One of the Joys of Indie Publishing

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

We are well into the second decade of the self-publishing (now more preferably termed indie-publishing) movement. The flame wars of the early years (“Death to traditional publishing!” “Oh yeah? Self publish and you’ll ruin your career!”) have been replaced by the calm ruminations of business-minded “authorpreneurs.”

And while reports of the death of traditional publishing have been greatly exaggerated, the industry’s dependence on A-list stars has left a void in what used to be called the “midlist.”

It is a vacuum productive writers abhor. So they have filled the void with indie product.

Of course, most of the product is, shall we say, not good (see Sturgeon’s Law). Nor is all of it legit. Perhaps you’ve been following yet another plagiarism scandal that recently broke out, this time in that part of the book kingdom where romance flowers. A USA Today bestselling writer apparently hired a ghostwriter from, of all places, Fiverr. That’s a site that has all sorts of freelancers who’ll work on the cheap—five bucks is the baseline. This author was hiring said labor to put together “books” in the romance genre so she could be slapping them up on Amazon at a heart-pounding (notice my genre-specific adjective!) pace. Problem: the freelancer was snatching passages from published works to fill out the pages.

Kris Rusch wrote about this, and has these wise words:

The smartest thing…is to write your books at your pace, and stop flooding the market with mediocre books, written by people who don’t care about your worlds or your characters as much as you do.

If you got into this business because you love writing, then write for heaven’s sake. And if you’re worried about maintaining your income, then the real key is to cut expenses, not add to them. If you can’t survive without gaming the system, then maybe consider a part-time job until you have enough money put away to augment your writing income in the lean months. Then live on a percentage of what your writing earns, not on the entire amount.

Indie writers (who are true writers) want to feed the system. Indie scammers (who are not true writers) want to game the system. You have to live with yourself. Unfortunately, with the death of shame in our culture, cheaters are often able to look in the mirror with a satisfied smile. But know this for certain: they will never experience the true joy that only comes from honest applied effort.

I’ve been a happy indie since 2011. Coming from the traditional world, however, I am appreciative of the “grinder” my books were put through, meaning the editorial process. I worked with some great editors who helped me get better. As an indie, I seek similar feedback on every book I write.

And when a book is ready, it’s published in ten minutes. Boy, do I love that!

Here’s another joy—getting to publish something written by my late father.

Art Bell, Lawyer

Back in 1972 my big brother, Bob, was having thoughts about becoming a lawyer like our dad. Bob was, at the time, a teacher at an elementary school in northern California. So he wrote Dad a letter—a real letter, on paper, with an envelope and a stamp!—asking for Dad’s counsel.

And Dad, never one to do things (like represent a client) half way, wrote a long letter in response.

Dad thought his modest epistle might be something other lawyers would find of value. So he paid to have it published in installments in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the city’s legal newspaper.

It was a huge hit. The demand for copies proved so great that Dad had the whole thing printed up and paid for it to be included as an insert in a later edition of the Journal.

It hit me recently that Compendium Press, my indie publishing company, ought to publish the letter once again, this time permanently in digital form. But I couldn’t locate any copies in my dad’s files.

So I asked my brother if he had a copy. He did, and sent it to me as a PDF file. I then sent it to a scanning service, and now it’s up permanently as A Lawyer’s Letter to a Son.

Why publish it again? It’s not because I think it will make a lot of money; it won’t. It’s because I believe its message is relevant today for anyone considering going into law—or maybe who went into the profession for the dough and are starting to wonder if that was the right reason. The letter represents a view of the law that is rare today: as an honorable profession, not just a way to gain money or power. (And no lawyer jokes, please!)

My dad was a great L.A. lawyer, highly respected by his peers, and a colorful character in his own right. He loved a good fight in court, a good cigar in his leisure, and a sporty bow tie with his suits. I love hearing his voice again in this letter.

If you know any law students, or wannabe law students, or even young lawyers, maybe you can recommend this little letter, which I’m making FREE for the next several days.

Now to you, TKZers. What brings you joy in your writing?

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Storytelling Saves Lives

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

001-scheherazade-and-shahryar-theredlist

Once upon a time there was a king of Persia who witnessed his wife’s clandestine infidelity. Distraught, the king cried out, “Only in utter solitude can man be safe from the doings of this vile world!”

He then had his executioner dispatch the queen. And he swore an oath that he would ever after take a virgin as wife, abate her maidenhood that night, and slay her the next morning. This plan was to “make sure of my honor. For there never was nor is there one chaste woman upon the face of earth!”

Too bad there was no Xanax back then.

Anyway, the king’s project proceeded apace, until the supply of local maidens began to dry up. One day the king tasked his chief wazir to bring him a beautiful bride-to-be, but the poor counsel could not find one … except his own, beloved daughter.

Her name was Scheherazade.

To save her father’s life, Scheherazade insisted on being delivered to the king. Her resolve was a wonder to her father. What he didn’t know was that the clever Scheherazade had a plan of her own.

She was going to tell stories.

It was midnight when Scheherazade arose from the marriage bed and asked the king’s permission to spin him a yarn. And so she began … told a mesmerizing tale … and left off with a cliffhanger!

The king was so pleased by this that he gave her another night to finish the story. She did, then started a new one, and left off at another page-turning moment. So the king spared her again!

And so it went, for 1001 nights, as Scheherazade extended her life by the power of her storytelling. Included in the tales were the likes of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” “Sinbad the Sailor,” and “Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp.”

After the whole cycle, the king was thoroughly smitten (about freakin’ time!), and decided to spare Scheherazade and make her queen.

Storytelling, you see, saves lives.

As I was working on this subject, writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch shared a most interesting post. She wrote about the days following the 9/11 attacks, the despair, the feeling that “we were all waiting for another, equally horrible shoe to drop.”

She needed to escape.

Thank heavens for J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. I had never read Harry Potter, and frankly, I wasn’t planning to. But I had the first book, and since nothing else was holding my attention (besides the tragedy), I started to read.

And escaped. Harry’s world is different enough from ours to shut out the horrors of the real world, and heal. I will forever associate those books with that need for healing.

I also credit them for teaching me about the value of fiction.

***

I had forgotten that fiction got me through a dark, bleak, and lonely childhood. I had forgotten that stories were the only thing that bonded me and my cold, unhappy mother. I had forgotten that stories got me through tragedies and injuries and losses. I had forgotten just how important escape was, how essential it is to rest, relaxation, and gearing up to go another round in the fight—whatever that fight is.

Dean Koontz makes much the same point in his book, How to Write Best-Selling Fiction. “I write to entertain. In a world that encompasses so much pain and fear and cruelty, it is noble to provide a few hours of escape.”

My friend, the late Stephen Bly, once told a group of writers why he wrote the kinds of books he did. First, it was for “Jannie-Rae,” his beloved wife (the writer Janet Chester Bly). Then, he said, it was for that single mom who has put in a hard day at work. She picks up the kids from day care, brings them home, feeds them, gets them washed and in bed. And now she has a few moments to herself before falling asleep, and picks up a book.

If it was to be his book, he wanted it to carry that mom away and give her the fictive dream and the uplift of an inspiring story.

Isn’t that all to the good? Stress relief can extend life. Entertainment can make the present life better. Sure, we can have challenging fiction of various kinds, but the real power comes from the “lostness” of a reader inside a compelling narrative.

That should be the goal, anyway. Just ask Scheherazade.

Have you ever had a book take you out of a dark time? Provide solace? Make you glad to be alive?

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