Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Future of My Writing

I've decided that, barring a last second miracle, I'm probably going to self publish my 75,000 word memoir Morning Glory next summer. It needs one more swipe of the knife to take some fat off, and then a tummy tuck. But first I'm writing my Great Plains memoir Turkey Red this spring, which should be 90,000 words.

I've had enough editors and agents tell me that MG has promise, and more--it's lyrical, moving, reflective, a good story. My experience self publishing the mini memoir Sleep, Creep, Leap hasn't been a watershed moment, but it has put my work in the hands of over 100 readers--and the responses I've had from them have been positive (I wish I'd hear a negative so I knew what to change, besides making it longer, a common suggestion).  And self publishing is not about making money--with 100 copies I've made $90 between the ebook and paperback versions, just enough to break even with production costs. I don't think I'd have sold 100 copies without making the book affordable.

I'm not sure what self publishing one of my big books like Morning Glory might mean: will it short circuit any chance to have a real press take it? Will it be a waste of time? Will it erode potential to get an academic teaching job? (Obviously, self published books don't get put on a cv or recognized because they've not passed a peer review process--as it should be.) Will it lead to something bigger, or smaller? Am I boxing myself in?

In general I take rejection well--after a few hours--and send out work again right away. Yet too many of my submissions to literary journals are nice ones, encouraging ones, even offers to edit and resubmit, but I don't know how to get over the hump. I had one essay at a very nice journal that "caused quite a conversation among the editorial board" and had a similar response from another. I have an essay about hummingbirds that, 50% of the time, gets a hand written compliment and then a "sorry." Yes, this is par for the course. But I hate golf. If you're gonna keep the horse moving forward you have to change out the dangling moldy carrot for a fresh one. And stop using so many allusions. (Also, please don't read any of this as a pity party or a narcissistic need for encouragement. I'm not trying to whine either--I just see this space as a forum to document my process and life as a writer, which is I suppose pretty much like most others.)

Tell me what you think--would you read Morning Glory?

When a son reflects on a childhood of gardening with his mother, he finds clues to a family lineage built around silences, distance, and forgetfulness. Eventually, his mother begins to openly reveal a past that confronts the author’s own dark nature. In the history of gardens there are great tragedies and triumphs, and in the garden we continue to discover our truest selves.

The day before the author’s wedding, his grandmother is in a serious accident a mile from the church. This event sets in motion a quest to discover the origins of mysterious letters sent from strangers, hints by aunts about their father, debilitating migraines, and the “Anderson” family persona—the ability to swiftly and sternly cut off an offending family member for years at a time for a seemingly trivial matter.
MORNING GLORY: A STORY OF FAMILY AND CULTURE IN THE GARDEN explores the wary and subdued relationship between mother and son, a relationship which typifies our species’ own with nature. As a son grows up learning about gardening with his mother, he eventually earns the right to ask questions about who she is, and who he is in her shadow. Revealing her own childhood of poverty, abuse, and religious fundamentalism, two people begin to understand themselves and their lineage of solitude and depression in a new light—particularly for the son in a difficult and new marriage. As this son looks at diverse cultural attempts to connect place with self, a powerful metaphor develops between gardening and emotional balance, and how ending our violence toward ourselves and each other is synonymous with ending our violence toward the planet. Ultimately, the only way to understand ourselves is to understand the garden, and vice versa.


Christopher C. NC said...

I would certainly read it. Sounds more titillating. If you self publish and keep the price down that makes it easier for me.

I enjoyed Sleep, Creep, Leap. Surprised you only sold 100. You certainly have put yourself out there and made an effort. Maybe you can come up with some stupid human trick for a viral video to plug the book and get more buyers.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Yeah, 100 seems paltry to me, too. About 70 paperbacks, 30 ebooks. I sent out press releases to 30 blogs, sent 10 free copies, and got about 2 reviews. Waste of money on my end--and then promoting it really makes my feel cheap and like some crack pusher. Can't blog about it every week--my audience isn't that big. I just need word of mouth, or as you say, some viral video. Maybe of you making walls in your garden naked while reading my book? nonono--never mind.

