When Carlos Flores invited me to be on a literary panel with him in July, I was also asked to write a short essay about my experiences in the self-publishing world.
Ever since I was about six years old, I was pretty sure I was going to be a writer. Snoopy was my model back then – so if you don’t like my stuff, blame Charles Schultz. Later, when I was about fifteen, I started sending short stories to the Paris Review – mostly so I could type the words ‘Dear Mr. Plimpton,’ with the fantasy he might read them. The rejections were polite.
That was my welcome to the world of publishing, and it didn’t get any easier. I couldn’t find an agent. I didn’t go to Yale. And, perhaps more to the point, the audience for complex fiction – fiction that isn’t an airport novel – became a niche in the culture. Although there were vastly more people in the world in the year 2000 compared to fifty years prior, the demand for literary fiction declined.
Then, another thing happened. I became a conspiracy theorist.
Now, mind you, I wasn’t writing about Bigfoot. I was writing material about what Professor Peter Dale Scott has termed the ‘deep state,’ the internal workings of the savage machine called the U.S. government. Writing honestly about such matters is the fastest way to torpedo your credibility and, in some cases, your career. You want to write a serious article about the Kennedy assassination or some other aspect of our hidden history, good luck getting into the New Yorker.
Most recently, however, the Internet revolution happened. This democratized the playing field a little bit, especially for people with alternative points of view. The explosion also meant that self-publishing became a viable option – cheap, with access points all over the world.
My two books – Dissenting Views and Dissenting Views II – are both collections of essays, critical pieces, and interviews. About half of each book consists of material that has appeared in other outlets, most of them online magazines. For a large publisher – because I’m not a household name – this isn’t the sort of thing they can publish. The economics don’t work out. It so happens I am friendly with some independent publishers, but it in the end it made more sense, both for myself and them, for me to put things out on my own. And I have enough recognition in my chosen field to sell a few books. Might someday go through a commercial publisher, if somebody offers me a good advance and can offer promotion. Until then, my wife and I just started our own LLC, Say Something Real publishing, and we are working on putting out our first anthology.
Incidentally, speaking of commercial publishers, the largest in the world is Bertelsmann AG. They own Random House. They were also, during WWII, the most important propaganda arm of the Third Reich. So yeah, one could draw the conclusion that the commercial publishing world is dominated by Nazis, and I wouldn’t argue with you. So there’s that. But then I’m a "conspiracy theorist."
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