Tuesday, December 9, 2014
David Berner--Guest Post
The publishing world is basically the Wild West these days. There are myriad ways to get your stories out there, but some ways are better than others, like some parts of the west were wilder than others. Even the self-publishing route has several levels of involvement for the independent author, depending on the money you want to spend and the risks you want to take. And of course the entire e-book approach has put another spin on the process. Some writers have said they see this new world of publishing as a threat somehow to the art of storytelling. I don’t see it that way. I think this day and age might be the best time to be an author in the history of the written word.
There is no doubt traditional publishers are no longer risk takers. Some of the small presses might be to some extent, and I applaud them for this. But so many of the great books of the 20th century, if they were being submitted to publishers today, would not be published traditionally. Traditional publishers–the big publishing houses–are not taking the chances they once did with authors. Do you think a big name publisher would publish a book like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road today? I doubt it.
However, if it were written in 2014, Jack might have self-published it, put it out as an e-book, sold it on Amazon at the holidays for 99-cents. I don’t believe that’s diminishing art as some might argue; I think it’s democratizing art.
My memoir, Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons (Dream of Things. 2014) did not start out as a book-length story. It began as a series of small, short essays about being a father and a few early versions of specific parts were published in small, independent journals, some online as stand-alone essays. What an opportunity! These kinds of outlets for authors didn’t exist just a few years ago. Some might argue that you can’t make any money publishing in those journals. Maybe not, but it is a way to get your work out there, to offer your stories to a new and motivated audience and reader.
My first book, Accidental Lessons was published by what is now commonly called a hybrid publisher. They did everything like a traditional publisher, but asked me to contribute to some of the initial expense. All in all, the publisher was essentially a traditional publisher and handled the book’s release quite well. Any Road Will Take You There was initially self-published, but not after first hiring an agent who believed in the work and then a year of more than 30 rejections, 20 of those labeled by my agent as “good rejections,” meaning the traditional publishers loved the story, loved the writing, but couldn’t take it on for one reason or another, far too many reasons to list here. I got restless and published on my own.
A few months after the book was released, Mike O’Mary and Dream of Things publishing in Chicago came to me with an offer. Mike liked the book and wanted to re-publish it under his press, plus he also said he was fond of a collection of essays I was working on and thought he could take on that project, too. I couldn’t pass up the chance to get both projects out to readers under Dream of Things. Plus, I knew Mike, loved Dream of Things’ other books, and knew this small press was a class act, putting out strong stories and great voices.
If you write and are looking for a way to get your stories out there, take time to explore all the many options. Look hard at each one and invest time to study and investigate the platforms. Don’t rely on or get stuck in the old world process of finding an agent, submitting to traditional publishers, and waiting around until they decide whether you are worthy. Take your own steps, but do it with the knowledge and understanding that you must be an advocate for your own work. Hire a good editor if you’re self-publishing. This is essential. Everyone needs an editor. And if you are going the hybrid route, read the fine print. Some hybrid publishers are wonderful; some are shady. And if you decide on the traditional route and a publisher shows interest, understand that they may wish to make a lot of changes to your work to fit their needs. If that’s okay with you, fine. But I would suggest being absolutely certain of how you feel about this. And through the process, do not ignore the small presses. They are generally writer-friendly, will give you a big hug when you need it, and they understand the artistic process. Dream of Things is one of those wonderful small presses. It will take some work, but you can find one that fits your style, needs, and your comfort level with any level of risk taking. I did, and I’m happy, honored, and grateful.
In the best tradition of the great American memoir, "Any Road Will Take You There" is honest, unflinching, and tender. A middle-age father takes the reader on a five-thousand-mile road trip, the one he always wished he’d taken as a young man. Recently divorced and uncertain of the future, he rereads the iconic road story - Jack Kerouac’s "On the Road" - and along with his two sons and his best friend, heads for the highway to rekindle his spirit. However, a family secret turns the cross-country journey into an unexpected examination of his role as a father, and compels him to look to the past and the fathers who came before him to find contentment and clarity, and celebrate the struggles and triumphs of being a dad.