As many of you know, I first finished the manuscript for The Woman Who Lived Amongst the Cannibals over three years ago. One of my primary concerns when beginning this self-publication process was directly related to this time expanse–how would revising and preparing the manuscript go, when so much time had elapsed? The writer who wrote that manuscript had long since diminished. A new manuscript had been in preparation for nearly three years, with a style and scope in many ways far removed from Cannibals. My initial impulse was to edit Cannibals in the spirit of the original composition–to revise toward the style and ambition and tone that carried me then. Quickly however I realized that my interests and ideas related to prose style and rhythm, “narrative,” “character,” “action” etc had all changed. Time will do that. So too will the natural difference between preparing a manuscript to be shopped to publishers by an agent and preparing a manuscript for self-publication.
I’ve found that no matter by best impulses, in the back of my mind I knew that my former agent would read the manuscript, and he would send that manuscript to publishers, and so there were always limitations, placed by myself, during that composition process. Not to suggest the manuscript was outwardly compromised–but there is no doubt that I have increased freedom now. Little anxiety about what is right or wrong or how it will be received. Now I think only about what pleases me, what I believe is the correct move, and what is best for the book in my mind. I have no editor to please, no agent, no publisher. There is no distributor to please, no bookstores to interest, no reviewers…. There is only this book.
That said, this process has increasingly taught me that self-publication, the way I’m doing it, and for the reasons I am doing it, has its limits.
I am humbled that anyone would pre-order my book. But I am increasingly frustrated by the need for pre-orders, to interest readers in buying my work, just so the work can be born. I’ve been pleased with the early response, but we are still about 20-30 pre-orders from what we will need to print 100 copies, the absolute minimum. We are about 60-70 pre-orders from what we would need to print 200 books. I don’t anticipate printing more than 200 books (I don’t anticipate printing more than 100, honestly), so I have not thought about numbers further than that.
Assuming we earn enough from pre-orders to print the book, that will be the only printing. I can’t imagine needing to continue printing this book, and I certainly do not intend to continue “promoting” the work. I am not sending out copies to reviewers or anyone else, unless they have purchased the book. If physical copies are sold out, I will keep the book in print, digitally.
I’ve learned through this process that I would rather–and going forward this is what I will do–simply prepare my work for electronic publication, with perhaps 1-20 (or so) physical copies, created by hand. (At the moment I would want to create at least one, for myself.) I don’t like e-books–I don’t read them and I have no interest in reading them. But I think that is where this is going. A book created entirely for electronic publication is freed entirely from the need to acquire readers. It exists then in the vapor. In a way, it seems an ideal.