Diana Studer said...

I seems you find yourself poised uncomfortably on the cutting edge of published on paper, to ebook. And you wouldn't want to, or be able to, write 'popular'. Yes, I would read your book (but I can't afford to buy books, so I must enjoy what comes out on your blog.)

Each family has skeletons in the closet. My mother has told me, I must wait until I would no longer write about the living.

Benjamin Vogt said...

More like on the edge of publish something myself or stay in complete and total obscurity. The big two things holding me back are it's virtually impossible to market and not become a tool / brand, and self publishing does nothing for my teaching career. Maybe a Kindle single is in order.

Anonymous said...

I clicked the link, read, and liked the down-home, first person accounting and tales of Morning Glory. I love your simple, yet powerful (highly contrasting in vibrant blue and white) book cover too, since graphics is more my bag of tricks.

I certainly am not qualified as a literary critic in any shape of form, but did enjoy the link to Morning Glory. I do read your blog more times than not too, and always find your writing style engaging. I think your idea for e-books is good, and a downloadable audio book would be great, but probably out of the question. I like audio books because reading is laborious for me being slightly dyslexic. I get my books on my iPod and iPhone, so again, being a little different, I know this may not be all that helpful to you.

I think Morning Glory has some very memorable lines like, "The garden is full of ghosts, and I am one of them." Also, some very charming, descriptive narratives and anecdotes. I felt like when you described the peony, that I had the same memories flooding my conscious. I wish you luck in self publishing Morning Glory.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Thanks, GWGT. Does Apple have an app that reads books aloud? I know my kindle reads them aloud, but in that computerized voice which isn't very moving. Thank you for reading the linked sample too, I'm glad it struck a chord with you--must be doing something right! :) Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I read until I got the "out of memory" message.
I wrote a workbook once when I had a business to promote and it sold 10,000 copies.
I spoke at conventions, conferences and meetings because I was so enghusiastic about the topic and thought everyone should know about it.
But that was a decade before ebooks and 2 publishers wanted to publish it with revisions.

So my questions are rhetorical such as why are you writing and do you hope to make money as a writer or do you have a burning desire to share your book?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Anon--uh, ok. out of memory? I don't see how anyone can afford going out and promoting their work. I've friends who go all over the country. Great. Can't be selling enough copies to break even. I'm not in it for money, though god, it'd be nice to only write, to be able to just write. I want a conversation. I'm a writer. I don't journal, I write. What's the point of keeping it to yourself? That's not very human.

James Golden said...

I'd definitely read it, but I share your concern about possibly losing academic and professional credibility by self-publishing. It's a difficult choice. ePublishing seems to be becoming an acceptable way to do it -- certainly it's nothing like the old vanity presses -- but I have the feeling your kind of work is not as easily accepted among literary circles in ebook form. Good luck figuring this one out.

Benjamin Vogt said...

James--I feel like I'm approaching an impasse; do I keep playing the academic game, planning on a life in that arena, or do I give it all up, risk everything, and drastically alter my life? I'm 35, so now seems a good time to decide, and may soon be decided for me. I love teaching and being at a university, but I feel a pull toward garden coaching, getting a small acreage and growing native plants to sell at farmer's markets, and of course writing more.

James Golden said...

I'd advise you to get a professional graphic artist to help with design the cover and interior if you do it. That's the major failing I see in ebook publishing, and I mean even the ebooks I buy from reputable publishers. No attention is given to the design of the page, covers and front matter are sometimes nonexistent or poorly done, the books are full of errors (extra spaces, sentences ending mid-sentence, paragraph breaks where they shouldn't be, etc.) and all this affects the experience of the book rather profoundly. The general quality of ebooks stinks, and we should demand better. I'm speaking of ebooks in general, not specifically about yours.

Benjamin Vogt said...

James--ebooks are notoriously bad looking, and that's mostly the technology which is still in its infancy. Couple that with the different platforms, reading devices, and coding, and you have a nightmare. I'm not happy with mine AND I hired a place do it "right." Waste of money. Ebooks are like blogs in the early days, or what Facebook is transitioning to (ugly, confused, insane, MySpace like).