Out of Touch: From Writer To Author
Out of Touch was released on Nov. 19th, 2008, through a vanity press.
A vanity press, for all intents and purposes, is a major dark mark on an author. It typically means that you shopped your shit all over town and were universally rejected. It means that your work was so horribly bad that you had to fork over your own money to see it in print. And you shall from this juncture be referred to as a “pretend author” with a “pretend book” by people, at which point, you start your slow, painful descent into literary obscurity.
I was completely aware of these stigmas, but I was also aware that the transgressive fiction, by traditional industry standards, “doesn’t sell,” (Chuck being the one big exception) so I was in a “fucked either way” sort of position.
I could have spent the next few months or years writing query letters to agents, blindly hoping that they’d look past my lack of credentials and the niche genre I was targeting, and take a chance on me. Or, I could release it myself and try to beat all the vanity press stigmas that come with the territory.
It was a decision between potentially wasting my time or potentially wasting my money.
I chose the latter on the basis that I had been “a writer” for six years at that point and was ready to get paid for it, no matter the amount. I wanted to give it the “old college try,” and if I failed, then it would be on me and not an agent. But the plan was simple: sell books, and if you sell enough of them, you can’t be ignored anymore.
So I signed my “contract” and went through the painful process of working with these “editors” and “consultants.” It was a long, drawn-out, awful affair that I optimistically termed as “paying my dues.” Nothing was really getting done as fast or efficiently as I was led to expect, and I often found myself compromising. Release day comes and I’m half excited/half convinced I’ve already failed.
The first 50 or so are always easy: you sell to your friends, your family, your co-workers. You dig through your old email contacts and past acquaintances. The first paycheck is decent, but that well goes dry pretty fast.
The new reality is you have to find readers who don’t know you, so you market the shit out of this thing on every social networking site you can get your hands on. This sells a few more, but it’s never enough and horribly time-consuming.
The publisher gave me 50 copies of the book as part of my contract. In theory, you’re supposed to sell these at a book event or a reading…thing is, when you’re through a vanity press, you’re not allowed to have events or readings. I found this out the hard way when I approached Barnes & Noble about it. My thinking was they sell the book on their website, so I should be allowed to read there. The lady told me in no uncertain terms that they don’t allow self-published “authors” to do that…nor would any other respectable bookstore. Same goes for getting reviewed in the paper.
This is where most people come to a dead end. I got creative.
If I couldn’t have an event at a bookstore, then I was going to do it on my own terms. That was the singular advantage that I had: if I’m not a “real author,” then I don’t have any rules. If I don’t have rules to play by or a label to impress, then I can do whatever I want.
March 13th, 2009: I have an “official release party” at Blonde on The Country Club Plaza called: Club Fashion Vogue and a Socialite Rogue.
Given the nature of the novel and its take on socialites and nightlife, it actually made more sense to me than a bookstore event. This is the point—as they say, that I started thinking “outside the box.” I started to view the book as a product like a handbag or a piece of designer clothing, and if I could make it fashionable, then I could sell it.
I booked three tables at the trendy club right in the dead center of traffic. The models and the socialites came and had bottle service. A photographer covered it. The club pimped the event out with me behind a bombshell using my keyboard as a bra.
It was utterly vainglorious but a “necessary evil,” as they say. Sex sells. Books sold. I walk out of the place exhausted and drunk with women I don’t know wanting to afterparty in my hotel room across the street. It almost feels like being my character.
And not long after I hear it said for the first time: “rock star author” and “playboy writer.”
Because this is Kansas City. Our athletes are pathetic. We barely have a music and art scene. There are no celebrities here. So when people see a young guy actually doing something, or in my case, doing something differently…they pay attention.
Things go steady for a while. People do photos. Some do reviews. Buzz spreads and books sell, but like all things, it tapers out. The “playboy writer” is a persona, but not a reality. I’m still a working writer through a vanity press with a day job. The game needs to be taken up a notch for it to continue.
