To Be or Not to Be
By David L. Brown
Shakespeare said it first, giving Hamlet the line as he considers ending his life. In this essay, I’m using it in a different way, one that applies to writers and not the fictional characters they might create.
Mys subject today is: Should you be a self-publisher, or submit yourself to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at the hands of others.
Thanks to the Internet and the technologies of printing-on-demand and eBook production, we have that choice. And since the traditional publishers are dying like dinosaurs circa 65 million years B.C., self-publishing is pretty much the only choice for most of us, particularly if we write fiction.
When it comes to fiction, major publishers have their backs to the wall and are continuing to exist mainly by recycling the successes of the past. Instead of seeking out new talent and new characters they pump established authors to write endless sequels featuring their trademark heroes and heroines. Thus we have such ongoing sagas of characters such as Jack Reacher (20 novels to date), Alex Cross (21 novels), Stone Barrington (38 novels), Joanna Brady (18 novels), Scott Harvath (10 novels), Spenser (43 novels) and Aloysius Pendergast (16 novels). There are a host of other examples, including the Travis McGee books by the late John D. MacDonald (21 novels starting in 1964).
It didn’t use to be like that. There were no sequels to For Whom the Bell Tolls, Light in August, Catch 22, Elmer Gantry, The Great Gatsby, or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Yes, I realize there were earlier series such as the Hornblower books and particularly children’s books about characters such as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but most serious fiction was one-off until the last few decades.
Now since publishers like to recycle characters in a way that reminds me of the Dell and Marvel comic characters, it’s become almost impossible for new authors to find a “dead tree” publisher. And why not, as long as those companies can keep their best selling authors churning out book after book about the same characters doing pretty much the same things, over and over. It has never been easy to be accepted by a traditional publisher, but now it’s become almost impossible. In fact, no matter how good your work, the odds of getting a contract with a major publisher are probably similar to those of winning the Power Ball drawing next Saturday.
The classic example of this sad situation is the story of John Kennedy Toole whose novel A Confederacy of Dunces was rejected by leading publishers. He was told that his novel “lacked significant meaning.” A leading editor at Simon and Schuster said of it: “With all its wonderfulness … [the book] does not have a reason. It isn’t really about anything. And that’s something no one can do anything about.” Toole gave up trying to find a publisher. Depressed, he committed suicide five years later. Only 11 years later, after his mother found the manuscript and began anew to find a publisher for it, did it finally appear in print–and went on in 1980 to win the Pulitzer Prize for best novel.
Anyway, that’s a long-winded lead in to the fact that I have now launched my own publishing company, Moab BookWorks, and am starting with five of my own books in the list. Three are new and two are reissues of books I wrote and self-published with the help of a POD and eBook service. In addition to serving as a channel for my own work, both novels and non-fiction, through Moab BookWorks I’ll be offering editorial and publishing services to other aspiring authors. To learn more about that, go to the Editorial Services section of this website.