(Tales of Self-Publishing, the weight of Obscurity, and lost Enlightenment)
It’s 2:29 in the morning, and I’m wide-awake. Not because I’m a night owl. I’d been asleep a for over 3 hours and had gone to the bathroom, but when I tried to fall back asleep, my brain clicked into overdrive: I have a novel coming out in a couple of months, and I have got to get all my plans in place to start to market, and market hard. I’m self-publishing with iUniverse, which has a track for books to get support from them similar to a traditional publisher. And even a self-publishing house needs to protect its brand.
So, the track starts with quality: a book must pass editorial muster, reaching the standards of a traditional book publisher. If a book does, an “Editor’s Choice” award gets put on the cover, and it becomes eligible for the next step: marketing. The possible markets for the book have to be clear and significant, and the author’s marketing plan to reach these markets has to be good enough to show the author can and is willing to sell the book vigorously enough to warrant more help from them.
Not only is my novel A Perfect Blindness of high editorial quality, but it has several possible markets, and basic marketing plans to reach them all.
Now the novel gets a “Rising Star” designation on the cover, plus more help: it will get submitted to Barnes and Noble to be considered for in store placement, special positions in online markets, various social media mentions from iUniverse, as well as guides, templates for posters and giveaways, plus access to a marketing pro for advice.
All excellent, but next comes what’s keeping me up at night: the real help kicks in once the book actually sells: either 500 copies of which 250 are from retail outlets or 5,000 e-books. This earns the highest “Star” status, which comes with a host of benefits, including submission to major the reviewing organizations, such as Kirkus, which could lead to more physical stores, book clubs and perhaps libraries picking it up; plus more access to media pros, professional help on the cover, and access to resources that a traditional publisher would make available for their books.
In other words, I’ve gotta sell. And sell well.
Worries about and strategies for selling takes over my brain late at night when I should be sleeping, as thoughts rush back and forth through the far too many plans for any one human to accomplish in a few weeks. Gotta blog. Gotta get all my social media sites in order. Gotta post new stuff here. Gotta curate. And set up this one service and that one too, and make sure each is optimized, and be sure this device has the right setting so it sends the right site the right posts and the right comments and the right images, and there are all those saved articles I’ve got on Instapaper to read and highlight and comment on, and then save to Evernote, and then post, plus sites clipped into Evernote that need reading and some that need posting, and yet others saved to Safari’s Read Later list, and remember the bookmarked sites, then go over the lists of things to do on in my Reminders software. Then, I have to go over the ideas and to dos written down on each of the three note pads—each covering one domain of action, but I keep finding overlapping and redundant items, and then there are all the ideas in various Word documents, and they are all shouting at me: GET ME DONE! If you don’t, YOU LOSE IT ALL. You’ve worked too hard TO LET IT SLIP THROUGH YOUR FINGERS!
Enduring this all this shouting in my mind, I stare at the inside of my eyelids, and order myself to shut up and get some sleep, all the while list after list, with red level items, orange level items, yellow level items and black level items glaring at me, then resorting themselves, trying to jump from one list to another, leap up in priority, pulling at the legs of other items to drag them down, and all I want is the sleep I need to actually be able to act on the flood of ideas raising this cacophony in my brain, and actually get the book sold and read.
Slipping away for a moment, I try a trick that works most of the time: alphabetically naming birds from a until I fall asleep: Albatross, Bluebird, Condor, Dove, Eagle, Falcon, Gull, Hawk, I is too hard, Jay, Kite, Loon, Magpie, Nighthawk…
Then I wake, and it’s 5:39, and for just a moment, my mind is quiet. But as soon as I notice the quiet, the storm starts again wave after wave of ideas, orders to do this and don’t forget that, and then after ten minutes, I give up on sleep, and it’s off to the kitchen for coffee, and then the computer goes on. While it starts up, I gather the three note books and start going down these lists, formatted slightly like an outline, with master and daughter levels, sometimes granddaughter, coded with Red for DO NOW, Orange for do next, Yellow for do later, and Black for do when or if possible.
