I’ve spent the better part of a year writing short stories for a collection I plan to self-publish. Today, I made the commitment to the publication process and catapulted myself like a circus performer from my comfy writing seat to the wobbly perch of book design. Of this, I know nothing. No worries, says my publishing consultant, a team of professionals will work with you. I hope they bring a net.
I’ve never self-published before. I confess to spending years with my nose in the air, flinging around the phrase “vanity press”, and being an all around snob about the DIY avenue to publishing. Yet, here I am, humbled and nerve-wracked. What if, after all my work, this book of mine is as well received by readers as Brussels sprouts by toddlers? Here is where I descend into madness.
How does one know if one’s work is good or not? Is it well-crafted? Is it original? Is it, for crying out loud, interesting? I always believed that a writer who was serious about his or her craft would know if they had any juice; if they were good or even great at telling a story. “You just recognize good work when you’ve done it,” I said to my writers’ group pals. But now, I’m deep in the madness, and I can’t even recognize my own name.
I’ve read several self-published books over the years. Some were excellent and deserved to see wider distribution. The authors of those books truly had the juice. Others were so terrible as to be unreadable. The authors of those books committed every crime known to literature and were, apparently, oblivious. It is the terrible writing that ushers in the madness of self-doubt, for those authors must have believed in their stories and in their abilities. They must have read over their manuscripts and thought, “Dang, I’m good!” Some of them even thanked their editorial help, which perplexed me as I could see no evidence of it. My point is that they didn’t know their books were awful, or that they as writers were not ready to publish (and perhaps never would be ready). And I’m not being picky, either. When I say I’ve read some truly terrible self-published books, I mean incomprehensible messes.
So, which am I? A good writer with juice or a poor writer who needs some basic writing classes? I can’t say. It is for the readers to say, and the prospect is mildly terrifying. Readers are in the business of being entertained and informed. We can be harsh critics. As a writer, I did not anticipate this blind spot, this bewildering unfamiliarity with my own work. There it sits, my manuscript, ready to hop on the self-publishing conveyer belt, and I can’t be sure it’s the book I thought I knew. All I do know is that at one time I thought I might have a little juice, and that I really did try to do a craftsman-like job.
Oh, and I thanked my editorial help, too.