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Why we self-publish
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
One of the few highlights of my grad school career was meeting Garrison Keillor my first year. I didn’t just meet him; I got to spend an hour in a private audience with him. Only a couple of other students were there.
So there he was, across from me. The three students got to talk with him about writing. He was puzzled that people would write for free, through blogs or self-publishing. I mumbled something about being able to publish instantly.
Of course, the instant gratification is only a small part of it. I suspect Keillor, and a certain local author of westerns, who called self-publishing “self-printing” are a wee bit jealous they had to slog through reams of rejection slips until they got a “yes”, while Amanda Hocking, Diablo Cody, and Hugh Howey put their stuff out there, and either got book deals, or went on to write scripts that won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay. I’m sure they got rejection slips at some point, but the fact that Cody started stripping, wrote a blog, and someone offered her a book deal in about half the time I’ve been writing this column is a source of hope and “WTF”? Am I jealous? Yeah. Very.
Even so, some top-dollar writers have gone the self-publishing route because they felt their best work ended up on the editing room floor. Jim Goad wrote an article for Playboy about Vietnamese gangs in Southern California. Apparently, it was butchered, and that’s what spurred Goad to self-publish. I need to track down the July 1991 issue of Playboy, and compare the version of that article to the more “self-indulgent” one which ended up in Answer Me!, Goad’s publishing showpiece which lasted four issues and contained no advertisements whatsoever. It was some of the angriest, most interesting writing I’d ever read in my life. There were articles about murderers, people who committed suicide, the aforementioned gang article, handicapped kids who made their own music, a rant against homeless people, and an interview with Anton LaVey, for starters. What magazine would publish articles like this? Certainly not the mainstream rags, which is why Goad went underground. Good for him.
And had I been able to collect my thoughts a bit better, I would have told Keillor the reason people self-publish is because some people’s truth isn’t pretty enough for the mainstream. And pretty sells. Ugly doesn’t.
I mean, bullying has shown up in more publications, and that’s a good thing. Prevention, the reasons behind it, group mentality, all that stuff. There’s also the damaging effects, and also those “enlightened” people who feel bullying is just a rite of passage; everyone has to deal with it, and we eventually get over it. Unless we don’t. And adult bullies exist too, but the thought that people’s characters are established around age five; that adulthood is just childhood with bigger stakes (adult bullies can get you fired, or turn your co-workers against you, your significant other can hurt you in ways you never imagined as a kid, and the person who promised to love you forever ends up leaving you) is too much for people to bear. The mainstream media doesn’t tackle issues; they gloss over everything. Or if they don’t gloss, they bait and switch.
I read an article in a recent Vogue about a fifty-year-old woman who was planning to get Botox injections. By her description, she looked every bit her age, thanks to poor lifestyle choices. The was the usual angst about cosmetic procedures vs. ageism in our society, the feminist guilt about wanting to look good, and the fear of “going under the knife.” I was reading the article, curious about what she would do, and what she decided on. I didn’t get much. She decided on a yearlong series of injections, and well, that was it. No promise of a follow-up article. Just, “well, I think I’ll have some Botox injections, just thought I’d tell you about it.” I wonder how much she got paid for that article, and at the same time, I thought about pitching an article about MY procedure to Vogue. I’d wanted this sliding genioplasty (chin augmentation) since I was 12. The day of the surgery, I felt ambivalent, because I knew it wouldn’t drastically change my life, but I still wanted it. There was also the regret that I hadn’t done it earlier in my life, and wondering how my life would have been different if I’d had that surgery, say, when I was still in high school and if my social life would have been less dismal. MY article would have been than timid, curious Botox woman’s puff piece. I would have even supplied before and after pictures!
But I think that’s why self-publishing and blogs have become so popular. It’s unedited, which means more typos, yes, but also more truth. The 15-year-old girl in Iowa City who is bullied every day and describes her ordeal in detail (shoved down a flight of stairs, physically assaulted, group harassment at lunch, nasty rumors spread) has a more compelling story than the sanitized, “look on the bright side” tale of a 16-year-old who is bullied because of her height, her milky white skin, and her beautiful red hair that her classmates are jealous of. It sucks to be bullied for any reason, but if the article reveals this young woman also has three modeling agencies willing to sign her after she graduates high school, the story becomes less harrowing. Little Miss Milky White Skin will probably go on to a moderately successful modeling career while her less attractive classmates work shitty retail jobs, or borrow thousands of dollars in order to get a college degree, graduate, THEN work shitty retail jobs. It’s harder to feel sorry for someone who in two years, will have it made. But then, if bullying totally screws you up for life, no one wants to hear about it. We only care about winners here in America.
I probably won’t run into Keillor again, but if anyone wants to know why people write “for free”, part of the reason is because no one will buy it—because certain truths are just too ugly to spend money on, let alone read.