An English professor started a writing workshop series here in our little Blue Ridge community (the unincorporated town of Todd: five rebel flags, three churches, and an old general store), and the first guest of the series was a poet friend of the professor's. I told my wife I was thinking of popping in to support it, and she was like, "Okay, Mr. Kindle Big Shot, maybe they don't need your charity. They're doing just fine on their own."
I think she was partly right. My intention was colored by "Hey, I'm a pro" thinking, although no one there would know it. Like maybe going to a poetry reading would be slumming, and I'd be sitting their smirking while plotting to earn my Kindle millions. But part of it was curiosity, and, to be honest, a need to get an infusion of passion for words. Sitting here consuming author blogs and publishing threads is a sure way to go bonkers. "Oh my God, my Kindle rank slipped, the bubble has burst!"
And so much of the current conversation, of which I am a willing participant, is about the state of the publishing industry, marketing, pricing, how often to tweet, who is signing a deal with whom, that I am not even enjoying it that much, even when I am on the verge of the biggest success of my life.
At the end, he wasn't pushing his Twitter handle or Facebook page. Although he works as a professor, he doesn't need to publish his poetry, and he still does it the old-fashioned way, by querying small presses. The word "Kindle" never came up. There were handmade broadsheets for sale, and he sheepishly admitted he only had five copies of his collection I & We that the publisher had given him. He didn't care if he sold them, but he'd take whatever we wanted to pay.
He spent his own money and days of his life to come share his words, with no hope of compensation or audience building. And he brilliantly said, while obliquely sidestepping the need for "meaning" in poetry, "When I write it, it's mine, but once I share it, it's the reader that possesses it."
He didn't rant about his blog (where you can read how "stoked" he is to be coming to the reading) or direct us to his Amazon "Buy" Page, or even mention his website. He didn't reel in social-media followers. He didn't say traditional publishing was doomed or that paper was dead or that all agents are leeches. ("I’ll save the fancy talk–it’s about why do we believe things in poems.")
Here I was thinking about which character I needed to kill off to gain audience sympathy, which book to write next to reinforce my brand, how to move around my price points to maximize income, how to raise my marketing profile. And I wasn't even sure if I believed in a damn thing I wrote anymore.
Afterward, he said reading always embarrassed him, because he got so passionate and put it all on the line and expected everybody to run away. Me, all I wanted to do was get more product out. Joseph, you rock. It's me who is embarrassed.
Today I just want to write one good sentence.