From the Archives: “Self Publish a Book in 2013”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: December 31st, 2012 ]

It is hard to believe another year is already behind us. As 2013 approaches, many of you will set New Year’s resolutions for yourself. One of the most popular resolutions is writing and publishing a book. Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, adult or children’s books, the Self Publishing Advisor blog is here to help. Every week we share tips, advice and news about self-publishing to help you achieve your goals, and I’m dedicating my January posts to authors whose 2013 resolution is to write and self-publish a book before the year ends.

Whatever your writing obstacles have been in the past (a busy schedule or a fear of failure), I am here to help! Enjoy the last night of 2012 and get ready for the best year of your life — the year you become a self-published author.

Happy New Year’s!

– by Jodee Thayer

Okay, so one last “resolutions-related” blog post for 2017 and I’ll be done. Probably. I suppose it has been on my mind a great deal in the last few months–what with my participation in NaNoWriMo this year and an encroaching sense that if I don’t finish my book now, I will never ever finish it–and I’ve been simply unable to let go of the hope that 2017 can somehow be different … that it has to be different, for my sanity’s sake and the sake of peace and equilibrium at home. And my back. My back would really appreciate it if I could stop internalizing all of my existentialist anxiety and self-recriminations over my lack of progress.

So, how to kick things into gear? Plan. Plan, and then turn plans into the kinds of good habits which lead to a finished book, and ultimately, a published book.

But enough about my story. What about yours? Is 2017 the year–or a year, for those of you who have already self-published–when you publish your next book? Oh, yes. Yes it is. I firmly believe it can be done–even if you haven’t started writing it yet. A dash of fierce dedication and a plethora of hot coffees and maybe a couple of kale smoothies every week, and you can get there. I firmly believe this, not just because I need to for my own reasons, but because 2017 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for self-publishing.

There are countless book expos and fairs making space for self-publishing authors and companies; there are dozens of new technologies and applications in the pipeline to smooth all of the ancillary experiences circling around publication, like marketing and scheduling and getting books into libraries; there are new products and services available pretty much everywhere you look when it comes to choosing your self-publishing company itself (you all already know which one I recommend!); and last but not least, readers are hungry, oh-so-hungry, just positively ravenous for new self-published material to read.

Let 2017 be the year you publish your book. It’s time. Conditions have never been better. And you’re ready. I know you are, because you were born for this.

antique old typewriter dandelion puff

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


Kelly

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

In Your Corner : Resolutions for 2016 That Every Aspiring Author Should Make (pt 4)

Three weeks back, I launched off a new series for Self Publishing Advisor with the singular goal of answering one simple question:

What’s your goal for 2016?

This question, of course, lay the groundwork for a whole host of further sub-questions that rapidly morphed into a series of tasks I think every author probably keeps in mind as a new year rolls around–and indeed, these tasks make for an excellent New Year’s Resolution list if ever I saw one.  Even though a small part of me cringes at the thought of yet another to-do list, I can’t help but recognize that the recoil is somewhat a consequence of semantics: I may not have had much success giving up sweets or processed foods or otherwise accomplishing resolutions of years past, but I fully acknowledge the fact that structured and manageable goals are important and sometimes even necessary things to move a book from ideation to final publication.  If we divorce the word “resolve” from its holiday baggage, I think there’s no denying its powerful potential for instigating personal transformation.  Just think of its original–and simple–definition:

resolve

With a firmness of purpose firmly instilled in our hearts and minds, we have already examined the first eleven of the fourteen total resolutions I propose (click on the links to view the respective blog posts):

  1. Set goals.
  2. Facilitate goals.
  3. Make writing a priority, and
  4. Read, read, read.
  5. Master at least the basics of social media.
  6. Research deeply.
  7. Connect with other authors.
  8. Embrace a good critique.
  9. Learn to love rewrites.
  10. Try something new, and
  11. Stop comparing your achievements with others.

This week, I’m going to close out the series with three more:

  1. Writing consultation.
  2. Learn about self-publishing, and
  3. Embrace your style!

Now we come down to the brass tacks.

