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On being self-published as fuck
Editor's Note: We have previously written about Raven Mack's haiku tournaments here.
For all my adult and even adolescent life, I have self-published in the form of zines, pamphlets, scribbles, and scraps that I’d leave wherever there seemed to be an audience. It has been a key to my continued survival as a somewhat doomed-at-birth human being to process the convoluted mess that is the average human existence. But only in the past couple years have I moved into actual full-print objects that are bookish type books, but definitely still married to the freedom of 'zine-making. This has included formatting and producing electronic versions as well. I do this instead of putting all my meandering thoughts into a dragon blog that is never not hungry for more, never satisfied with what I’ve given it, and never stops scanning for something else, newer, more reactionary, more immediate, more now.
Raven in his writing studio with his newest book.
This is not about digital vs. print though, because—like most issues—there’s no black-or-white real truth to the debate. Everything is gray matter, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. But I can tell you getting a box of books with my assumed name my weird ass art on the cover gives me a strong sense of satisfaction. And for the most part, the larger world doesn’t care for published works and even less for self-published ones. But there are small pockets of people who at least pretend to be interested in my “work," work that has become more habit than any type of real work.
Self-publishing is looked down upon by the established publishing industry as a lesser version of well-vetted projects that go through the process of fine tuning by an agent, editor, and publisher, with re-working, planned promotional tours, on and on and on. The idea is that a creative project can be fully realized after ten sets of eyes have gone over it, but maybe not so much one or two sets.
But, obviously, the publishing industry’s end goal is sales. Often times in that vetting process, stories are changed and motivations are altered to engineer a more marketable final creation. Marketable to whom? Well, to people who spend money on books. To people who have enough discretionary income to shell out for books. For new books, which can sometimes be really expensive.
I am not one of those types. Unless it’s I’m trying to support a friend, I buy pretty much all of my books at used book stores or from websites specializing in used books. I am adept at making wish lists and online vendors that that carry more than one of my wish list titles, so I can combine media shipping and get books for as cheap as possible. That’s my reality. And I’m financially better off than many people in today’s economy.
I come from rural, Southern, less-than-stable background. Life could’ve easily gone a different way for me, but it didn’t. My mom and other loved ones' dedication, my own focus and hard work, and just sheer dumb luck have allowed me to take the path I've taken. But my writing is informed by my background. The publishing industry machine usually represents my background as rural noir, crime fiction set in “hardscrabble” locations with “whiskey-soaked, bare-knuckled” characters most likely raping and killing each other while flatly drugged up in a gentrified fantasy of how hard life must be for people who were born in places like I was. In other words, I could write dark stories about where I’m from for people who never had to experience what I did but still want a vicarious glimpse.
Yet I’m more into writing for folks from similar beginnings, folks who lacked the same sheer dumb luck I had, to help them process their lives and identities. I want my writing to hack at all that clutter inside our rural Southern minds and hearts to find some peace. And when I say some peace, I mean “some” because the reality of our worlds often times does not allow for much peace of mind or heart.
This past year I’ve had the honor of being involved with a class in Virginia's state capital at the Richmond City Jail. I cringe even typing that sentence, knowing it might see the light of digital existence because our general attitude towards volunteer acts is to think the volunteer has done something extraordinary. That’s not the case at all in this situation. I’ve been blessed enough for these people to allow me into their worlds, and together we share our experiences through words, and it’s helped some of us. It’s helped me tremendously. But what I’ve also been lucky enough to experience is to sit and workshop (oh man, I hate that term—we didn’t really “workshop” anything; we just sat around and took turns) with some of the most amazing writers I’ve ever heard. These are people that the regular world has let slip through cracks, or let be born in cracks and left them there, or shit man, I don’t know. Sheer dumb luck again is involved in where we are all born , and not everybody is born into the safest, most sheltered life. Many are born straight into a storm, and that’s all they know.
The thing is, humans are humans and we all have that unlimited human potential. Civilization does not tend to judge on potential, though; it judges on what’s present. So when you are born straight into the storm, civilization sees you as somebody fucked up and unpredictable that others should steer clear of. That doesn’t mean the storm-bred lack the potential inherently present in all humans, but it does mean reaching potential in a civil society is going to be more difficult. So fuck it, let’s throw these people in jail.
As I hear these amazing writers in the Richmond City Jail, I can’t help but think about how I’ve been lucky enough to chat with people from the actual publishing industry, and I know how judged I felt in those situations. And I could see how I was going to have to compromise my personal power with words to be a part of that industry. How would that vetting process see these inmate writers? How would people embracing the scary but bold choice at attempting to help themselves find better life paths through writing feel about being judged after having been constantly judged (even in the literal sense of that word) over the course of their lives? And how the fuck does the publishing industry have the right to decide who should be given a voice and how that voice should sound?
Well, I know the answer to that last question, at least. It’s money. They want to make money by selling reading experiences to people with money. It’s not about giving voice to people or improving humanity or unlocking potential in individuals. I’m okay with that. You are an industry and that’s what industry does. You make money.
But hearing published writers adamantly dismiss self-publishing as a lesser product that ultimately diminishes the power of the industry frustrates me. Sure, there might be more editing mistakes in self-published works, formatting might be rough at times, and yes, some really horrible books get self-published. But also—and this is a most important “but”—self-publishing allows the voiceless to finally have a voice. Voices that would’ve been auto-tuned to fit the publishing industry’s master plans get to use their natural voice instead, the way they’d actually want. There are books that would never have existed before that do exist now and mean a whole fucking lot to people who need those books to exist.
Ultimately, that’s why I say I’m self-published as fuck, and proud of it. I can tell you, it’s a real pain in the ass getting people to notice these works, what with all the constant media clutter in our lives nowadays, and monetarily it means next-to-nothing for me (literally, not that far from nothing in terms of dollars). That can feel like a letdown after all the hard work of actually creating the book has happened. But the books exist. They are out there now and can lay around ignored or find someone who loves them. They can end up in a landfill or a library. But those books mean that one more voice exists now. Even if nobody hears it, I get to use my voice, the way that sounds right to me, and hopefully continue to work towards my own human potential, instead of simply trying to sell books.
#Imaginary #Nostalgic #Otherworldly #SelfPublishing #Zines #Books #Anarchy #Alternative #OutsideTheMainstream #RVA