It’s not like I quit writing or anything. I have spent the past two years, and most intensively, the last year, learning how to most-effectively use Medium. You can find me on Medium here. I am using it because of its ease of access to any and all readers on any device.
Why am I publishing the work I most believe in for free on Medium first?
First, because everything published on Medium can be read on any device at any time. It also looks great on any device.
Second, because the recently-completed U.S. election has made it crystal clear that money is not the answer to anything.
And third, because we already know that many people are shut out of the careers, education or jobs they would like to do because of racism, gender bias and class bias. This book is what I most want to do, have most wanted to do, and believe in with 100% of my mind, body and soul.
It’s who I am, and it’s what I did. As I recently commented on Medium regarding a person’s unwarranted criticism of writing by a diverse author, “I don’t care if only one person reads my work here on Medium. It is what I believe in, it is what I want to do, and I know it is the right path for me.”
As recently as early 2015, I believed that if I just worked hard enough, I would have sufficient opportunity to pay my basic bills and earn a basic living as a writer. In the past, I have absolutely paid my basic bills and provided many things for my daughter through my writing. I believed that the self-publishing revolution was a good thing, and that it enabled people to reach an audience. I knew there were some problems; for example — I could see that self-publishing worked best for people who were writing a type of already-recognized or popular fiction. I saw that the “successes” were those associated with established fan or other types of internet communities.
If you think “Mainstream Media” is messed up and not working, reporting only what corporations or the wealthy .00001% want the rest of us to see and hear, the same is true of popular “Entertainment” from books to television to movies. And then some.
Up until this past year, I spent my entire life thinking if I just worked harder and “got good enough” I could be “successful” like other writers I knew who had $20,000 book contracts, or who had large empires “selling” instructional material, newsletters, e-book omnibus editions, and so-on. I had stopped believing the common wisdom that “getting good enough” was a matter of copying other writers’ work or known formulas years ago.
I built a whole publishing company and motivated others. Years ago, I agitated with my writing friends that we could combat the collapse of the midlist writer and other egregious problems in the publishing industry that seem quaint in hindsight, and was a co-founder of Book View Cafe (I am still the treasurer). I convinced Igor Goldkind that his poems were good and motivated him to get all of his friends, the best comic artists of their generation, and unbelievably gifted fine artists like Mario Torero together to make the beautiful, groundbreaking e-book Is She Available? Igor and his friend Addie printed a fantastic hardcover version and had two big presentations at the San Diego ComicCon.
I did everything humanly possible to send Igor’s legitimately spectacular, groundbreaking book out to reviewers. Two major publications reviewed the e-book, both in Chicago. Igor got mentions from various others in the comic industry. Nobody reviewed the hardcover. The Washington Post was among many publications to sell the hardcover to used book dealers. Igor is a new poet, but the art is by Eisner-winning artists, one of the founding members of the Chicano movement in America, and the e-book had music by a British album of the year Jazz artist. It wasn’t an unprofessional “self published” book.
It was new, different, unusual, represented a man’s voice and journey that didn’t include war, death and destruction but love for family, heritage and history (and there is an anti-war, gorgeous comic panel in it).
So it was sold to used book dealers and not even looked at. I have two downloads of the e-book by reviewers and I know who each of them are. Joe Wikert featured us on his industry blog. Other than that? Jack Diddley. If you are reading this as a second-language speaker, this means “nothing” happened.
We do learn more from our failures because instead of my best work and Igor’s best work, and the best work of award-winning, influential artists who have made millions for their corporate masters, but whose own work of their heart is hidden in back of their studios or must be given away free –
We have this.
The whole system is broken. Book sales were down by 4% during the recent U.S. election not because of the election directly, but because of this picture I show above. This type of repetitive, derivative, unoriginal material that purposely encourages UNORIGINALITY for a quick buck isn’t going to bring new customers through the door.
