Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Who needs a manual?

Harkening back to my post about being a Salesman, I've been thinking part of my problem with trying to sell myself as a product is not just that I don't particularly enjoy the game of trying to convince someone to do something they might not otherwise; it's also that I'm not terrifically good at asking for help. (This help can range from "hey random stranger in the grocery, can you help me reach this very high object? I must needs get my Kix on," to "I'm producing this play and my co-producer is not volunteering anything and I feel like I'm drowning and it's too much.") A corollary to this is of course that I'm not great at asking for favors, or in general submitting myself to anyone's attention.

Obviously, I've gotten over this aversion for the sake of my acting career - by necessity only. I submit myself up and down, acting-wise.

But when it comes to Submitting For Your Attention myself as a writer, I've just never gotten any good inertia on it. I submit to online magazines occasionally, which by the way take forever to get back to you, and the answer is always an impersonal "no." But I haven't yet tried to hunt down any kind of literary agent (I suspect any such agents would want you to have some kind of published work before they even consider making eye contact with you, so we'll leave that alone for now). As a playwright, I have submitted to a couple festivals, though not many - NYFringe said no the first time 'round, but I will try again - but my solo show has actually been accepted to two different festivals, yay me, so it's not like I'm facing a giant wall of rejection.

But for the most part, as a writer, I'm learning that, especially in the current state of technology and networking, the best way to get your work out there is to Do It Yourself.

I have written three finished one act plays (well, as finished as any writer ever considers any of her writing). And I have had all three of these plays produced in New York City, on the Off-Off Broadway scene. Howwwwwww you ask? Yep. Produced them myself. No, not alone, I hate producing, ugh, but you gotta do what you gotta do. My first two plays, This is Hell and Butterflies, I co-produced with friendAndi, as part of the first production of a theater company we also co-founded with some friends (see? Do It Yourselfing) to provide a place for us to show our work as actors, directors, etc. My solo show was also initially produced by this same company, though subsequent presentations were with others, and I often still carried a chunk of the "producing" of the show on my shoulders. (And of course, two of these three plays featured juicy roles for actorMe to play - part of Do It Yourselfing means writing yourself roles if you can. I have no shame.)

This blog itself is of course a Do It Yourself way to get my writing outside my own hard drive, even if it's for the most part my own brain trying to organize itself.

And the next step ... self-publication. This used to be exclusively the province of amateurs - cheap-looking paper-bound books found in St. Mark's Bookshop or other independent sellers, stacked in a corner as totems of writers not wanted elsewhere. And ... that's less true now. The digital age finally got its hands on the print media but good, and devices such as the kindle and nook are making both book-printing (so to speak) and book-reading cheaper and easier. And writers can now self-publish with relative ease.

And - more importantly - they get worldwide distribution just as easily.

I also discovered yesterday the very cool concept of the Kindle Single - like a musician will release a Single separate from the full album also released, so too can writers publish Singles - pieces too short for long-form, but yet sent out on their own.

This is epic. This is awesome. This is the Master Plan.

So. I'm not there yet. But I'm moving forward on it steadily: publishing my short stories - the longer ones as singles, and the shorter ones grouped together into one book.

Coming soon to a web browser near you!

Post-script: Editors welcome. Apply within with the subject line "Submitted for Your Attention"


  1. 1. I don't like selling myself either, mostly because I find it so easy to sell myself short or to say, "Eh, that wasn't really a big deal, don't put it on your resume." My pitches to publishers have been meek to the point of neurosis and an early one completely omitted to do a bio, which was dumb. Oops.

    2. I'm not always good at asking for help when I feel like I don't deserve it. But that's not a problem at the grocery, well though I'm average height anyway. :-p

    3. Coupla agents have said no. But of course, they don't offer any help as to why so who knows why? Is it the published work thing? Is there a typo on page 2? Are they sincerely not thrilled by the idea? Is the published work thing a catch-22? Blerg.

    4. So maybe it would make sense to plant a couple of short-work seeds around. For me as primarily [near-exclusively] a writer of non-fiction, the ensuing problems are (a) making it something unbloggable (too long to blog?*) and (b) is there a suitable web magazine? Should that be my first preference over a Kindle Single type idea, or not?* [*Question marks are always invitations to reply]

    It's a mystifying world when we stand at the bottom of the ladder, isn't it. But hey, maybe the mystery is kind of fun. :)

  2. 1. Yeah, I'm a downplayer too. I'm trying to fight it, but I keep sort of thinking of it in terms of "yes but I haven't gotten to blank level yet." So when a friend from home was excited I'd had plays produced in NY, I was so quick to point out that it was only Off-Off-Broadway and a small theater and I self-produced and we had no budget and you get the picture. You don't want to come off like an overinflated bragging jerk, so you go too far in the other direction.

    2. :-P

    3. Agents. I second your blerg and add a muttermuttergrumble. In the acting world, I've gone on I don't know how many Q&A/workshop auditions with agents, and even when I know what I want from them, and even when I think I have a pretty good sense of what I do well, and I present that well, I still don't get many bites. What I want is someone to help me fight, to help me get in the door, someone in my corner. But the catch there is, you want someone who really wants you too. So it's, what, the same crapshoot as dating? More blerg.

    4. I've seen some books though that come out of blogs - where rather than being one very long work, it's a collection of shorter essays/posts. Would something like that perhaps be a good format for you? I also should confess to not having done *enough* research in the online mag department, because what little I have done hasn't inspired me overmuch. What's nice that I've seen about self-publishing on kindle is, assuming you've gotten your copyright/digital rights to your work protected, they're just your distributor and they take a cut for that. But they don't own the material - you do. Not always true with magazines.

    Of course the downside is, you have to do your own marketing if you go the kindle route. An online or print magazine has, presumably, its own already-in-place distribution.

  3. The other thing I like about self-publication is it feels less like me begging someone else to like and approve of me. I get enough of that as an actor. Must we all feel worthless?

  4. 1. Yep, definitely know that feeling. The other day a society dedicated to a certain not-at-all famous writer published a few of my essays in their journal, but in writing the email to Mom I discovered I was already writing, "But it's only a PDF, and the circulation is only..."

    2[3]. That sounds like a good analogy. And I'm not good at either of those crapshoots. If it really boils down to the luck of finding an agent who likes your stuff... then it is a matter of luck. c.f. Peter Falk, though, because he only got single chance and that was all he needed. An inspiring example (and I put that in the essay for you to read). P.S. Love "30 Rock"

    4. Problem would be finding a way to sensibly collect blog essays, since mine are pretty randomly about lots of different (and ex-timely) things. Self-publishing is probably something that's done out of love rather than profit, because of the marketing thing, because it would be our friends/parents buying the thing, and because - I can imagine from an agent's perspective, even the thought of going through 50 million self-published books looking for a good author... whew.

    Of course I am really lacking in imagination in this. I'm really 20th century in a lot of ways and have no idea how any of this works. :-/ You've probably done a lot more research on how awesome this can be than me thinking in old-fashioned ways.