Friday, July 15, 2011

Indie Author Ego Check

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.

And here comes Joseph P. Wood, driving 11 hours, leaving his family in Tuscaloosa, AL while they are closing on a new house, to read his poetry to an audience of half a dozen. He apologized beforehand, pledged not to take too long, and then proceeded to rock the house with tremulous passion and great literary gift. He exposed himself through his words and cadence, fit words together into dangerous and exciting new imagery, crucified himself and then rolled away the stone.

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.


Neal Hock said...

Thanks for sharing that, Scott.


Brenda said...

It's always great to get a reality check. I'm starting to notice more authors talking about the social media burn out. I'm glad you enjoyed connecting with Joseph and his poetry and reconnected with your passion for words. Thanks for reminding us why we began writing in the first place.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Awesome post~ thanks for sharing! Cheers~

author Scott Nicholson said...

@neal always

@brenda yeah I think I am one of those...

@nancy thanks for stopping by!

B.J. Keeton said...

I needed this today, Scott. I appreciate you sharing it.

I think it's hard not to have an ego in any circle where one has experienced success, but the real difference in being successful and being a professional is exactly how you describe Dr. Wood.

Vicki said...

Thank you for sharing this, Scott. A wise man once told me: "If you can't find joy just in the writing itself..." Well, you know the rest. :)

Your connection with Joseph was a timely reminder for us all.

Have a good weekend, wise man.

Moses Siregar III said...

Beautiful. Follow your passion, not the dollar bills.

Suzan Harden said...

Thanks for the reminder, Scott.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Scott.

The debate is slowly moving from the commercial to the artistic. You guys have proven the case that writers can make money in the new publishing world.

The question now is, can we be artists too?

As an English professor Joe is lucky to have a job he loves, that embraces his passion for books and writing.

For the rest of us we have to balance being artists with earning a living.

The Reformation in publishing heralds a New Renaissance where writers can once again be artists, and hopefully make money in the process.

Writing for a living is great, but living for our writing better still.

S.G.Royle said...

I love you man. :)

author Scott Nicholson said...

@BJ yeah and what's funny is we really do run in small circles when there are 6.5 billion in the world who have never heard of us. We want to be talked about by a dozen people!

@vicki yeah I think I was a happier writer before the Internet

@Moses what if my passion IS dollar bills?

@Suzan thanks for coming by

@Mark yeah I think for most of us, art is second level on the Maslow pyramid--first we must eat

@Simon don't tell my wife! Let it be our little secret

author Christa Polkinhorn said...

Thank God for poets like Joseph P. Wood!

Lindsay said...

Thanks for sharing, Scott!

People write for a lot of reasons, and I don't necessarily think "for the money" is a bad one, especially if one hopes to gain independence or escape a day job that sucks the life out one. Not everybody has that need or sees writing as a means to that ends.

author Scott Nicholson said...

@and for poets like Christa Polkinhorn!

@lindsay yeah but I've noticed people who write only for money just don't seem to have much to say about anyone besides themselves...

author Christa Polkinhorn said...

Thanks, Scott.