What is a writing consultation, and how can it help me?  Have you ever been stuck in a rut?  Is the dreaded “Writer’s Block” a regular or even constant companion of yours?  There are untold untapped resources out there to help jump-start or fine-tune your writing and get your book back on track, such as the writing consultation service from Outskirts Press (my employer).  A number of other indie, hybrid, and self-publishing companies offer similar services, and there are all kinds of free websites dedicated to the same thing–and the only downside to these free services is the fact that they can be hard to navigate.  When you have thousands upon thousands of web pages to filter through for relevant bits of information, where do you get started?  Herein lies the benefit of an actual, honest-to-goodness sit-down session with a live human being and professional: a consultation session gives you time with a skilled writer who is also an industry expert in order to address any writing issues you are experiencing.  You should also emerge with a great deal of valuable advice and a plan of action for moving forward.  A live consultation is the great rut-breaker!

consultation

And what’s this about learning about self-publishing?  Simply put, the more you know about the self-publishing industry–and the options available to you, the author–the easier it is to find your way forward.  Don’t be afraid of the Great Unknown!  You can’t afford to not know what you’re getting into, and if you find yourself overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the self-publishing community through web forums or even the experts that your prospective self-publishing platform keeps on hand for just such a moment.  They’re there to help!  And while I can’t speak for all experienced indie authors, the ones I have had the pleasure to meet and work with are unfailingly kind and generous with their time, advice, and feedback.  So: do your research and learn what you’re getting into.  Odds are it’s not nearly as scary a process as you may imagine.

Finally, embrace your style!  As a writer, you may do things a little differently from the next writer at the imaginary conference table, but that’s what makes you so special–and it is also what sets you apart and what will help you sell books later on.  Never give up.  Never surrender to self-doubt!  Your style and your choices as an author are valid.  Not only are they valid, but they’re your greatest strengths and your greatest selling points.

writing style

Don’t shrink from your quirks and “what makes you weird,” as one of my old writing instructors used to say.  Own them!  Play them up!  If you’re doing things your own way and you feel like you’re writing the book you want to write, then I guarantee you that you’re writing a superior book.

Always remember: you are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner : Resolutions for 2016 That Every Aspiring Author Should Make (pt 2)

 

Last week, I opened a new series of blog posts with a simple question:

What’s your goal for 2016?

To steal a line from Spiderman’s playbook, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and with great optimism I think you’ll find a great capacity for willpower and determination to see your New Year’s resolutions through.  When it comes to self-publishing, I realize that I have a bit of a vested interest––alright, I definitely have an extremely vested interest––in that I both work professionally as an advisor within the parameters of the self-publishing industry and I personally believe in the mission of self-publishing, and in recapturing the rights and privileges that come with calling the shots on your own manuscript.  But despite my proximity to the issue, I think I’m being fully objective when I say that self-publishing this year is not “too much” or somehow “beyond” your ability to make happen.  You can publish in 2016, and I hope to provide you with some resources here in this series that will help you make that happen.

Last week, I examined four goals to get you started down the path to self-publishing this year.  They were to:

  1. Set goals.
  2. Facilitate goals.
  3. Make writing a priority, and
  4. Read, read, read.

parkour goals

This week, I’m going to take a close look at three additional goals, and challenge you to:

  1. Master at least the basics of social media.
  2. Research deeply, and
  3. Connect with other authors.

 

So, how does one become a social media guru overnight?  Well the short answer is, you can’t.  Or I should rather say, I couldn’t.  Not easily, anyway.  As with so many tips and tricks of the trade, mastery of social media platforms doesn’t just require proficiency––it requires significance.  Because social media is selling a product and that product is you, self-publishing authors have to be careful to create extensive social media presences without sacrificing what makes platforms like Facebook and Twitter and Goodreads so attractive in the first place: personality, presence, and authenticity.  (And a side note: it’s always better to pick up new social media skills slowly and incorporate them into a sustainable long-term strategy rather than burning yourself out on producing new content at a breakneck pace all of the time.)  Given all of the hassle of setting up a dozen separate accounts with their own quirks and password combinations, is it really worth going through the trouble?  Short answer: YES.  If you want to publish your book, you need to connect with your readers, and you need to stay up-to-date on the ways in which they discover and respond to their favorite stories.  If you’re strapped for time, you can always turn to a hybrid self-publishing company like mine, Outskirts Press, to take care of this part of the process for you.

And what’s this about “research”?  I thought I’d left all that behind when I graduated from school.  But research, when push comes to shove, is what elevates a book from being “interesting in theory” to “convincing and immersive.”  This isn’t to say you should stifle your impulse towards creative license, but it is to say that you should always be intentional about your digressions from fact––you should alter reality, not out of ignorance, but rather out of ambition, curiosity, and cleverness.  Says author Robert McKee,

“Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it’s the key to victory over fear and it’s cousin, depression.”

