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50K & Self-Publishing

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Monday, November 28, 2011

50K & Self-Publishing

By the time this goes up, we will be at, or very near, 50K hits (thanks).  I set out writing this blog to show publishers that people will buy my book(s) should they publish it/them.  In just under 10 months, we've hit this nice, round number, which is slightly deceiving, since for the few first months, no one besides my wife and Jimmy were reading the damn thing.  The majority of these page views have occurred within the last 6 months, with more and more logging on every week.  Publishers, however, have yet to jump on the Joe Train, apparently unpersuaded by my obvious marketing platform, rock star persona, and unparalleled pop culture knowledge (i.e., ability to post You Tube clips featuring cats).  Which leaves us with the big question: if we haven't landed the lucrative book deal, what, exactly, has this experience taught us.  Two things. Some people like cat videos.  Some people like Danzig.  And never the twain shall meet.  That is...until now.


Went back east for Thanksgiving.  Flew with the boy and the wife, and the kid cried the entire 5 hours into Boston.  Poor Justine was forced to walk the aisles as my son screamed, and we were that asshole couple.  Before I had a child, I, like all childless people, looked down on parents whose baby caterwauled an entire flight, with disdain.  Didn't really think about what they could do, only thought it about it from my point of view.  Which was, if you can't get your kid to shut up, don't fly on my fucking plane.  But perception is 9/10ths of the law. On the other side now, I sat back, fairly relaxed, as clearly irritated passengers glowered at me.  I could only shrug, as if to say, What the fuck do you want me to do?  He's a baby.  Sorry my aunt died and I feel compelled to go back east for Thanksgiving to visit family I've been ignoring, because in the end all you have is family and it's pretty goddamn important to make the effort, sorry my year-and-a-half old son doesn't understand why his ears feel funny and is unable to process why he can't hear or comprehend this new, awful feeling, and that his pain has interrupted your 36 channels of Direct TV programming.

I won't fly anything other than Jet Blue.  Justine, when she's booking our flights, prefers Southwest.  Or as P. Scott Cunningham calls it, Greyhound in the Sky.  I ain't flying fucking Southwest when I'm paying for the flight.  I've ridden enough actual Greyhounds that it simply isn't worth saving the $60-some-odd bucks to sit cramped next to unwashed sweaty people on upholstery that stinks like canned green bean casserole.

Anyway, that's why I didn't post much last week, and everything I did post had been written in advance, so I feel like I am just getting back.  And I missed writing a blog daily.  I missed the routine.  And the attention.

Sitting around on Saturday night, I was Googling my own name (yeah, that's what I do with my Saturday nights).  And I found this.

No 1: email Joe Clifford
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name, Joe Clifford is a talented writer without a book deal. He blogs at Candy and Cigarettes and his stories can be found at various places in the online world. For me Joe is a classic example of the publishing problem, ranking pretty high on my should be published list. Joe plays this down, but the issue remains.
Joe also replied to the email, to my utter shock. He was pretty nice about it too. He kindly mentioned Railroad on his blog and said that he would send some poetry our way. To Joe my email was just a compliment from a reader, which was cool with him. To me – it felt like I was disturbing Kerouac in flow.
I would like to thank Joe for showing his support to an underground project but also for smashing my perception of ‘established’, or as he would put it, ‘visible’ writers. From here on, I’ll contact anyone I think can push things forward, I’ll contact anyone I goddamn like, in the name of writing – of course. Hell – I might even pen that letter to Ferlinghetti.
That's from Jade Willets's blog, What Would Neal Do? (  He's the editor of Railroad Poetry Project (, which you may recall requested some poetry from me ( I'm not going to keep milking a nice e-mail, except that I found Jade's blog post a few hours before I received an e-mail from my agent, Michele, who, in light of our inability to find a publisher, uttered those two dreaded words.
Well, I guess that's one word, actually, compounded and all.  
It's been hanging over my head now for months, a worst case scenario.  I had a lot of sayings I lived by back in my drug days, one of which being, If it's worst comes to worst, it's gonna be worst.  Or as Lou Reed says, "The path of least resistance leads to the garbage heap over there"...

