I just found a short Huffington Post ditty attached to a video rant by media phenom John Green sort of seeming to trash the idea of self-publishing and going it alone as an author. The link to it is: John Green on Self Publishing.
Green makes some good points, but he’s also sort of fizzling out of both assholes at once. On the one hand, he’s pushing back on those who have been using him as an example of an author who can “flip the paradigm” because he’s got such major social media cred and a pot full of fans and readers, and shouldn’t need the support of publishers.
On the other hand he is presenting thoroughly drenching sputum (watch him) that has insulted a number of indie authors I am in contact with throughout the Universe.
But what he makes me think about (I’ve watched the video 3 times now) is how lonely it is being a self-published author. Even when I was a self-employed environmental consultant and freelance writer, I spent at least 50% of my time out in the field going to meetings, researching projects for clients, speaking publicly, “doing lunch,” organizing conferences, etc.
And when I was a planner and administrator in municipal government, well, that was heaven. There really was a water cooler that we congregated around sometimes to talk football, kids, marriage, and vacation plans. I also had my pick of people to go to lunch with and bumping into my boss at the next urinal was how I did my brown nosing (Yup!).
And the gossip! Oh, the gossip of the large workplace! Sometimes I think that’s why I have never been able to stop writing stories about love and sex and failed marriages and saved marriages and screwed up kids and the effect of TV, cars, computers, and lust (always lust) on my fellow citizens. If you’re a real writer, once you’ve spent five days a week for several years listening to stories being told about people behind their backs, you can’t help yourself. Some juice never dries until its turned into a story for the world to read.
But there ain’t no gossip here in my little world that consists of a 12 x 9 study full of books, art, and just enough flat space for a computer and several piles of folders and notebooks. My days are spent writing in the morning and editing or marketing in the afternoon. I will go several days in a row without taking a shower. I often wear my pajamas until a few minutes before my wife walks in the front door at the end of her work day. In the dead of summer, I might sit next to a fan set on “High” in my boxers and a singlet. It’s lonely, but, shoot, I could write naked and no one would know.
I used to think the reason I went to the supermarket nearly every day was that I had mastered that efficiency measure of only shopping for what you need. I’d go through self-checkout and be so impressed that all I was buying was the ingredients for the dinner I was making that night and then an essential or two we might be missing — toilet paper, coffee filters, Tylenol, shampoo.
Unfortunately, I realize now after watching Mr. Green’s rant that the reason I go shopping daily is because that’s where I make contact with others. The workers know me quite well in my local PathMark. And if I’m lucky, I bump into friends or neighbors for a quick chat. I used to go to coffee shops, but you get really lonely there. Everyone else is plugged in and doing their own form of onanistic endeavor. Yuck. Best not to witness that!
I do reach out to people daily, of course. I’m a fucking writer, for Pete’s sake. That’s all we do. Besides the stories and articles I write, I have Twitter, FaceBook, Google+, and Tumblr accounts. It’s really, seriously, almost psychotically pathetic, I know, but they say the social media landscape is important, so…I guess it’s important…although I still feel lonely.
I communicate with individuals and groups and the Universe through all my networky gadgets. I notice I’m not very funny like a lot of folks are. Most of my stuff is “deep” in a sad kind of way, like I’m working really hard to be profound or meaningful. That’s probably a function of being lonely, too … and self-published.
Right now I’m in my living room sitting in a big comfy reading chair with my laptop on my knees listening to really weird music that I found on Spotify. I had the TV on for lunch. Not “over” mind you, just “on.” Sports Center gives me a bit of that water cooler conversation feeling, only those people (ESPN commentators) are always yelling at you. I’ve taught myself to take a 20 minute nap while they’re yelling at me. I have vague notions about NBA scandals and NFL history for the rest of the day.
So, yeah, I wish I had an agent to talk to and an editor. I’d like a couple assistant editors too, and someone to correct my copy, and a publicist that doesn’t return my phone calls. I’d like a book tour as well that the publicist sets up without knowing my personal schedule. John Green is definitely a lucky dude. He even gets awards (book award events must be verbally orgasmic just by definition, places where no one could possibly feel alone and pointless).
But that brings up something important here. A lot of people are lonely all day long. Right? Every stay-at-home parent (notice how PC that is?) stumbles into loneliness eventually. So do a lot of people on the job — the mailperson, security guards, receptionists, teachers even. A lot of folks don’t have the luxury a self-published author does. At least I have my characters. And when I hit writer’s block I have a pile of books filled with other people’s characters (many of whom are lonely it turns out) to read.
Sometimes I play music really, really loud. I learned that from Stephen King. Not personally. I read it in his book On Writing. He listens to really loud heavy metal all day long when he’s writing. At least he says he does in his book.
King talks about the lonely thing, too, in On Writing. We all know about the fact that writers sit around by themselves making things up all day long. Still, King can just pick up his phone and there are always people talking to him in it; his email and post box are overflowing with support and adulation. And very likely he has so much going on right now there are agents and editors and other literary types standing in line outside his door waiting to keep him company. Stephen King is not lonely. He may get to be alone. He may be sick in the head (read this…it’s about King’s sexual stuff), but lonely he ain’t.
Which brings me to the main point of this excessive lamentation: I think the real loneliness that the self-published feel comes from not having a sense of a concrete audience. You can have thousands of fans on the Internet, but they’re an amorphous glob of chaos compared to all those connected to literary agencies, publishing houses, and book makers. The one lesson I’ve learned over my 30 years of writing is that nothing I do can be any good unless I feel connected to readers. And that’s the function the traditional publishing world presents to its authors. Real people, with real standards, and real love of books all there for you, the author, off of whom they’re making money.
It’s harder for me to envision an audience of readers in my loneliness. I could wet the bed in the middle of each of my daily naps and know that if I Tweeted that or even blogged about it, no one would care. But give me just a few people making money off of me, my very good professional friends, and the soggy sheets I must change daily become an important part of their lives too.
So, thanks John Green for making me aware of my loneliness and isolation…and giving me the chance to write about it here. One of these days I hope I have what you have.
Until then, I hope more that people will buy my books and recommend them to friends. You can get them at Smashwords, Nook, iBooks, Amazon, Sony, Kobo and God Knows where else. I’ll still probably be lonely if you buy them, but at least you can rest assured that you’re paying me to be lonely — paying me to be lonely while I come up with another one, which is sure to be better than anything John Green ever wrote.
If you forgot to check it out, the Huff Link John Green video is here.