Friday, November 30, 2018

An Open Letter: On the Stench of Self-Publishing

I’ve ripped myself up over this one. Should I tell people? Should I pretend it’s all great? Should I sneak into AWP under the guise of a “real writer”? Don that black beret I have under the bed?

So here it is. What I can say. My third book was under contract with a small press. There is a legal dispute. Five Oaks Press informed me that it was going out of business, right after my freakin’ book came out. Like, my book was finished. Five Oaks reverted all rights back to me, sent me my files, fulfilled the initial pre-orders, and bid me adios.

Thank you very much.

I found myself in an awkward position. Should I scrap the whole deal and let my book sit in the nether world? Should I let my very own baby (see that great David Foster Wallace essay, “The Nature of the Fun,” on how one’s writing is like one’s sick and beloved child) rot in the drawer next to the stray ziplock bags and ballpoint pens that don’t even work?  Should I beg Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books (he did my other novel) or some publishing peeps from my past (hello, Dzanc!) to publish it ASAP?  Lord knows, I’ve got Fred Issues. And I’m admitting them here. I made the tragic mistake of showing Fred an early draft of this novel, and it was so not ready and so meandering and mammoth and unshaped, and then he kindly rejected it. I LOST UNBRIDLED BOOKS. I may never forgive myself for that one. (Fred, it’s lean, it’s mean, and it’s BEAUTIFUL.)

What should l do with this child of mine?

So, in a lousy kind of compromise, I decided to spontaneously start my own publishing company. Self-publishing.

Are you kidding me?

I founded Bosco‘s Going Down Press LLC.

In light of the fact that it was represented to the public that my book was being imminently published by Five Oaks, I had no choice but to self-publish. My novel is published first by Five Oaks, and then by Bosco‘s Going Down Press. Copies from both presses exist. I owe the following people free copies: Jackie Cowsill, Karen Craigo, Don Fitzsimmons, Julie Hensley, Lori Hettler, Tim Horvath, Kyle Minor, Patricia Murphy, and Anthony Vasquez. Do you guys want a Five Oaks copy, or a BoGoDo Press copy? Please email me. I’m hoping that you’ll take an IDENTICAL BoGoDo copy, because I have a lot more of them—like way more. And I’m scared to give out my last Five Oaks copies because then I’m not legit. I figure I can show people that I once had a real publisher and this will be my street cred.

All’s Well That End’s Well?

Now, about this stench . . . The Stench of Self-Publishing. Listen, I’m not about to throw my fellow self-published writers under the bus. I barely know this scene, but I know that Suzie Olson puts out great children’s books and Avily Jerome is an amazing writer who came to my house for hours to bail me out of trouble. There are good writers; there are bad writers. The thing is this: I believe in publishers. I believe in editors. I believe in the need for filters and expert opinion and credibility. And I believe in other things: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

It was a Dark Day of the Soul. I’m still reeling. My fabulous husband doesn’t fully understand what this has meant. He only knows I’m not sleeping at all and I’m really busy. I’m walking around in a state of anxiety. The emotional toll was great, apart from the professional one. I try not to think about the health issue.

This is the book I wanted to write.

Maybe that’s all I can say.

Despite everything, my “shroud of legitimacy” was snatched from me.

That husband of mine is all, “Why does it matter? Anthony painted the cover, Jackie got the designers, Karen Craigo copyedited it, you wrote it and revised it a million times, and it was done. What’s the big deal?”

My Shroud! My Shroud!

I am now a self-published author. From what I understand, here are some consequences:

  1. ·      Libraries will not carry me.
  2. ·      I am not in normal distribution catalogues.
  3. ·      Most bookstores are skeptical, but they can’t order it from the usual places.
  4. ·      Who wants to write a review of a self-published novel?
  5. ·      Will even literary warrior, Dave Abrams, allow me to do a “Friday Freebie”?
  6. ·      Will David Gutowski take my playlists seriously?
  7. ·      And what about AWP??????
  8. ·      Um, am I still a real writer?
  9. ·      Should I just teach 101?

Last night, I discovered what happens when you no longer have a publisher. These are screen shots:



About AWP. I’m scheduled to go, sit in the book fair as a former Five Oaks writer, and I’m even reading. Unless they kick me out. I’ve been wondering. I’m seriously just showing up with a box of books and I’m going to try to blend in. IF I’M NOT ALLOWED IN, I’LL DO A SPONTANEOUS STREETCORNER READING!! But I’ll be there, pretending my shroud of legitimacy wasn’t snatched away.

Look. I’m almost 49 (in twenty-five days). What does this mean to me? Does this hurt me as an artiste? Well, yes, it does. It wasn’t the route that I wanted. I truly do believe in the publishing system. If I were in my twenties, I might be even more devastated. It's a game-changer. Sink or swim. This definitely sends me on a path that I did not plan on going down.

At the same time, I know what I want. See that piece that Dave A. featured. I’ll say it again:

This was the book that I wanted to write.

I wanted to write this very book.

I am going public because I believe in my book. This is not to hurt anyone. This is not to defend myself. This is not to gain pity or wrath. I am doing this because I don’t want my baby to get stuck in the drawer.

With little fanfare, Bosco’s Going Down Press was launched. And in crass confidence, I have published my own novel. I expect to publish other writers, but I’m in this for the Art Part—so I’m not rushing. This is what my website officially says:

“Bosco’s Going Down Press (BoGoDo Press) LLC publishes literary prose, fiction and nonfiction. At this point, we expect one book to be published a year. Consideration is by solicitation only, though this may change. Our taste is eclectic and crazy. We like Sherman Alexie (oh no!), Elena Ferrante, Hope Jahren, Jenny Offill, Patricia Lockwood, Marilynne Robinson, David Sedaris, and Colson Whitehead. But also James Baldwin. And even Steve Almond.”

Yes, I’ll publish others writers.

So I’m reaching out to you with this open letter. Writers, will you still take me in? Will you invite me to your parties? Readers, may I hang out on your shelves? I cannot rest on my laurels, obviously. I only have my books. Go ahead and judge them.

This is the link to my new book.


  1. All that matters (to me, and most of my literary friends at least) are the words on the page. Yours are strong and transportive. Every book you publish, wherever you publish, has a playlist opening on Largehearted Boy!

  2. I assumed you had a great press because your cover is so gorgeous. I'm with David - all that matters is that the book is good. Oh, and I just bought it!

    1. Lisa, you know I've always found you magnetic, chic, and in-the-know. Baby, we were born to run . . .

  3. Thank you! Next to actually writing the book, I like best thinking about the music -- and I love Largehearted Boy!