I've spent some time and oxygen recently publicly reflecting on success, exploitation, business, community, and chocolate. I've spent an equal amount of time emailing, snail mailing, and psychically exploiting publishers who would put my second book, Off Track, into a glossy binding and (in theory) distribute it to big warehouses and former warehouses (now chain stores) who would in turn put it on display somewhere in the public eye so that passerbys could pick it up, flip through a few pages, and then go not buy it on Amazon. The crosscurrents of these two ventures--figuring out my own philosophy and wooing publishers--are stirring up some mighty tides in my literary half. A tidal wave is impending.
As writers, our chosen tool is by definition words. We somehow share uncomfortable cubicles with them. We hate them; we embrace them; we wish we had a better hammer; we find them joyous and alluring. Our unlikely hope is to choose some of them from a pre-prescribed lexicon invented collectively by billions of people who didn't know each other, to twist them and align them in our unique way, then to offer them back to our culture as something completely novel, something worth reading and even paying for, something that holds the potential to drive the species forward or at least change an individual life.
It is a dubious medium in which to work, because all we can ever develop is the skeleton of something. We create recipes, chemical formulas that only exist on paper. They are suggestions that require a catalyst--the imagination of the reader. In the arms of an active caretaker, our words inhale and walk; in more common circumstances, they sleep alone in an empty, dusty, unreasonably sized trophy case called expectation.
It is perhaps for this reason that our words are always on a first date. We're driven to dress them up for suitors and to tell them to be their best selves and to hope that someone else will teach them to dance. We perceive ourselves as really excellent mothers. Unfortunately, we are more likely pimps, because in order to gain the attention of an audience, we are willing to do shameful, hurtful things to our words. And where there is a promise of money, the ultimate social affirmation of the value of our art, we will be tempted always to prostitute and diminish our craft in deference to a persistent ego. We will do so in ways so subtle that even we do not notice.
Business is a strange form of war. And war is an ugly thing.
I want to see my books lined up like soldiers on the bookshelves of popular bookstores. I want them to have intricate cover designs and well-formatted pages. I want them to be flawless, best-selling, and raved about in the newspapers. I want advances from powerful publishers with requests for more books. I want financial rewards for the effort I've put into the diction and syntax and for the risk I've taken in developing an unconventional career path. I want to be acclaimed just for being me and having the ideas that I have. I want everyone to think I'm great.
You want to buy books that are pretty and popular. You want them to look good in your home, office, or apartment. You want them to serve as a testament to the ideas you have and the person you are becoming. You want them pre-pre-previewed and vouched for by your peers. Just as with television, movies, and gossip, you are part of an enormous cultural book club that orients itself around image; there is no question of whether, only of degree.
War. Business. Ugly.
What is a reader to do?
After three years of trying to traditionally publish my second book, I've opted for philosophy over business. That's how I'm thinking of it, anyway. It feels more like surrender. It's possible that it's surrender.
No matter what, OFF TRACK will be available for download as a pdf on September 26 of this year, pay-what-you-want on my website. It has been professionally edited and sculpted for three years. It has been formatted so as to be easily legible. It has not been dressed up. It is not ready for dinner at El Bulli. More likely, it will be compatible with someone interested in sweatpants, peanut butter and jelly, and two dollar draughts.*
No, it is not an impressive-looking creature. But it is there, and it isn't coy or evasive. Its words--its true self, if you will--lie open to you. Bring them to life in your imagination. I think you'll enjoy the experience. Then again, that's just my opinion; those are just my words. Take them for what they are, nothing more, nothing less.
Or don't. It's up to you and no one else. And that feels nice.
* Also liberalism, environmentalism, humor, and vegetable-oil-powered cars