But “research” can look like many things, including visits to your local library to grill the staff on duty or, yes, even the occasional perusal of Wikipedia pages.  These are not the only options, however!  As Roman Payne writes,

“Who’s to say what a ‘literary life’ is? As long as you are writing often, and writing well, you don’t need to be hanging-out in libraries all the time.  Nightclubs are great literary research centers. So is Ibiza!”

Speaking from my own personal experience, boots-on-the-ground research is every bit as invaluable for the writing process as is amassing a databank of all of the relevant facts which circle your piece like electrons around the nucleus of an atom.  Research is not, however, the end goal: The end goal is to write and publish your book.  Never forget, in the immortal words of Dune author Frank Herbert:

“Highly organized research is guaranteed to produce nothing new.”

Which is to say, research alone won’t write your book for you.  Only you can actually bring a world to life on the page!

And while there are many ways to motivate yourself to leap (back) into the writing process, none has proven so valuable as the chance to connect with other writers.  Ultimately, no one knows the internal life––and struggles, and strengths, and successful strategies––of a writer than … you guessed it! … another writer.  This year, I recommend that each and every one of us involved in the indie, hybrid, and self-publishing industry should resolve to use social media or in-person or even online writing groups to connect with these rare global citizens, these other writers.  The relationships we build will prove invaluable, and provide us with opportunities to share publishing tips, encourage and inspire each other, and transform the “solitary life” of a writer into a journey that feels less lonely and more part of a greater collective effort to move forward.

Always remember: you are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

 

In Your Corner : Resolutions for 2016 That Every Aspiring Author Should Make (pt 1)

What’s your goal for 2016?  New Year’s provides an opportunity to assess what has and has not worked in 2015 and resolve to make 2016 the best year yet, and for writers this opportunity is especially important.  To that end, over the coming weeks I would like to focus on a number of ways in which authors can meet their New Year’s resolutions for and through self-publishing.

writing goals

 

This week, I’d like to examine four goals.  I’m going to list them here, and then break them down individually–because let’s face it, nothing’s quite so simple as a list of neat bullet points when we’re talking about real life and especially real life for an author!

  1. Set goals.
  2. Facilitate goals.
  3. Make writing a priority.
  4. Read, read, read.

 

So, what does it mean to set goals?  What are the implications of a goal-driven self-publishing experience?  I have to admit, I find it nearly impossible to keep even a modest resolution–much less a lofty one–without clearly defined benchmarks to reach and methods to follow.  My first recommendation for you, the aspiring author, is this: If your resolution is to finish your memoir in 2016, make sure you break that resolution down into concrete, manageable steps.  If it’s to publish a cookbook, chart out the steps to making that happen.  If it’s to pen a romance novella, be sure to go about it in a structured way.  Leaving room for creativity in your writing doesn’t mean leaving room for things to fall apart in terms of planning and organization–and in fact, many of the authors I work with find that tangible, manageable goals help rather than hinder the creative process.

On to the second point.  What does it mean to facilitate goals.  To facilitate something means, loosely, “to make (something) easier : to help cause (something)” to happen, and to remove any hurdles that might prevent you from keeping your resolutions.  My job description boils down to facilitation, to helping authors get from point A to point B with the greatest ease and the least inconvenience possible.  Your job, as an author, is to make sure nothing gets in the way of your writing–and in the way of your writing reaching your readers.  I recommend reconsidering, if time is an issue, the number of hours that you work or your social commitments.  You need both time and energy to meet your goals, and those resources don’t just manifest out of thin air.  Someone once told me: “I think every person has a kind of emotional budget for the day.  You wake up, and you have a certain amount of energy, and you have exactly 24 hours.  You have to balance that budget by the end of the day and set up your budget for the next day.”  If you spend all of your time and energy on other things, you’ll have–literally–nothing to spare for the writing and publishing processes.

And that third step you already know to be non-negotiable: Make writing a priority.  You’ve heard all the tips and tricks before, some of them here on Self-Publishing Advisor: Take a break from TV and social media, and set aside a time to write every day.  Whether you post creatively on Twitter or write your spouse a juicy love letter, regular writing is guaranteed to feed your creative side and improve your craft.  There are loads of online writing courses and how-to guides to self-publishing available for free these days, and there are online communities and forums dedicated to providing support and encouragement to aspiring authors.  Every person will find help from different sources–there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing and publishing–but one fact remains true for everyone.  There is no cheating when it comes to writing original content; it all has to come from somewhere.  And if you don’t carve out room for writing to be a priority … it won’t happen.

