In 2012, I did something I never thought I’d actually be able to accomplish — I wrote a novel.
My NaNoWriMo winner’s certificate is framed and hanging up on the wall above my desk, right under my Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp diploma, because I may not have been able to give my mother a degree from Harvard, but dammit, I was able to prove that I can write and apply waterproof makeup. I’m just as proud of them as anyone would be of a Ph.D (though how badass would a doctorate in Mermaid Sciences be? Answer: extremely).
I’m proud of my manuscript, too, although for a month or two after NaNoWriMo ended I almost threw it in the trash because of the sheer amount of snobbery coming from others in the writing community about anything written in that thirty-day crunch — I’m pretty sure that if any of them knew I actually cranked out over 50,000 words in just twelve days, they’d burn me at the stake as a heretic. I read article after article on self-publishing where some “established” authors went so far as to say that anyone thinking they’d produced something of merit for NaNoWriMo was deluding themselves. It was my first venture into the social aspect of being a writer and rather than getting that special feeling of empowerment that comes from being among like-minded people, I got a nasty case of heartburn and three panic attacks.
In a way, I understand where some of them are coming from. Most people can’t write that quickly and end up with an A+ project at the end of it. NaNoWriMo attracts a lot of amateur writers, and while I will support and encourage the absolute shit out of anyone brave enough to pick up a pen and paper (or a keyboard, I guess, because none of us have legible handwriting anymore), there’s a good chunk of them who could probably benefit from a few more practice runs. And that’s okay! There is zero shame in that, because we all have to start somewhere if we want to learn what works and what doesn’t.
I’m not saying I’m the next Sylvia Plath or Stephen King or anything like that, but I began my writing career in early childhood. School, of course, taught me the Art Of The Stringent Deadline, mostly because I was a horrible procrastinator who’d wait until the night before a huge essay was due to even write the title on the page. Very few of my classmates could pull such a feat off and still get a passing grade. I was cranking out five-page manifests, single-spaced, in about two hours and receiving an A every single time. In my freshman year of high school, I was the youngest person to ever be accepted to the school newspaper, and I didn’t even apply for it — my English teacher submitted one of my essays to the instructor in charge of the paper, who immediately waived the “you must be at least a sophomore” requirement to get me onto the staff. There, the deadlines got even tighter, since we published once a week, and if we got our articles done early enough we could spend the whole time dicking around in the library pretending we were researching stuff instead of looking up genitals in the encyclopedias there.
Also, I’m pushing 30, so I’m old and therefore have had plenty of time to practice this whole working-quickly-and-well thing.
I’ve had poetry published a couple of times (not in those scammy hardcover books where everybody gets accepted), but I’ve never actually held on for the long haul and finished a novel, much less published it. Of course I have fantastic dreams of getting my book picked up by a major publisher and ending up with a movie deal and merchandising rights, but the chances of that happening are miniscule. Besides, I don’t write for the money — if you do, you’re in the wrong business, because your royalties paid amount to somewhere between “jack shit” and “six cents” — I write for the possibility that someday I will walk into a library and find my book sitting on the “New Arrivals” shelf.
And that is where the trouble starts.
I will be self-publishing my book, which is absolutely great, but the vast majority of publishing houses offering such a service do not include ISBN numbers for free. Obtaining one costs about $125, and that’s not even touching the fees I’d have to pay if I wanted to get it copyrighted (I probably do, because I don’t want to have to shank anyone for stealing my work). It may not sound like a lot of money to most people, but I’ve been unemployed for five months, so coughing up that much is impossible for the time being. Without an ISBN number, my book won’t end up in any libraries. I’m a huge supporter of libraries because of how many amazing authors they’ve introduced me to, and the way that they open up access to reading material for those who don’t have twenty bucks to shell out for their own copy of a book.
“So just make it available for free download,” some might suggest, but that still doesn’t put my book in libraries, and, believe it or not, there are still plenty of people out there who don’t have an e-reader or the patience to read through a whole novel on a computer screen. I definitely want an electronic version out there, but while I’m a Kindle owner who will extoll its virtues to anyone bored enough to listen, an e-book doesn’t look spiffy on a bookshelf. You can’t feel its weight in your hands or smell that amazing papery book smell, nor can you run your fingers over the glossy cover and yeah, okay this just started sounding like porn, I’m sorry. But I think I’ve made my point.
Plus, no matter how proud I may be of my work, or how many times people tell me “no, it’s good, you’re fine,” there’s still the pesky matter of that Impostor Syndrome thing where I somehow still manage to believe that it’s crap and I’m an embarrassment to myself. I’m actually afraid to read back over it. I tend to read as I write — right now, I’m hearing every word in my head, analyzing each sentence, each word choice, making sure that the syntax is good and I haven’t written “homosexual” instead of “homogeneous.” It saves me from having to go back and edit everything later, because if I do, I will inevitably find some unforgivable sin that only I notice and end up trashing the whole thing. I can’t tell you how many finished short stories I’ve lost that way.
(My high school poetry notebook, however, really was deserving of the trash bin. I was listening to a lot of Kittie at the time because I was a teenager and didn’t know any better. To be fair, I’m pretty sure everyone has at least one shameful relic like that lying around. Some even end up getting it published.)
I’m at a loss, really. Even though I’m not looking for huge profits and have zero expectation of becoming a bestselling author, it’d be really nice to make at least maybe five bucks from book sales at this current stage in my Jobless Bum history. From everything I’ve found, however, if I want to be able to get my work out there, my only option is to go through somewhere like Lulu, which means no ISBN, no major distribution (at least going through Amazon, well… hey, freaking everything’s on Amazon) unless I wanted to order a bunch of boxes of them to pass out at local bookstores, who wouldn’t sell them anyway because of the ISBN. Everything pretty much comes down to that silly number. Do I get it out there sooner and sacrifice my chances of possibly doing something greater with it in the future? Or do I hold on and wait for the day that I might actually be able to go at this the complete way?
This ongoing internal debate, ladies and gentlemen, is why Observe still hasn’t been made publicly available. I kind of feel like a jerk about it because I talk about writing so much and how I’m a writer and write wrote writing writer written blargh, yet I really have nothing to show for it other than a one-draft .pdf that I’m too terrified to do anything with.
The life of an artist.