I’ve always considered the process of writing to be mostly a solitary creative endeavor. And, if I’m being honest, that’s one of the things that has always made it appealing to me: the idea that a particular piece—an essay, a poem, a beer “pros and cons” list, a love letter to Emma Stone—can be my vision, and mine alone, from start to finish. There are, of course, other art forms like that, too. Photography, another thing I do a fair amount of, is sometimes that way, at least the type of photography I do. There are some other forms of photography which are more about collaboration and teamwork. But man, I tend to shy away from those forms. Fashion shoots. Working with human models. Christ. That seems stressful. I much prefer dogs. Or if I’m feeling particularly antisocial or misanthropic, just give me some inanimate objects and a good fixed focal-length lens.
But here’s a surprising thing I’ve learned in making my first book. Here is a confession, if you like, about making This Is Not a Confession. The collaboration I did with the editors at Awst Press, the suggestions they made and the things they contributed to it, made the book something very much other than (and better than) what I would have produced on my own. And that has turned out to be a very good thing.
One topic of controversy that has come up in the writer world, especially over the last ten years, is the question of self-publishing versus the more traditional model of publication through a press. I’m not going to get into all the particular talking points on the subject because it puts me to sleep (and I even find the whole thing somewhat interesting.) From a theoretical standpoint, I’m able to recognize good points on both sides of this discussion, and as with most things I come to have an opinion about, my own opinion on the matter has, until now, fallen somewhere in between the two camps.
But making this book has given me an appreciation for going the press route. And here are just a few bullet-list items as to why: 1) There is a sort of “checks and balances” inherent in the process. 2) All parties have something personally “at stake” in the process (As opposed to one person hiring editors and designers who work for him or her, where the ultimate decision is always up to the one who has done the hiring. The people working for an individual writer do not have a horse in the race in the same way that the people working for a press have a horse in the race.) 3) It’s emotionally reassuring to have other people stand behind your work (reassuring both for the writer, and for the eventual consumer of that work).
Those are all some good reasons for press publishing, and I could write a much longer think-piece about all that shit (maybe I just have?). But I’m going to leave it with the following truth: in my case, collaborating with a press on this book made the book better than anything I would have made on my own. And that, to me, is the best reason of all.
The process wasn’t easy, and sometimes I wanted to say, “You just don’t understand what I’m wanting to do!” But at the end of the day, those were the times I most needed them. And so I’m thankful to Awst Press for doing that with my book—telling me when something didn’t work, making it better. And I’m also humbled, for them taking the time and the care. I owe a lot to their creativity and thoughtfulness and talent. Specifically, to Wendy Walker, Tatiana Ryckman, LK James, and Emily Roberts.
Here’s a bit more about what each one of them did:
Emily Roberts has been amazing at paying close attention to the copy and making the style more consistent throughout the book. This is such an important, but sometimes overlooked, part of the process. She is good at noticing things like when italics are used versus when they are not. Or when we might want to go with quotation marks versus no quotation marks. Or (in my case) holy crap, you need to tone it down on the colon usage! (She never said it that way, btw. She was much nicer about it.) She has a great eye and notices when something on page five is inconsistent with something on page eighty-two. All this made the book much cleaner and, indeed, much better. She also made some valuable suggestions for content changes.
LK James came up with a cover concept that wasn’t on any of our radars as even an option to consider. But as soon as we saw it, we knew that was the cover for the book, hands down. I’m still not entirely sure how she did that. If it had been left up to me (if I had self-published my stories, for instance) I probably would’ve put my dogs on the cover, which would have made absolutely no sense at all, but I probably would have hired people who told me that hell, yeah, it made a whole lot of sense. LK also did an amazing job with the layout and font text treatment.
Tatiana Ryckman, who is the Assistant Editor at sunnyoutside press in addition to the work she does with Awst Press, was who I worked with the most on the content of the book. Among the other ways she helped me with the stories, she forced me to re-evaluate this one piece in particular which admittedly never really worked the way I wanted it to. It was a difficult piece, both in subject and in approach, and I was pretty stubborn in my adherence to the way I had told it. She could’ve just given up and said, “Eh, whatever, it’s your piece, tell it the way you want to.” Or, for that matter, she could’ve done the opposite and said, “Look, this is never going to work. We just need to scrap it.” (Which okay, I think she did say at least once.) But ultimately she was willing to keep working on it and and getting me to re-work it because she knew it (and the book) would be better if it was something a little different. And finally we sorted out what that was, and I’m really glad we did.
And finally, Wendy Walker had an overall vision for what she thought the book could be. And there were several times where that vision was different from what I thought it was going to be. And I’m glad she stuck to her vision because I might’ve gone an easier route with the subject matter. Also, without her and Tatiana, I would have ultimately gone with a far less interesting title.
In the coming weeks and months, you’re going to see me posting things which in subtle and not-so-subtle ways will try to encourage you to buy the book or to turn around and encourage other people you know to buy it. Because in today’s creative-arts retail world, that is just what you do. I don’t really mind that, to tell you the truth. I sort of like it. Some of my favorite artists and musicians are people who have gotten out and hustled their own work. I admire that. But at the same time I want people to know that my motivations in doing that don’t only have to do with wanting lots of people to read my book, they also have to do with me being proud of the people who helped me with this book and wanting them to be recognized. And by extension, I want indie books, and the entire indie-press system to continue to thrive. I want books to be collaborative labors of love.
If you feel the same way, maybe head on over to Awst Press now and pre-order a copy of This Is Not a Confession. It will mean a lot to me, but it will also mean a lot to Awst Press. And then maybe share this post and hit other people who feel the same way about books and independent presses. And help support independent book publishing.
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