And last but not least: Read, read, read.  The number one piece of advice best-selling authors offer to other writers is to read as much and as widely as possible:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
— Stephen King

and:

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

— Ray Bradbury

and last but not least:

“Be awesome! Be a book nut!”

— Dr. Seuss

See what I mean?  Reading may be the last item on today’s list of resolutions, but it’s by far the most foundational practice for you to succeed as a writer.  Books are your friends, both the ones that you write and the ones that you read, and your fellow book-lovers make the staunchest of allies in a world that can sometimes make it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, much less check items off the to-do list and meet your New Year’s resolutions.

But always remember: you are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Learning from the Late Greats: Summary edition

There are a lot of reasons why looking to the past for role models can be problematic, particularly (in our case) when looking for legendary figures for us to admire as self-publishing authors.  For one thing, the world simply looked … well, different back then.  Whether we’re talking about Gutenberg and the Fourteenth Century or Austen, Dumas, Thoreau, and Potter in the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth centuries, we must admit that the everyday fabric of human existence has been altered––and therefore, the nature and appearance of the publishing industry.  Calling certain (late & great) authors “self-published” is unlikely to do justice to the whole picture. 

But let’s take a second to look at those points, two per author, which I plucked from each (late & great) author’s life story and publishing history.

From Johannes Gutenberg, we learned to:

Use the tools at hand, and use them well, but don’t become shackled to any existing paradigm.

Pay attention to the market; listen to both your readers’ needs and those of your own practical enterprise.

From Jane Austen, we learned to:

Adapt as you go.

Use what you have.

From Alexandre Dumas, we learned to:

Own it.  Bring it.  Fight for your place in the sun.

Flee to Belgium when you need to.

From Henry David Thoreau, we learned:

Optimism is a discipline, not a fragile state to be moved through and discarded.

We must write what we feel compelled to write.

And (last but not least) from Beatrix Potter, we learned to:

Not let others change you without your permission.

Keep it relational.

Are these points still valid, when pulled out of context?  Factually, I think they are.  They may sound a bit like lines from the latest cheer squad movie, or chapter titles from a self-help book, and I’m okay with that.  Because you know what?  We can all do with a little direction, and a little encouragement.  (I’m most definitely the proof in the pudding.  And of course, I’m *completely* objective about my own opinings, right?) 

Loosely, these ten points fall into one-word attributes: flexibility, attentiveness, adaptability, pragmatism, determination, forgiveness, optimism, fidelity, authenticity, and relationality.  These qualities are timeless; they will always, always, workin your favor as a self-published (or self-publishing) author.  No matter what century you’re born into.

Of course, when it comes to interpreting the past, any decent scholar and historian can tell you that the act of interpretation says far more about the interpreter than the interpreted.  It tells us what we need, rather than what really happened.  (It might also show us what “really happened,” but that’s secondary and beside the point.)  So I suppose this list tells you what I, specifically, need to hear when it comes to icons of self-publishing––and, more broadly, what the culture that produced and sustains me probably also needs to hear.

The point of looking back is to look forward, with a clarity of vision and insightfulness of spirit.  Each and every one of the five authors I have examined over the last five weeks was human, and therefore not always liable to be warm and fuzzy when dispensing with advice for other and future authors, but they were also rather generous and kind to those they knew would pick up the torch of literary ambition.  They each would want you to persevere, to exercise wisdom, and above all, to write. 

And of course, to see your writing through, from beginning to end––dream to publication.

This concludes my series on the Late Greats of self-publishing!  If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions for future series, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

 

Learning from the Late Greats: Beatrix Potter edition

Sometimes, the fiercest battles are fought over the sweetest of rabbits.

Ah––and there you have it, my fifth and final late great champion of the self-published or otherwise non-traditional author: Beatrix Potter.  A titan in the world of children’s books, Potter’s hand-illustrated flights of fancy have found their way into the homes of millions––millions––of readers.  The Tale of Peter Rabbit alone has sold over 45 million copies and been translated into dozens of languages*––and it all started as a quiet private venture, financed by Potter herself.