I signed with CGS Literary/MDM Management two years ago, a two-year contract, which is up this January.  The agency was so thrilled with my memoir, Junkie Love, and we had so much interest right off the bat that I thought it was a forgone conclusion I'd have a book deal by now.  I don't fault Michele, who has never wavered in her faith in that book or in me.  If I blame anyone, it's this cocksucker.

That's James Frey, the lying douche bag who ruined it for all recovering junkies looking to cash in on a lifetime of bad decisions.  I mean, I am too fucking old to go out and find a new way to fuck up my life and come back from the dead. There's nothing to be proud about living life as I did, a derelict scumbag.  Still, it's somehow extra offensive to me that this guy tried to take credit for having survived something he couldn't have.  It takes a certain kind of person to live the way I did.  Not better.  Not worse.  OK.  Probably worse.  Still, they were my mistakes and resurrection, and I resent manscaped hipster douche bags trying to hone in on my action.  Or to quote the Hold Steady, "You want the scars but you don't want the war"...
I've been told repeatedly that publishers are leery of the junkie memoir now. But the more time that goes by, the less I can accept that.  It's in my best interest to believe it, and to blame James Frey.  But I can't.  Not really.  I don't know why publishers won't take my memoir.  There has been a universal recognition that the writing is terrific (it's hard to argue that it's not).  Still, there can only be one reason why I don't have that book deal.
My book isn't good enough.
Relax.  I don't need a pep talk, nor do I need consoling messages telling me to hang in there.  I know what I have here.  It's a damn good book. But publishers aren't in this business to promote the arts; they are in it to make money.  And you can't fault them for that.  No one's arguing that fat tart from the Jersey Shore got a book deal because of her deft ability to turn a phrase.  By saying my memoir isn't good enough, I only mean that publishers don't see a way to make money off it.  I think it would, obviously.  I am extremely attractive, and charming in short bursts, which I think would be a boon on any book tour.  But I don't make these calls.  I don't have a say in any of it.  All I have control over is the work.  Right?
Maybe.  Maybe not.  The publishing industry is changing (with pioneers like former Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash leading the way, and there are all sorts of avenues now available to writers.  One of them is self-publishing.  Michele works with a fairly discriminating e-publisher.  It wouldn't cost any money. And if we sold enough books, perhaps it would entice traditional publishers to take a chance, that is if I didn't tell them to go fuck themselves when they came calling.  Revenge fantasies and all.
I often hear from people that they would buy my book should it be made available, and with 50K readers in just under 10 months, one could make the argument that there are potential buyers.  Then again, when I shamelessly whored myself for the Best Blogger Awards, I got, like, 7 votes.  So who's to say?
In the end, however, I can't self-publish my memoir for the simple reason that it doesn't satisfy my ultimate goal, teaching writing at the university level.  Plus, news of my "book deal" wouldn't make former classmates want to stab themselves in the eye with a fork, overcome with jealously and feelings of inadequacy.  I'd just be another guy with a make-believe book, indistinguishable from Aunt Edna's Jams of the South and all the grammatically incorrect, plotless fantasy novels about mystery-solving magic unicorns. In short, I'd be no different than this guy.

I don't need a book deal for the money (which is good, 'cause there ain't shit to be made in books).  I'd like the fame and adoration, sure, because I am a big ball of empty inside.  The most important aspect of writing, however, is the audience.  Which I sort of have with this blog (soon to be new and improved), and the short stories, etc. (seriously, thanks for reading).  Plus, like every cynic (and men who dress like mauve unicorns), I am a romantic at heart, and I have to believe, eventually, an editor will see what I know is in that memoir, something good, something special, something worthwhile.  And if not?  There are worst things than knowing you've created something you're proud of.  

Or as Gluehead used to say, "I don't do felonies for free."  
(*The best compliment I ever got for Junkie Love came from Gluehead.  He said, "[It] makes James Frey's A Million Little Pieces look like the Bernie Mac Show."  Not really sure what that means, but it sure sounds cool.  I included that quote in agent query letters.)

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