Saturday, December 17, 2011

Indie Publishing vs Tradition: the emotional side

I have dreamed of being a writer for as long as I can remember and it was never really my intention to be anything but, when I grew up.  Sure I flirted with the idea of being a soldier or a firefighter (side note: I was in the Army and I am a firefighter), but I was also a boy and those idealistic professions are always in the back of a young man's mind.  Even as engagement, marriage, children, houses and everyday struggles found me trudging a much more responsible path (by this I mean not taking my new wife to Paris to live like an expatriate while I sat in coffee shops whittling away at a pad and pencil) I never let go of the idea that one day the dream would come true.
But what did that dream actually look like.  Although I'm not sure at what point you can officially call yourself a writer, the idealistic artist in me would like to think that it's the moment you creatively set pen to page, but at this stage in my life I am both thinking and referring to myself as a one.  And so...dream come true right?  Well, yes and no.  That dream I have been talking about, like many of my fellow aspiring, successful or marquee authors, wasn't just the simple writing of books and having people read them.  It was much more thought out that than.  Certainly much more idealized and grandiose and although not the most important thing, came with a lot more money.
In my young dreams (and don't let me fool you into thinking that I don't still have them) being a writer was much more Hemingway and a lot less post writing work.  I imagined legions of fans lining up at bookstores waiting for my newest release and my showing up announced, signing books and reading exerts to the utter delight of my faithful readers.  Hollywood would be calling for the movie rights and I, in very J K Rowling-esque fashion would insist on a high degree of control so as to protect the integrity of my work. 
Fastfoward to reality and advent of independent publishing, a drastically changing book culture and the advent of technology ruling the literary landscape and I'm writing and selling books, just like a dreamed, but in a way I could have never foreseen.
After years of getting through the query letters, attention from junior editors and even a few senior ones, only to start the process over again when my novel wasn't the right fit or not at the right time, I turned to technology, self determined destiny and leaps into the unknown.  I went Indie.  Sounds so much cooler when you say it like that, doesn't it?
This decision has come with a series of conflicting emotions that I have struggled with even as my novels gain popularity.  Did I settle for a lesser form of publication?  Should I have waited for the big pub house to come calling?  I'm I even a legitimate writer without one?  These questions aren't eating me up inside or anything.  My self esteem and grasp on reality are vaguely healthy, but I do ponder over them a bit.  Over the course of the last few days, hundreds of people have downloaded and ordered my books.  If the same situation were happening while I sat signing copies in a bookstore, there would be no doubt that, premature or not, I would feel like I had arrived.  Dream come true?  Check.  And yet, those people, just like the mysterious internet bibliophiles, are readers.  They are reading my book and if all is well, enjoying it and possibly even getting excited for my next release.
So what does that mean in relation to my dream of one day becoming a writer?  We often, as human beings, hold onto traditional ways of thinking as templates to help us define and categorize the world around us.  Sometimes, this is a great and useful thing.  Sometimes it's the nostalgia that gives special meaning to Christmas celebrations, or old movies, memories of grandparents and fireworks on the Forth of July.  But traditional litmus tests for right and wrong, success and failure, are also what allows for discrimination, stagnation and getting left in the dust.
I have got to ask myself, what was the dream really about?  It's important, because that answer is the only litmus test that really matters.  Was the dream about being a great story teller or being famous?  Was it about moving people emotionally or having them take my picture?  Was it about imagination or was it about a bundle of money?
So...would I love to be signing my novels right now as I work my way through a line that wraps around my local Barnes and Noble...sure.  But would I love to be signing a random book (I know it doesn't really make since but I'm making a point, bear with me) basking in the attention and fame without having told a story...no.  It's the story that matters.  The words on the page.  My imagination collected and shared.  My characters brought to life.  And when you look at it that way, I am in fact living the dream.

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Scarlet Hopewell