Friday, November 16, 2018

The Slow Change

It’s 2011, and I’m sitting in my living room, staring through the window, driving myself insane with an anticipation I haven’t felt since I was a small boy on Christmas Eve. Every vehicle that passes that is not a delivery truck fuels my frustration. It’s already 7 PM. They promised it would come today, and there’s only one hour left. But important deliveries are like a watched pot that never boils until you look away.

I get up and go to the kitchen. But there’s nothing in there that I really want. I can’t eat. Still I rummage around and pull out a jar of bread and butter pickles I bought a week prior and had forgotten about. I consider making a sandwich. Butter pickles do taste great on a ham and cheese.

At the high-pitched squeal of breaks, I shove the jar back inside the refrigerator and run to the window. The brown truck with its glorious gold lettering parked at the curb makes my heart race, and in moments I’m at the door, beaming a smile, trying not to hop up and down and clap my hands. But I can’t stop myself. I must look ridiculous. But the driver just smiles, precious cargo under one arm, as he approaches. This isn’t the first time he’s made a delivery to someone like me – someone bursting with anticipation over what he’s bringing. He hands me the box, apologizing, albeit unconvincingly, for arriving so late. But he’s here, so he’s forgiven. The wait is over.

I tear the box open before I’ve reached the living room to reveal what I have worked so very hard to see. There it is, in all its magnificent glory: my first novel. It has been available in Kindle format for a week or so, and I was truly excited when I saw it online. But this…this is different. This is tangible. A real book. To this day, I remember what the pages smelled like; the way it felt in my hands. I’ve had several memorable experiences throughout my career as a novelist, but this was the one I remember in the most vivid detail.

I knew so little then about what was in store for me. We only had one car, and I worked nights. I would walk to the bagel shop three blocks away and daydream about what life would be like once the world discovered the brilliance of my work. Yeah. I know how that sounds. But it was my daydream. So I got to be brilliant in it. Of course, dreams are just that…dreams. They’re not real. And I was soon to learn this in ways I never expected.

I’ll not bore you with every moment of my indie career. Seven years of ups and downs, successes and failures, joys and sorrows, would take a novel unto itself to recount. Indie publishing was in its infancy. There were few resources, and those available were often prohibitively expensive. Simply finding cover art was a nightmare. And the stigma attached to being an indie author hung on us like a stink. We were the poor cousins of literature, not good enough to be taken seriously by the Big Six publishers (this was before Penguin and Random House merged). We were considered a bunch of hacks spitting out trash and taking attention away from more deserving authors who had gone through the proper channels and adhered to the traditional process. How dare we bypass the gatekeepers? Who did we think we were?

I recall the spiteful articles. We did our best to ignore them, but it was hard not to get angry when you read in a major publication that what you did was not only laughable, but a stain on the literary community. It didn’t feel that way to us. And it certainly didn’t feel that way to our fans.

In the end, in fact, it was the fans who kept us alive. They decided indie was going to stick around. They became the ultimate gatekeepers. And the world of traditional publishing hated us even more for it. They shut us out at every opportunity. But by that time, we no longer cared. Hundreds of independent authors were making a fine living producing books at a rate traditional publishing simply could not match. New industries were popping up to fill the growing need for quality covers, editing and marketing.

Not to say it was without its dark side. With the good comes the bad. Scammers preying on the hopes and dreams of indie authors swarmed like gnats. Jerks who used underhanded methods to cheat the system for a quick buck wormed around, giving credence to our detractors.  And there were plenty of writers who thought indie to be an easy path to fame and fortune. They didn’t understand that success takes hard work, regardless of the path you choose.   

Many of these issues still exist. There will always be scammers. And there will always be someone out there who thinks they can find away around hard work. It’s not like the traditional world didn’t have some valid complaints. With platforms available where anyone with a manuscript can shove it up on Amazon without having put it through any sort of editing or proofreading process, the quality – and therefore the reputation – of indie frequently suffers.

But much has changed. Traditional publishing has come to realize indie isn’t going anywhere. More than that, they have discovered that there are those among us deserving their consideration. There is genuine talent producing indie work – an entire pool of writers to draw from, with a pre-existing fan base, who work hard, understand the industry, and are willing to do whatever it takes to further their career. Where once the mention of the word “indie” sent their blood boiling, now publishers pause and take a look.

It will be interesting to see where this ends up. As I make my slow transition from indie to traditional, I feel excited. Not as excited as I did when I received my first book. But you only fall in love for the first time once. Nothing ever feels that way again. And that’s all right. I don’t mind. There’s so much more to come; and as when indie first emerged as a force in the literary world, I get to see it as it happens. I have the privilege of being part of a brand new era. So I guess there’s only one thing to do now.
Keep writing.

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