The journey I began with the writing and publishing of The Northeast Quarter has been both an adventure and a tremendous learning experience. It’s true that you soon learn who your friends are, but just as some fade into the past, you will just as certainly make some new ones. You also also discover that there are differing interpretations and reactions to what is essentially the same activity. I’m talking about producing your own play vs. self-publishing your novel.
A writing friend whom I will call Dick Ryan wrote a play and, with his own money, he entered it in The Fringe Festival. The play received some acclaim and so Dick continued its trajectory by financing a short run for it in a theatrical space here in New York. In all, Dick spent 18 to 20 thousand dollars and he didn’t regret a penny of it. He wanted to get his vision out there.
Some time later I ran into Dick at a writers’ gathering. A few people went over to him, praising his play and his courage for realizing his dream, etc etc. Some others were saying, ” Oh you know, Dick has been getting some attention with his new play.” Later that evening, in the schmoozing and networking that goes on at these events, I mentioned to the same people that The Northeast Quarter had just won an award (The Pinnacle Book Achievement Award – Category Fiction 2017). The reaction from some was a seemingly vacant “Oh..that’s interesting” or a single “Congratulations” followed by a changing of the subject.
By now I was used to this. It’s part of the journey. You learn to appreciate the jewels and let the other stuff roll off your back.
As for Dick and me, we congratulated each other on the success of our artistic efforts, and went our separate ways. But I couldn’t help wondering about the differing reactions our efforts had received.
Dick and I both side-stepped the traditional production venues to get our works into the public eye. Dick dodged the traditional submission process through literary manager and artistic director of a theater to pay for the production himself. And I did the same thing to get my novel out there and on the market.
Is there a difference between what Dick and I did? My first reaction is to say that there is none at all. Yet in some quarters the responses were as different as night and day. Of course, one explanation is that there are those who oppose self-published writers and will do what they can to denigrate their achievements and on and on. But wasn’t Dick doing the same thing? And if so, why did he seem to get a pass?
I think the factor which explains the difference is what theater people call “the length of the run.” Dick’s play had a Fringe engagement as well as three or four weeks of performance and then it was over. The play had its run and now it is back on his shelf or stored in his hard drive. With a novel, the run is forever. Once it’s published and for sale in stores or on-line venues, it’s going to stay there for a long time. In a sense, it’s the equivalent of an open-ended theatrical run. Or at least, that’s how some people are going to view it.
Speaking of this view, here is another word from Samuel, our fictitious spokesperson for the anti-self-publishing mindset. “Mr. Harris! Mr. Harris! Just a minute there.” To this I ask, “Do you have something to share, Samuel?” “I do,” he replies. “Dick Ryan is a dedicated artist. He sacrificed much for the realization of his dream, For the very existence of his art…But you, Mr. Harris. You did not. You’re self-published, Maybe you sacrificed too, but that doesn’t matter, You and your ilk are goose-stepping your way across the literary landscape of America. You must be stopped.” To this I always ask, “How’s YOUR book coming?” “We’re not talking about me,” Samuel stammers. “You won’t get me with the old ‘How’s The Book Routine.’ Laws should be passed, Mr. Harris. Laws which force equality and fairness on the submission and publishing process for all writers. That’s right, Mr. Harris. Forced equality and fairness for everyone!” “Aren’t you goose-stepping a little yourself?” I ask.
Samuel’s words may be an exaggeration, but the attitude is very real. The resentment exists. We’ve all seen it and we’ve all had to step around it.
For us it should always be the journey. We self-published authors have to keep focused on the road ahead and be thankful for the good stuff. Dick Ryan and the rest of us wrote our works and made sacrifices to get them out there. We take the risk and the journey is not over. That is what is important here. Everything else is a passing road sign. Up ahead and then soon out of sight.