May, 2009: I see an advertisement on Chuck Palahniuk’s MySpace about an anthology contest. I join The Cult. I join Writer’s Workshop.
At this point, I had never worked with other writers or talked with other writers, and I definitely had never critiqued someone else’s work. My last official English course was back in 2003. I am, for the most part, self-taught, so I had no clue what was about to happen. Whether I liked it not, I was about to find out how I measured up to everyone else.
June, 2009: I submit an excerpt from a book I’m working on called Typhoid Larry. It’s nominated.
July, 2009: I write my first short story in six years about crash dieting, aptly named, “Dietary.” It’s nominated.
August, 2009: I write another short about Robert Pattinson shopping for conflict diamonds. I make finalist.
I’m convinced that the writing is there, but more importantly to me, so are others. Even with the vanity label on my forehead, that experience made me feel more like a “real author” than I ever had before.
I really don’t know how I can continue on without plugging workshop. That was the big turn. It’s where I went from writer to an author. I probably learned more in six months than I had in six years. That’s how effective it was. If you actively participate and do the work, you WILL get better…this, I can promise. I’ve seen it happen and continue to see it happen.
The Cult will breed great authors in litters…mark my words.
But that was pretty much the ebb and flow: I wrote my ass off, critiqued plenty, read more, tried new things, learned a few tricks, said the things that needed to be said, gave opinions when it was appropriate, made contacts, made friends, and I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but one day in November Kabol gets a hold of me to see if I want to help moderate workshop. I accept. Things keep moving along. I sell some books, get some reviews. I’m sleeping about four hours a night because I’m trying to submit as much as possible. Some new label called Otherworld pops up on my radar, but I’m too busy in anthology-mode to pay attention to it. Richard Thomas ends up signing with them. I’m asked to interview Richard, and during that process, that’s when I got some answers about the house. I make my pitch with some helpful words from Richard…a few weeks later I’m getting a contract offer.
Those months were pretty much a fever dream.
But the end result (or maybe the start of something else) is that I beat the vanity curse. I’ll be a real author (no quotations this time), and it’s not because of one particular thing I did, but a series of little ones. This story has been told in fragments to certain people at certain times, but never in one big chronological recollection. Looking back on it, I still can’t believe it.
99.999% of the time, the vanity press route leads to failure. I just want something out there to let people know that there’s an exception to the rule. And when people ask me how I went from point A to point B, this is ultimately easier than trying to recall everything.
On to the new:
Out of Touch will be re-released in a revamped second edition in January of 2011 (with a pre-order around November), following Nik Korpon’s novel, Stay God.
When I say “revamped,” that does not mean I’ll be slapping a new cover on this thing and calling it a day.
For the next month I’ll be fixing all the things that need to be fixed, applying everything I’ve learned in workshop and from other authors, making it more timeless, razor-fucking-sharp, and professionally polished. When this thing drops, it should be in its most perfect form.
The cover art should be stellar. We’ve got a beautiful model playing the part of Dana and a photographer/graphic designer who is a goddamn genius with Photoshop…the same one who did my “Signs” shoot, actually. We kicked around some ideas the other night over coffee and we’re scheduled to shoot May 8th.
My Culting is going to be rather light, as you’d probably expect. I’m wrapping up an author interview and holding a mini intensive for WS, but that’s going to be it for a while until I finish my rewrites and edits.
Like Richard, I’m going to have the 100 signed/limited editions, and I will be doing my damndest to make those as rare/special/non-replicable/coveted/awesome as possible, so for the many that have been meaning to get it but haven’t yet—just wait until later this year when I can give you the best product I can with all the extras.
That’s all for now. I’ll be using this thread for any and all updates, pictures, etc., so stay tuned. Despite the length of this thing, I actually have a few bits of info I’m withholding for the time being.
Cheers to The Cult,
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