Saturday, February 8, 2014

On being a whore

Unless you're one of the select few in the literary field who simply exists and creates and readers flock to your work, being a writer involves being a whore for your books. Of course, some writers could care less about publication and the recognition/validation of their work by readers; they write because they're writers and don't let the background noise drown out their words. These writers, while few and far between in my experiences, are worthy of admiration---their motives for telling their stories are pure and I suspect undiluted by the need for vainglorious praise.

Sadly, I am not one of those writers.

In the past six months, I've seen two of my books sent into the brave new world of electronic publishing, or e-books. The first book, Some Sort of Ugly, a novella of sorts, was published by Marginalia Publications, a fledgling small press, and marketed largely to Kindle-users. It had a small print-on-demand run, but other than the copies I bought myself and signed and sold to friends, almost no one bought the print edition. The masses didn't exactly flock to the electronic version either.

Some Sort of Ugly is selling for $1.

Recently, Hangover Breakfasts, a chapbook of short prose pieces that was published in 2012 by Bottle of Smoke Press, was reissued as an e-book. It is a book that is dear to me for a number of reasons, and I was excited to see it get another chance at life. Yet again, the sales have not exactly been lighting up since its release last week.

Hangover Breakfasts is also selling for $1. 

In other words, years of my life's work are available for less than a cup of coffee and still I can't get readers to bite on them. My services are at a bargain-basement price, and I'm still fighting to find johns.

The first book I published was a small poetry chapbook in 1999 titled A Night at the O'Aces, named after a bar I frequented when I lived in Las Vegas. I had two poetry chapbooks in between, No White Horses and Seasons From the Second Floor, that flashed in the proverbial pan. At the time, promotion involved sending stacks of photocopied ads to the editors of zines and asking them to stuff their SASE's with them.

In 2002, Green Bean Press, a now-defunct small publisher in New York City, took a huge chance on me and released a hardcover of my short fiction titled Frostbite. While it received some modest attention, it certainly didn't catapult me to eminence. Nor should it have. Looking back, it was a young and deeply flawed book.

I have since published three collections of poetry with various small presses---the most successful being a collection of poetry about high school teaching published by Sunnyoutside Press titled Teaching Metaphors. While my books have been reviewed in local newspapers and literary journals, print or on-line, here and there, for the most part I've had to whore all of them, whore them out to the world, and self-promote through readings and, now predominantly, social media.

And these days, it seems, with the rise of self-publishing and the money saved by small publishers with print-on-demand, there are more books and more authors and more whores, and with each new project the process feels more and more futile and little more sordid.

In past posts, I've likened myself to Crash Davis from the movie Bull Durham, only instead of eking out a career catching in minor league baseball, I've been publishing in the small presses to mixed results and a few "dubious distinctions." When I was 25 years old and envisioning myself as 38 year old writer, I had myself pegged for the covers of Poets & Writers and The Paris Review. I didn't envision myself kneeling beside a literary glory hole, begging for a buck to see a small spike in my ratings.

While I'm still plugging away at novels, and putting together poetry collections and shorter books, as well as a collaboration with a friend, it would be easier to say, "Fuck it, I quit. I don't want to be a whore anymore." But that is not going to happen. For the most part, writers are masochists, a fact many try to hide with bombastic egos and a feigned sense of self-importance. But, at our cores, we enjoy the punishment and accept our roles as whores. And while having a publicist and a publishing house behind me to help with promotion would be nice, it still doesn't mean the writer can stop being a whore. In many ways, the condition drives the work.

By the way, did I mention that I have two e-books available for $2? Me love you long time.