As I pointed out previously in articles read by no more than 1,000 people, and to audiences at writing events numbering no more than 500 people total, 20% of North Americans regularly buy and read books. 80% do not, yet 100% of people are literate, and can read, and DO consume written content on their mobile devices. Before you Corporate Media Troll me, everything I learned about that I did through independent market research, relying primarily on the Pew Center. People also discuss and interact with each other through, primarily the written word, on social media. There are more texts sent than voice or video calls.
It is about the content. It’s about what is provided. Sales are down because the content doesn’t meet the needs of the people who currently buy and read books who are good with the corporate media slant: violence, certain types of sex, certain types of “addictive” content, and simply reinforcing the current status quo in any imaginable way.
The current publishing system cannot create books to meet the interests and needs of the 80% of people who don’t regularly buy and read books; it is increasingly failing the 20% who do.
I’m not telling you “I am the content provider.” As I said; I am happy if only one person reads what I have written for free on Medium and enjoys it.
I’m telling you that I, who have written under the “old system” for a lifetime, who believed in it, who did everything “right” –
- I have a BA in Literature from Scripps College, where I won the Claremont College writing prize not once, but twice, a blind-judged contest.
- I was admitted to, but chose not to attend, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the UC Irvine MFA program.
- For reasons of time, cost, and wanting to be a sci-fi writer, I applied to, was admitted to, and successfully completed the Clarion Sci Fi Writers Workshop in 1984.
- I gave up writing as “impractical” about two years after that. I did not write for another eight years.
- I returned to writing in 1996, and applied to and attended the nearest MFA program to my home (Chapman University in Orange, CA). I completed this program in 1999.
- I published my first sci fi story professionally in 1996 (“Jonny Punkinhead, F & SF).
- I did the usual drill with short science fiction and published my first novel in 2001.
- I was also nominated for a Nebula Award that year.
- Now – where I am today is related to my not going the route of $5,000 novel “advances” and selling 4,000 to 6,000 books and so-on.
- I worked with Alan Rodgers as he established Alan Rodgers Books (and there wouldn’t be Chameleon Publishing if Alan hadn’t spent the last 10 years of his life doing that).
- I worked with the others to set up Book View Cafe, the largest author publishing cooperative.
- In between all the rest of that I am sure I’ve published well over 2 million words, about 75% of it nonfiction.
A troll on Twitter said, “anybody can publish a book these days.”
Until we can somehow reinvent the system of publishing as it stands, an unhealthy, struggling system, the books will be selected and published for that ever-dwindling 20% of readers and never, never will get beyond that. And above all, they won’t be written by people who are generally willing to say and do what I have:
I do not care if only one person ever reads what I’ve written. That is enough for me because I have done what I believed was right, what was right for me, and what is the best path for me and best work I can do.
That person has read what I have written. Others I am close to also have read it. I am okay. I know I have done my best.
It shouldn’t have to be that hard. People shouldn’t have to work for free for a lifetime just to express a story with emotional truth, of meaning and worth to at least one other person.
Storytelling is important to people at a level beyond money and more than momentary “entertainment.” It helps us imagine our world and future. It helps us to make choices about ourselves, and it helps us to understand people who are different from us.
Our society and economy has now made it so it is the province of a very limited group of people.
And — it’s creating things like this:
I’m not saying there is not a place for commercial genre fiction, fan fiction or related work. Of course there is. Just not to the exclusion of there being something new, different, and individual or expressive of individual human creation and nature. The majority of what is out there right now is similar to these “Kindle Worlds,” not to things like Alice in Wonderland, David Copperfield, or War & Peace. Of these three books, each author was male, each author was white — in Dickens’ case, he was a poor boy and self-made man. The other two: they had some money. Leo Tolstoy was Russian nobility.
Imagine what stories the young woman who did his laundry may have told.
This is what I’m saying and as I have in the past few months told others “I was at some time, the one who did the laundry.” And as she told her friends, so now I tell others.
You can start reading Like Fire for free here. (Medium Publication with additional information and links to all chapters – I will also be putting some short fiction suitable for kids and young adults by request).
Direct link to Chapter One is here.
If you like it you can join Medium and follow the publication. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, got me on that damn thing in the first place.