Part way through the list on one pad is an item that is almost the same as one on another pad and in a different list, so does it get struck out? Checked off? Or is it actually unique? After a few moments making sure what to do about that, I find a note scribbled in the margin reminding me to ask the publisher about something, and so I write a to do item in a list to remind me to ask that, but realized I’ve actually already done it, so mark it off, and then about half way into the last list I’m shaking my head at all the crap I have to do, and wondering when I’m going to do it, and 20 minutes have vanished, and all I’ve done is find a couple of repeats, wonder how I should handle that, converted a note to another to do, and then checked it off: in other words nothing.
DAMN IT, DO SOMETHING.
More things get moved up or down in priority, other things get moved from one list to another, and the same scene gets played out at 8:50, and then at 10:10, except now, I’ve remembered two things that I was sure I had written down, but can’t find, so they get written down, and around noon, while looking something up, I find a site I’d completely forgotten about that had great stuff on it, so I bookmark it, and write it down. Gotta get that done. It’s been a week.
Then while getting more coffee, my brain fills up with chastisement, half remembered ideas and a vague sense of being whelmed, so I tell myself, loudly, “Oh, just shut up.”
I work at home, so I’m the only person I can talk to. My neighbors must think something’s going on here the way I talk to myself and curse at devices or software when something doesn’t work right: the machines here take the brunt of frustration.
Right about now, a favorite cudgel to pound myself with marches through my head: “don’t mistake being busy for being productive,” causing a surge in despair at getting anything done at all, and losing this chance.
What’s there to do but double down on those lists: what’s first? What can get done right now?
Move this item to that list and change a couple of priority levels. That’s something right?
Bull! You’re conning yourself, and round and round it goes.
Yes, things do actually get done.
I have a house to run, which is good for a few check marks, and banking, and cooking, and stretches, and doing dad things, and husband things: check, check, check.
And, in spite of everything, the blog A Candle in the Darkness has staggered to life, and the notes for the next two books have straggled into Scrivener, plus an editorial calendar has begun forming—to help put into play all the ideas on effective use of Social Media from all the books and blogs and how to guides from dozens of sources I’ve read and which clog my mind—they all sound like such good advice, have such good ideas that I’d be a fool not to use at least some of them.
As if this weren’t bad enough, we’re suffering through an ugly election. It dominates the news, clogs all my feeds, and feels so important that it demands that I do something about it, and so it fills the few free spaces in my mind with retorts and poisonous barbs—it has hijacked my thoughts, my blog, and my feeds: I’ve never intended being so politically partisan, but there it is all over my presence online: headline after snide comment after clever remark—go team, go!
But what the hell happened to MY ideas in this media carnage? The ones I was supposed to be blogging about, sharing, and commenting on. Sure some of those ideas have political edge and certainly take sides in the culture war, but at center was always to have been the decay of public discourse, from actual ideas being brought up, debated and argued rotting into shibboleths, memes, back patting, ad hominem attacks, and general incivility especially since Ronald Regan. Nauseating and toxic.
This election has thrown my voice off terribly. I’m no Gore Vidal nor Christopher Hitchens. Though I delight in reading much of their work, I’ve come to realize their writing is often meant for sympathetic audiences, with just enough cutting remarks to bait antagonistic audiences into a paroxysm of fury—exactly what I’m not trying to do. It might be fun to watch your opponents lose their minds; it does nothing to help with the problem of anti-intellectualism and incivility.
In perfect frankness, One Candle in the Darkness intends to encourage different ways of engaging people, especially those given over to the cult of gut feeling, and of viewing trends appearing on the news: if that’s not too pretentious. At City College New York, I taught expository writing, which in large part means teaching critical thought and argumentation, so have studied a fair number arguments, from the well done to the very poorly done, and continue to study, almost as a hobby, how argumentation— rhetoric—has been used at various times since the Pre-Socratic Greeks.
There, I’ve done it: accomplished one of the items on my list, which is to restart One Candle in the Darkness with a post that hews to its original intent before the Hillary and Donald show derailed it. Now all I have to do is publish it (check mark). Then get people to know it exists (check mark, exclamation point): or continue the struggle to leap from obscurity.
In the next week or two will be an idea that seems so simple, but has never caught on: how video game design can explain so much of what’s on the news, including Trump, ISIL, Jonestown and the Moonies.