Beatrix Potter’s legacy is a rich one.  She was a rather wealthy heiress, and waited until 47 to marry––a radical choice for the time.  She was also a dedicated, if amateur, environmentalist.  Mostly, today we remember her for her books, but we also remember her for her mammoth lifetime work of preservation; it is in large part because of Beatrix Potter, and her dual income as both an heiress and a successful children’s book author, that we have England’s Lake District National Park.

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While we know her mostly for the products of her lifetime labors, I might suggest that we remember more than just the books themselves, but also the place which they occupied in Potter’s life.  As both author and illustrator, she was responsible for more than just the text on the page; she was responsible for its artistic direction, and in many ways, its actual production.  And then there’s the small matter of financing; while her later books were picked up rather quickly, Potter had first to overcome extreme prejudices against both her gender (women were discouraged from involvement in the business side of publishing, at the time) and her vision for the book (which was exacting, down to the page number, the types and quantity of illustrations, and the physical dimensions of the page).  She operated in somewhat of a vacuum, without the enormous mechanism of the picture book industry as it exists today.

And yet, she persisted.  With a little help and quite a lot of her own money, Potter printed 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, produced to her exact specifications.  The book was so popular that within a year, she was approached by one of the publishing companies who had turned her down and forced her into self-publication.  By the time of her death in 1943, she had radically reshaped the author/publisher relationship––rather luckily for us, in the here and now––into something much more like a partnership than it had been.  There are manifold lessons we can learn from Miss Potter, but here are the two that rise to the top:

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Don’t let others change you without your permission.  The publishing companies that Potter attempted to sell The Tale of Peter Rabbit to had plenty of suggestions on how she could make the book better––or rather, more salable.  They suggested she cut down on the number of illustrations, and alter the book’s size and the number of pages.  She stuck by her guns, self-published her book, and later of course history has proven that her vision for children’s book was the future of the industry.  You too must stick by your guns, when it comes to the fundamental elements of your book that make it, well, yours.  This isn’t to say you shouldn’t listen and internalize the suggestions of others––specifically, publishers––but remember, they’re in the market to sell books and make a profit (or as many companies might say, to recover their investments).  A self-publisher chooses to cover those initial expenditures, and retain the work intact.  That’s both a radical and rewarding idea.  The danger for self-publishers is just as great, however, when it comes to finding themselves on the firing line for making bold (or distinctive) artistic, aesthetic, or other content-related choices.  You’ll receive a lot of advice.  It’s important to give yourself permission to not follow those suggestions that lead you away from your own vision.

Keep it relational.  Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit for an acquaintance’s sick child, and published it because she felt that the scope of the book might touch the lives of others.  She was briefly engaged to one of her eventual publishers at F. Warne & Co., (Norman), who died of leukemia less than a month after they announced their engagement––but she stayed with that publisher afterwards, and even left her collected manuscripts and so forth in trust to them after her death.  Which is to say: she found her people and built a lasting legacy with them, one that continues to bear fruit, generations later.  (The 1989 edition of her Peter Rabbit collection sitting on my bookshelf is proof of that.)  She didn’t just write to write, or publish to publish; she wrote and published in partnership, in response to, or conversation with, the lives of others.  They enabled her to write more of what she wanted to write, and that’s not always an easy groove for a writer (or illustrator) to fall into.  We all know that self-publishing can be an exhausting experience, and it’s easy to find yourself carrying the burden of responsibility alone.  In the spirit of Beatrix Potter, I encourage you to find your people.  Find those kindred spirits, whether fellow self-publishers or lay editors or bloggers or random accidental acquaintances (we’re here for you, I promise), and let them engage with you as a writer and as a person.  You don’t need to go through this process alone.

This is the last author in my current series (previous authors have included Johannes Gutenberg, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen, and Henry David Thoreau).  Check back next week as I wind up the series by recapping the ‘greatest hits’ of self-publishing inspiration, so to speak, that these authors have provided!  And then––in two week’s time––drop on by as I launch into a new series!

If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Learning from the Late Greats: Henry David Thoreau edition

This morning marks the fourth installation and therefore the fourth author in my ‘late greats’ series.  I’ve already examined the lives of Johannes Gutenberg (b. ca 1390), Jane Austen (b. 1775), and Alexandre Dumas (b. 1824), with a specific eye for the ways in which these authors do or do not conform to the archetype of the self-published author, and an ear for lessons they have to teach us in the current world of self-publishing. 

