Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness
A bit over a year after I’d submitted the manuscript, I got an email with the fully formatted, ready to go to print files. Felt good. Color cover. Well laid out type inside.
Damn that feels so good.
A few years before, I had shopped around a much earlier version of the manuscript. As in three complete rewrites before the deeply flawed version I initially sent into iUniverse. Agents were cold to it. Only now have I come to realize that the bloated, broken, barely readable manuscript I’d had so much faith in never deserved more than a few minutes of anyone’s time. Time I might should have apologized for.
After a number of rejections, I decided I’d lost all patience with agents and workshopped it with an eye to rewriting a last time and self-publishing it. I’d gotten my Masters of Arts in English by then, and damn it; I was going to whip the manuscript into shape, and take advantage of how technology has democratized publishing.
This time, I imagined, it would evade the rejections that met On the Road; Lady Chatterley’s Lover; Catch – 22; Lord of the Flies; Watership Down; Animal Farm; The Great Gatsby. Or Carrie, which was given the fluff off ‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell’; or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was given a similar assessment that “[…] we could not publish it with commercial success…”. Or Lolita, which was considered “… overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years. It isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention.” Nabokov had to publish it in France.
I also pondered how I would even avoid harsh words for me as the author—such as what happened to John le Carré over his first book, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.”
If this model had been around in earlier, I told myself, it might have saved a life: William Kennedy O’Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces was rejected so many times he killed himself. His mother kept shopping the book around to agents, and after 11 years, one, finally and with trepidation, decided to represent it. It was published in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.
Looking back at this, I stand astounded at my ego, putting myself with these writers and works with a manuscript that was not even passably good. Then again, it does take at least some ego to write for publication. A big one really: I realized in grad school, that writing for publication is an act of arrogance: to believe that your words are worth another human’s limited time on earth, that they are more valuable than those in other books, more valuable than spending time with lovers, spouses, children, parents, friends, doing any one of another million things a reader could be doing. That takes serious stones.
Yes, of course, it takes confidence to even try completing a manuscript. To then approach an agent. Or try to publish it on one’s own. Some ego is needed along with a kind of confidence not found in all people, even if the book is not published to sell, but only share, with friends, family, a group, or clients. Which in fact, a lot of self-published books are published for: determining that is a first step in the process.
Of those that are written to sell, most of those will never be found on a bookstore’s shelf, nor, according to an early contact at iUniverse, should they be. Most of the self-published works found at the bottom of rankings, with poor ratings and few reviews never went through all the hard work of multiple rounds of editing, and professional design for both the cover and the interior. This stuff isn’t cheap. And I’ve read that many people think self-publishing is about the freedom to avoid the demands of traditional publishing, to not have to worry about conventions, and simply get one’s ideas out, as they are, au natural. Frankly, from what I’ve read, very, very few people are Jack Kerouac, and fewer still have Ginsburg and Burroughs to help fix a dirty, stepped upon, disorganized mess into the recognizable form of a manuscript. On the Road is an extreme outlier.
But for some, whose books do have merit, who do have the will and skill and resources to evade the early fates of Nabokov, Rowling, Singer, King, and Orwell can take advantage of this new way to the Traditional Publishing Path.
Once it successfully negotiates that path, the book will venture out onto the market and will have to sell: people who are not paid to read it will pay to read it, and theirs is the final judgment against which I, all authors, have no appeal. For A Perfect Blindness, that time is now counted in weeks, no longer months. And with an eye to a bare star on the back of my book, I began to proofread the whole thing again, line by line.