Thinking About Self-Publishing

She used Llumina Press to produce the novel.
She used Llumina Press to produce the novel.

I haven’t mentioned Mr. M in a long while. He’s a writing buddy, and he recently told me that he’s decided to consider self-publishing. I’m almost hoping he will go that route so I can see what it’s like from one-step removed. Mr. M, the guinea pig!

Anyone could get sick of slogging through the muddy land of traditional publishing, right? I haven’t given up, but today, I decided to ponder self-publishing along with Mr. M. We went to a meeting of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers to listen to a novelist, Linda Kuhlmann, talk about marketing for self-published authors.

And you know what? I don’t think I could hack it! Kuhlmann’s always carting around promo copies and every trip, no matter how small, how casual, is an opportunity to check-in with local bookstores, visit area libraries, and scout out possible events. She’s got spreadsheets (there’s that word again!) and “Autographed copy” labels that she made herself. (Actually, I was impressed: Avery labels come in shiny gold–who knew?)

She’s so on top of self-marketing that she’s practically a professional speaker now.

I’m serious, I don’t know if I could hack that. I know we novelists have to self-promote–I get that–but I dream of having a support system behind me even if it’s one harried publicist with minimal time to deal with my book because she has the likes of John Grisham and Danielle Steel to oversee.

And who do I think I’m kidding anyhow? During the networking portion of the meeting (immediately I’m thinking: yee gads), a freelance editor asked me what I write. Novels, I replied. She cocked her head, eyebrows raised. Getting nothing out of me, she jutted her head forward a little, opened her eyes wider. Such expectation.

But I choked. Given the chance to excite someone about my novel, I inevitably clam up. Uh uh uh. I know the novel backwards and forwards but rally around it in a couple of sentences, off the cuff? Hah!

That was an ARGH of a moment, truly. Because despite what I tell myself, in the reality of self-promotion, anytime and anywhere is the perfect time and place to talk about my opus. That’s what it’s all about.

I was exhausted by the end of the meeting, but I left with three conclusions:

1. There are plenty of resources out there for self-publishing novelists. I was impressed with the group at the meeting. I might have even met my future website designer!

2. I need to join Toastmasters (again, yee gads) because today’s novelist is doomed to have to speak in public. Unless you’re Cormac McCarthy, of course.

3. I need to come up with two, just two, novel summary sentences and practice them in front of the mirror until they roll out naturally. I mean come on, how hard could that be?

What Award-Winner Denis Johnson Had to Say


What not to say when hanging out at the same table as two glittery literati: One, do not ask a National Book Award winner whether he’s noticed people kissing his ass since he won the award. Two, do not tease the Tin House literary journal and writers conference founder that he’s a literary snob and quite possibly on drugs or something…

Eh-hem. And I hadn’t been drinking either. I call that an evening well spent and sure to help me along the path toward publishing success! Hah!

National Book Award winner Denis Johnson spoke on the last night of the Tin House Writers Conference. I attended the reading with friends who know Mr. Johnson (am I allowed to call him “my friend Denis” now? Or, at least, “an acquaintance”? Or “Denis” at all?) and his wife. (Editorial addition after the fact: Forgot to mention that my friend is immortalized in Johnson’s Tree of Smoke; he’s “Sergeant Nash.”)

After the reading and QandA, we found ourselves at a table chatting with Johnson and a few other notables. At one point, Johnson was kind enough to ask me about my novel. And of course I froze. All thoughts left the building. I swear to God, I preferred not to answer. How to render my novel more important or more worthwhile or more literary than it actually is? I’ll say this for Denis — eh, Mr. Johnson — he may have understood my reticence because he smiled, and we moved on.

This is what I’m saying, though I haven’t said it yet, only thought it: I’m lousy at networking. I could have talked myself up a good spell to Johnson and also to Win McCormack, the Tin House founder. I could have asked McCormack if he’d read a few of my stories. I could have at least flirted with them.


Readers of Nova’s blog already know that Johnson spoke at an outdoor amphitheatre on the beauteous Reed College campus. Nova may not have noticed the beaver cavorting in the wetland pond, but no one could miss the jogger loping by on the trail. All very idyllic as Johnson read from his latest work, a sexy pulp fiction piece that Playboy is publishing in three parts. (By the way, Nova and I didn’t meet, alas; we muffed up that opportunity.)

Johnson was quite droll, explaining that he’d sip water at every white-space break. “So when I sip, it means that we are experiencing white space.” And, he interrupted himself with comments such as:

   “Am I the only one hearing geese?”

   “Do I sound like a woman when I’m trying to be a woman? Letting my feminine side out.”

   “As I read this thing, I start to think maybe I could have written it all different.”

In other words, this is a pretty cool guy, not taking himself all serious like. Here are highlights from the QandA:

  • When asked why he was writing serial pulp, he answered that he likes noir and that he “didn’t want to write anything good.” He wanted to write “a piece of crap.”
  • However, and this is the interesting bit: He was surprised to discover that it is just as hard to write pulp fiction as it is anything else. Goes to show that we shouldn’t look askance at writers of genres outside our own!
  • About bending the prose to his will (can’t remember the exact question, something about rewriting his sentences so they convey exactly what he means): He said that he finds that the sentences he labors over the most are the first to be cut.
  • Last but not least, as Nova mentioned: He did say to quit that job, trust the Universe, don’t wait.