This week, I want to examine someone a little more … controversial.  A lot of names get thrown around in the self-publishing world as antecedents for us to look up to, glittering stars on the horizon that prove it can be done, it will be done, and thou shalt do it too—but often, it seems as though we play a little too fast and loose with the facts in an attempt to provide a sense of solidarity and affirmation.  (And indeed, the knowledge that one’s favorite author or authors have gone through the same struggles can be a powerful incentive to carry on.)  You might not, then, be surprised to find out that the case of Henry David Thoreau (b. 1817) has provoked claims that he is both the prototypical self-published author—and that he is no such thing at all, but rather an incredibly mainstream example of the traditionally published author.

Thoreau, circa 1856

Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to clear up the matter, even with all of the facts in hand.  Thoreau’s earliest publications were comprised of a motley mess of short pieces, of which some were published (anonymously) in respected print journals and some were (sort-of?) self-published in Dial, a local Concordian Transcendentalist journal with only two editors, of which he was one.  For the majority of his life, he was known mostly for his impassioned speech in defense of the violent abolitionist John Brown—and for his equally impassioned delivery of “Slavery in Massechusetts” at a rally in Framingham.  He then published a whole clutch of articles and essays and books around the same time, of which he self-financed at least one (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers).  But the waters are muddied when it comes to public lectures and rally speeches: where do they fit on the Traditional vs. Self-Published spectrum?  We may never have a definitive answer to that question.

At the site of Walden Pond (courtesy of Wikipedia)

So if the waters are muddied, what can we learn from Thoreau?  I have two primary takeaways from the Thoreauvian saga, both of which I hope embody the spirit of his work as much as the fact:

1) Optimism is a discipline, not a fragile state to be moved through and discarded.  “There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world,” wrote Thoreau in his conclusion to Walden, “and yet we tolerate incredible dulness.”  His primary interest—or rather the locus of this particular chapter—was political in nature, but what element of life isn’t?  (In some small way, at least.)  And yet for Thoreau, admitting the nature of politics and even our stagnant investment in politics was not a cause for ultimate despair.  Invoking his own amazement, he writes also that “We do not believe that a tide rises and falls behind every man which can float the British Empire like a chip, if he should ever harbor it in his mind.”  The implication being, of course, that such a tide does indeed rise and fall—in you.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t quite resist such a potent call to arms! 

To be clear, Thoreau didn’t equate optimism with naïveté or ignorance.  It was a virtue to be cultivated, as a mental and physical and even spiritual posture.  He wasn’t a success by worldly standards, particularly as a writer, and he knew it.  But instead of succumbing to a broken system with its equally broken standards of success, he chose to reframe and redefine both system and standard.  He operated on the assumption that humanity is a force of nature, and that we therefore have the agency to invest our choices with meaning.  That sounds about right to me.

2) We must write what we feel compelled to write.  Thoreau didn’t believe in catering to trends, or to any external systemic expectations.  This isn’t to say he endorsed opposing every element of the system simply to oppose it; but he did believe in acting according to individual conscience (“…I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject…”), in questioning everything (and I mean everything), and in seeking out a richly textured life. 

Our interests may indeed align with those that have reached critical mass at the popular level—which currently includes Young Adult literature, dystopias, romance, and a number of other genres—or they may not.  We must allow ourselves the opportunity to color in and outside of the lines—and live in fervent belief that we define the framework of our own success (as self-published authors, among other things).  This is Thoreau’s legacy, as muddled of a self-publishing icon as he may be: writing is not a game of comparison, in which we win or lose.

Thoreau’s fusty vocabulary and complex argumentative structure might prove a barrier to a modern reader of Walden, but it has routinely defied the odds and repeatedly surged in popularity.  This is a book that hasn’t been out of print since 1862, the year of Thoreau’s death.  (It was originally published in 1854.)  Still, he rattles off a few zingers that leave me breathless.  I’m going to close today’s blog in his words—and in what I think makes for a resounding metaphor for rejecting any institution—including, perhaps, the institution of traditional publication?—that has lost touch with its participants:

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.  I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.  The hospitality was as cold as the ices.  I thought that there was no need of ice to freeze them.  They talked to me of the age of the wine and the fame of the vintage; but I thought of an older, a newer, and purer wine, of a more glorious vintage, which they had not got, and could not buy.  The style, the hosue and grounds and ‘entertainment’ pass for nothing with me.  I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality.  There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree.  His manners were truly regal.  I should have done better had I called on him.”

* NOTE: all quotations sourced from The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. I (2008 edition).

If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions for this new series, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.