That’s a pretty fair question, and I’m getting it a lot, so I think I’ll have that conversation right now, get it figured out.
The first thing I decided to do was to go ahead and publish Half Crazy. It’s a collection of short stories and two novel excerpts, and it gets its title from the longest story in it. The two novel excerpts are from The Monkey Trap and Pleasant Moon, two novels that I’ve completed and rewritten several times over the years.
I’ve been sitting around writing books for a long time, and I’ve made a few serious attempts at getting published, and grew quickly disillusioned with the process. It was about as dignified as standing outside an L.A. club, roped off to the side, hoping the stony-faced bouncers will let you in, and all the while watching a series of reality television stars get ushered right past you. I describe this experience a lot more in the bio section of my Fiction Portfolio, found at this link: http://thomaschalfant.wordpress.com/about/
Anyway, to sum it up, I’m pretty convinced my books are good enough to be published, and not because I think I’m some kind of genius or anything. I really don’t. It’s because “good” or “bad” are both pretty irrelevant, when it comes to finding an audience.
Pick any book up at the library, at random. There’s a good chance you’re not going to like it. There’s even a pretty good chance you’re going to hate it so much it makes you angry. But there it is, sitting at the library along with all the other books, and no one kicks it out. That’s because for every ninety-nine people who hate the book, there’s one guy who loves it.
Do the math, and that means millions of people love your book. All you’ve got to do is irritate and enrage the other ninety-nine million, and you’re right on top of the game.
Also, I’m pretty picky about books. I wouldn’t be publishing them if I wasn’t proud of them. So sure, I’m not saying they’re masterpieces, but they’re not garbage. I’m pretty sure of that, too.
So, I started talking to Author House, a publishing company that works directly with writers who want to publish their work without spending ten years saying pretty please, can I publish my work.
They’ve got minimum standards I need to meet. If I handed them something totally incomprehensible, they wouldn’t publish it, and if it was pornography they wouldn’t publish it, and if it was inciting hate or violence, they wouldn’t publish that, either. And I have to get it to them in really perfect shape, all typos removed, etc.
But I don’t have to wait outside behind a rope. There are some minimal costs up front – I’d talk about those in email, if anyone wanted to know – and then it’s done. My book will be available on Amazon.com, and bookstores can carry it to, though I’ll have to market to them directly, talk them into it. Or more accurately, my wife will.
I could have done that any time over the years, but it’s really been fairly recent that websites like Facebook have made it so easy to get the message out, that you’ve published a book. We’re seeing this same trend in all of the arts – bands and musicians do it this way, artists do it this way, and with varying degrees of success, writers do it this way.
I kind of agonized over the decision at first, because it’s a pretty public thing to do. And if you’re thinking to yourself, all I need is that one guy in a hundred, then you’re going to start off by irritating the other ninety-nine.
Writing is a very, very private process, and publishing is a very public one. In the ideal, you get published by a major house, and that addresses the anxiety, because the major publishing house legitimizes you. Instead, I’m skipping the legitimization process, and just throwing the stories out there. Some people have been really positive, some people have been really quiet, and some people have demanded to know, point blank, who the hell I think I am.
And in the end I decided, just get it out there, and the hell with it. The worst that can happen is nobody reads it – which is already happening, with the stories sitting around on my hard drive.
So I put up a Facebook page to promote the book, even though it won’t be out until November. Putting up the page, though, forced me to move the timeline along, instead of sitting around talking about it for ten more years.
The Facebook page linked to a blog at wordpress http://thomaschalfant.wordpress.com/ – on which I posted samples of some of the stories that would be in Half Crazy. And then I sat there and watched while about a hundred people showed up and read the samples.
That was nothing short of exhilarating – I don’t know how else to put it. It felt exactly like I had a mental problem, and had just finally been given the correct drug for it.
Of course, the problem was, there were only three stories up. So once everyone read them, there wasn’t much else to do.
Within a few days, my new drug was gone. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, there just wasn’t anything else to read, so they weren’t reading it. And sure, I could have put more excerpts up there, but pretty soon, I’d have given the whole book away for free, online. Believe me, I thought about it. I liked that new drug, the People Are Reading What You Wrote drug. I wanted more of that drug.
So I sat down and wrote the first post on this blog – that’s what it is, I guess, a fiction blog – and you can read that again here if you want: https://futuretom.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/april-10-2010/
I really didn’t know what I was going to write every day, and a big part of me thought, wait, Tom, just roll up a bunch of pages before hand, so you don’t look stupid.
But you know, fear of looking stupid is like dragging a cinderblock around with you. And if I waited for the perfect time to do this, then it would never have come.
It turns out, what I’m going to write is really whatever occurs to me. One day I’ll act like a newspaper columnist, one day I’ll act like I’m trying to be Kurt Vonnegut, one day I’ll just take a vivid memory I’ve got, knock it out and stick it up here. It’s really not that big of a deal.
Except it’s pretty hard. Sitting down, writing something from scratch every morning and then throwing it out there, that can be stressful. But I’ve always been pretty strange, and this is just something else strange about me, that I’ve got to do this. If there was a treatment for it, I don’t think I’d want it.
Nobody needs to feel like you have to show up here every day or you’ll hurt my feelings, or anything like that. I can see how many people are hitting the site, but I can’t see which people, so I’m not watching you or anything. A lot more people are showing up than I could have hoped for, and that’s really what I need to keep going.
I’ll just keep writing something every morning (or sometimes afternoon), and I’ll get it up here, and if you come by once in a while to get caught up, that’s just fine, right there. We’re pals. If you have a comment or a suggestion or a threat or an insult, by all means, jump right in.
I definitely don’t mean to disparage the ShitMyDadSays guy when I say this – I’m a fan – but the guy just got a book deal, off his Facebook posts. Now granted, he’s closing in on a million fans, and that’ll do it, but the point is, I’m approximately five million percent more likely to get noticed if I’m putting something out there every day, than if I’m putting something in my hard drive maybe once a week.
That’s one week, right there. Fifty-one more to go. Thanks everybody who’s hung around so far.