Southern Writers

Special Forces on KindleOkay, I caved. After all the years of putting my stories into envelopes, going to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and throwing them in, of listening to the crickets in the silence that follows any petition to any theater, I decided to go electronic.

I didn’t do it cold. I was helped and encouraged by my friend Harvey Stanbrough in Arizona who, after a long career in the Marines, has made himself an expert in e-publishing and knows as much about writing as anybody around. And I had been watching for some time my playwriting partner Ken Clark’s juking of the middle man in selling his songs on CD Baby—and of course one periodically hears these self-publishing miracle stories.

Self-publishing. I say the word, and it just doesn’t reek of the shame it once did—“once” meaning five years ago. The word “vanity” has politely dropped out. Where before we had the Akashic Records, a mystical idea, to buffer us from oblivion, we now have the slightly less mystical E-Cloud where our words, our artistic visions, will at least enjoy some kind of ontological status—the tree will fall in the forest.
Brave new world. They say Ronald Reagan’s success lay in his going straight to the American people, bypassing a certain pesky body of lawmakers. I don’t know if Congress likes being thought of as a middle man—that pack of bickering clowns doesn’t seem to actually like anything—but the entire establishment of agents and publishers, like record labels, certainly is. The world of e-publishing makes them look like a roadblock, and offers the radical hope: go around it!

So I’m giving it a try.

I’m starting simple, with a short creepy novel entitled Special Forces which is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. The process was rather involved: formatting the book to each site’s specs, creating an electronic identity (branding yourself), writing short and long descriptions of the book, cover teasers, coming up with keywords, designing a cover. Harvey was indispensable at this stage. Now comes the hard part: linking all that to my fabled platform of web-presence and social network services. Because, obviously, that’s the weakness in this whole business: if everybody’s in the cloud, how do you stand out? Clearly, minus marketing campaigns and book tours and professional reviews you’re absenting yourself from the A-world, and putting all your chips on the B-world of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, word of mouth, your relatives and friends, and the BS lobe of your brain.

The siren call of the electronic pace, however, is strong. For example, I’ve been pleased to place a few posts on this blog. You write it, you send it, somebody evidently reads it, shouts “Run it, Bob!” and the next day there it is. This is Boeing 767 to conventional publishing’s Conestoga wagon—that surreal dialogue where the responses, if they come at all, come in eight or nine month intervals at best. So lash yourself to the masts if you like—I’m going for it: format it, send it in, they give it a good sniffing, and by God there it is for sale.

Just think: actually living in a world where the obscene disproportion of supply to demand has not victimized you to this hubris-soaked class of gatekeepers; that you might never have to attend another writers’ conference, neither to take an honorarium in bad faith, nor to be subjected to the smug entry-level publishers’ whelps cashiered there to prolong the cash-cow hopes of the wannabees that get suckered into them; that you might heretofore be spared altogether the indignity of wasting another coulomb of energy upon this deaf edifice.

But it won’t be easy. The truth is, you’re exchanging one dilemma for another. You may no longer be slamming your fists into the adamantine gates of the Establishment, but you have to remember that the main task of publishers is not to offer your work, but to create a space in the public mind where it will fit. Nobody is going to buy anything until they have accepted the fact that this is something one can buy. In the e-world you’ve got to do all this for yourself somehow. You’ve got to validate yourself with keyboard, mouse, and wits in a world where people feel they’ve gotten off light if the plumber who puts some goo on a pipe joint charges them only $75, but who would gnaw off an arm before they spent $25 on an unknown book.

Happily, mine is only $2.99.

John M. Williams

John M. Williams

I teach at LaGrange College–a small, pleasant island in the ocean, Academia.  My colleagues are my friends; we are collegial.  I deal with creatures of inexhaustible charm, a foot on either side of that just beginning to widen crack which will force them shortly to leap one way, or fall the other.  They have vastly more promise than ignorance, but are rich in both.

I’ve been here so long I’m beginning to suspect some sorceress is playing a joke.  How did I get here?  Circuitously.

I was riding a stick horse in the pecan tree filled yard of a flat-roofed house in Auburn, Alabama–that much is vivid.  Then, it all begins to blur.  All my grammar school teachers were old (perfectly lovely) women; my children’s grammar school teachers were all hot babes.  Why is that?  The main thing I remember about high school is Mr. Goff.  Him, and a handful of friends (you know who you are).  I think everything I learned in high school could have been easily condensed into one strenuous afternoon.  Then college, where I was rejected by calculus and attracted to letters, my favorites being M and G.  The eras of my life have all been covered, one way or another, in my scribblings.  My childhood is encoded most accurately and completely in my story “In the Beginning Was Kitto.”  That gripping tale is not included here because it’s in a collection called Snake Dreams that I’m trying to sell!

After college, travel–then grad school, then travel, then five years in the printing business, then aimlessness, then LaGrange, grad school again, marriage, children, and a series of red felt-tipped pens.  Here, the birthdays have become like cards being fanned in a deck.  Like I said, a blur.  Blur blur blur.  You have to fight the blur!  Speak truth to blur!  You have to nail little exertions of precision to the shadowy walls of life’s dubious corridor.

To those of you in other trenches who hear this faint tapping–tap back!