illustrator of children's books.  I asked her if she could do it for about two hundred bucks.  She said she normally charges $10,000 for cover art, but because I was a friend she'd do it for $200.  Then, she apparently was going through a rough patch in her life or was busy with over more lucrative projects, she couldn't do it.  It looks like I've found someone else who's a talented artist, and with luck, she'll do it for me for $200.  So, if I can get those two items taken care of, perhaps I'll have a self-published novel that anyone who cares to spend a few bucks can download onto their kindle.

Then there's the problem with mass marketing and promotion which costs a pretty penny.  Create Space seems to provide assistance in this area also, but hardly at a cost which I can afford.  Interestingly, I've now been able to get airtime on NPR twice and another NPR show was interested in doing a show on yours truly, but that fell through.  More on that later.  The first of the two shows dealt with my first novel.  There are a lot of published novelists who would love to get on an NPR show and can't, so perhaps I have a good media gimmick to help sell books.  But is that really enough or is there more to the story?

To date, like just about everything else in my life, my writing career (for want of a better word) has not been propitious.  I realize I've written about this on other blog posts, but I see nothing wrong with a recap.  I first attempted to write a novel at age 14.  Writing a novel would seem to be quite an undertaking for even a typical 14 year old.  However, I was autistic and at the time had had essentially no mainstream education, having attended special schools my entire life.  At 14, I was mainstreamed in eighth grade (one level below my chronologically-aged peers) and I began writing this novel.  My lack of concentration, urge to twiddle (self-stimulate) and inability to be organized prevented me from finishing this project.  A few other scattered attempts at novel writing in my teens produced the same result.  At 19, I started college and was very busy with that and didn't write for many years.  However, the pipe dreams of glory never stopped and I often fantasized about being a commercially successful novelist. 

In the 1990s, a few years after I first became Eric Courchesne's research subject I decided a nonfiction piece might be easier to write than a whole book, fiction or nonfiction.  In those days, his findings of a smaller cerebellar vermis in some persons with autism was getting some media traction.  I wrote a nonfiction article about my being a research subject for him which was rejected by a number of magazines.  My most avid fans know that I've self published this article on my stories web page.  I never dreamed that nearly two decades later it would result in an interview that would be broadcast on NPR.

It was not enough, I also wanted to write fiction.  At this time, I became friends with a schizophrenic individual who was a prolific writer of short stories.  He suggested that instead of a novel, I try my hand at a short story or two as that might be easier than a novel since you don't have to put in the sustained effort that a much longer work would entail.  It turned out he was right and I was able to write 16 short stories, most of them inspired by my experiences and angst as an autistic individual.

I submitted them to magazines and the inevitable rejections kept pouring in.  However, I got some encouragement.  Glimmer Train stories, a very prestigious short story magazine wrote on my rejection slip for one story, 'quite a moving piece, enjoyed it'.

I still yearned to write a novel and finally in about the year 2000 began "The School of Hard Knocks" which I wrote about above.  I took a private writing class and met another member of the class, Tamar Brott, a freelance journalist who had done stories for the NPR shows This American Life and Studio 360.  She took an interest in my work.  The statement that piqued her the most was my wanting to use my autism as a gimmick in order to get the novel published and a best seller and find a girlfriend.  She pitched the idea to Ira Glass and the rest of the This American Life crew and they loved it and were interested in having a story about me broadcast on their NPR show.  I hoped that this would result in publication of my novel.  At the 11th hour This American Life decided not to run the story because they felt that Tamar had given too much of a negative perspective on it.

I started submitting the novel to literary agents.  The fourth agent  whom I queried with said she was interested in reading the first 100 pages and did not want me to submit to anyone else until she had read them.  She wrote me a note saying that although she was interested in the character's story and personally interested in my background as an individual with autism that after having read the sample pages she did not believe she could find a publisher for me, but suggested I might consider hiring a professional writer to help polish it.

I took the suggestion and a couple of individuals stated that there was so much wrong with the novel that I would have to write it over from scratch.  At this point I had been rejected by eight agents and gave up.

After the fiasco with This American Life, Tamar pitched the idea of my novel to the show Studio 360, a smaller NPR show, but a national show dealing with the arts and one who a number of prestigious and published authors have appeared on.  I can't help wondering if I'm the only person in history who had one book doctor tell me it was a waste of time to edit my novel and then a month after that read from my novel on a national radio show and was unable to get it published.  Even the title was a ghastly cliche and I couldn't think of a better one (I still can't).  I submitted it to two more agents and my rejections totaled ten. 

Discouraged, I turned my efforts to nonfiction and wrote a short book about my take on various things concerning autism.  It was sort of a rough effort and I did not bother submitting the book anyplace.  I did, however, self-publish one of the book's ten chapters on my website, an essay questioning the posthumous autism diagnoses of Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson and Bill Gates.

I tried writing another novel but was not able to get very far into it.  Then the idea of a novel about an autistic poker player came to me.  I tried writing this novel off and on, but it took a few years to finish even a first draft.  It clearly needed work and I took some writing courses, had one book doctor look over part of it and became a member of the internet writer's workshop for guidance.  I got some good help there, but it probably still isn't ready for prime time.  I' m not sure I care.  I think it's a good story and I want it to be heard so I may take a chance and self publish it.  Will this be a mistake?  I don't know.  Am I committing literary suicide by writing this blog post?  I don't know.  Will I only sell a few copies on Amazon and look forward to some one star reviews?  Another question mark.  Will I be able to get the cover art done and either figure out or get help in self publishing it successfully?  Even that is a mystery. 

All I can say are a couple of other cliches Stay tuned.  To be continued.......


Unknown said...

John I enjoyed reading your story about your publishing efforts.

You didn't ask for my opinion about your efforts but I hope you keep trying.

Harold Doherty

Unknown said...

PS. Sorry I used John as short for Jonathan. It's been a long day. HLD

jonathan said...

Roger, being on NPR twice now has not really created more interest in me as far as I can tell. Though Studio 360 ran my show a couple of times and this literary journal contacted me with interest in publishing one of my short stories, but that fell through. Other than that, no interest. I wish you luck in any future endeavors you have, academic or otherwise.

Bullet said...

Excellent idea, I hope it's very successful for you. Send it to people you trust to check for any errors first and write it first and foremost for yourself. I liked the short stories you had on your site.

I'm about to do the same thing, I love writing stories and have written a novella which I've passed on to others for honest reviews and to point out any inconsistencies before I take the plunge. It's about gruesome murders so rather different to yours :). I haven't a clue about marketing it though.

Jake Crosby said...

Go for it, Jonathan.

Tabitha Bird said...

You gave up after only ten agents? You know, most writers query 100+ agents before finding the one that is the right fit for their work. Also, join a critique group. If you are serious about writing learn your craft. Study it inside out and back to front. Learn about plot and pacing and how to create characters with believable and unique character arcs. And don't give up. Never give up. If this is really what you want to do then you must do it. And the first few books a writer ever writes are unlikely to sell. It takes a few novels to really hone your craft. Keep going :)