The Shaman, The Shyster or The Shrewd Cookie?

Sorry for not blogging.

I could chalk it up to the instant gratification I get from blurting out everything on my Twitter account or my Facebook wall. It’s every writer’s dream, this throwing out into the wind every witty or not-so-witty phrase that comes to mind.

Truth is, I’m overwhelmed.

Last month put me in three different time zones in as many weeks, followed closely thereon by a very successful book signing at Dark Delicacies. Let’s be clear: poetry just isn’t a big deal commercially. When you can sell out of copies post-signing, that’s ridiculously cool. And I seem to have done it.

Jill Tracy and I are trying to wrangle an L.A. event together to promote one another that will be so hot, it’ll singe your socks. But the stars must align, so keep your fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I’m looking for an agent-publisher-royal patron for No Rhyme Goes Unpunished. (Yes, yes, it used to be titled Silence of the Iambs, which I still think is clever, but I got a little tired of people asking me if it’s a book about cat food.)

Honestly, I can understand the dramatic surge in self-publishing. At BoucherCon, two successful authors recommend it to me because it helped them get started. One is now a New York Times best-selling author, and the other just had his 7th novel come out from William Morrow. And given the lack of response from agents — and I mean, not sluggish response, but almost NO response — over the last 6 months of targeted, strategic queries, I have to wonder if my new friends aren’t right.

I wish I believed in self-publishing.

Why not? Because the writer doesn’t get the collaborative benefit of an agent, editor and publisher — all extremely valuable partnerships toward shaping the end product. Even if I have a pretty good book, I know that chances are this tiered partnership would make it a great book. I get the whole “indie” thing for the music, games and comics businesses. The art from those media are by their nature developed through partnerships and collaboration. But books are very solitary. If you’ve ever listened to an author’s ramblings about how they love a character or a scene they’ve just written, you can hear the saccharine self-absorption. This isn’t a bad thing at all during that incubation phase, but once the book is hatched for the broader world, the love affair must face a level of professional scrutiny that it bypasses when it’s jettisoned into the Amazonsphere via Kindlepod or whatnot. It potentially cheats the reader in a fundamental way.

I would say there’s a higher possibility this isn’t necessarily true for much more advanced writers — people like Harlan Coben who have a massive audience and who are absolute, top-notch pros. Still, clearly it wasn’t true for my two new friends.

That said, writing is a vocation. A calling. Many of us who answer the call also feel a deeply intrinsic need to share our stories. We don’t need or want permission to do this. Waiting around for other people to help us tell that story just isn’t in our DNA.

So where does an author find the balance between being a professional who makes a living and honoring the need to tell a story? I am personally taking several books to my grave at this rate — books I know people want to read. (Trust me. I know my audience, and one is based on a script that placed highly in the Austin Film Festival once upon a time.) I also know agents are overwhelmed, publishers are pressed to make bigger profits than ever, and the market is crap. It’ll probably remain crap for a long time.

That leaves me wondering what to do differently, if anything.

I’m plugging along for now on the traditional path. If you happen to know someone on that path who would love a damned funny, laugh-out-loud crime book, let me know, okay? But if you’ve got some other insight, lay it on me. There might be a day soon where I will take it up…

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