(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2015)
“Life is a long lesson in humility.” James Barrie
When I was a kid we used the word tons to mean lots. I have tons of baseball cards. You have tons of friends. This week, however, I really did move tons of books, eighty big heavy boxes, of my self-published opuses Buddha In A Teacup and Under the Table Books, from the warehouse where I was paying to store them, to our house, which now resembles a UPS shipping center.
Thus concludes a humbling chapter in my publishing history. I have now published seven books with big publishers in New York, three books with medium-sized publishers, and I have self-published two books indistinguishable from books published by big time publishers. Most recently I brought out coil-bound photocopy editions of my novels, a most enjoyable way to go.
I published Buddha In A Teacup in 2008 and had three thousand case bound copies printed, that’s hardback without a dust jacket. I just brought home the last four hundred copies. Not bad for word-of-mouth. The book won the American Indie Award for Fiction, the Bay Area Independent Publishers Award for Fiction, a Silver Nautilus Award, and was a runner-up for the prestigious Ben Franklin Award.
In 2009, I published Under the Table Books and had two thousand case bound copies printed. I just brought home 1400 copies. This book also won the American Indie Award for Fiction and the Bay Area Independent Publishers Award for Fiction. All those awards and three dollars will get me a latte at Moody’s.
Things I learned from self-publishing books: no newspaper or magazine in America will review self-published fiction. Only bookstores run by people who think you have a strong local following will carry self-published fiction. Most people believe self-publishing is proof you have a screw loose.
“I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the words of Shakespeare, but if he did not, it seems to me he missed the opportunity of his life.” James Barrie
Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Beatrix Potter and tons of other famous authors self-published their fiction.
A few weeks before last Christmas, Marcia and I were in Santa Rosa and came upon a man sitting at a table on the sidewalk selling coil-bound photocopies of a children’s book he’d written called something like Melvin the Christmas Dragon. And I said, “Forget about bookstores. I’ll have a book stand.”
“There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart.” Saint Augustine
Ten-years-old in 1959, I wanted more money than the twenty-five cents a week my parents gave me to complete what I felt was an insanely long list of chores. To earn extra money, I pulled weeds for a woman who lived two doors down. She paid fifty cents per bushel basket of weeds pulled. Unfortunately, her weeds were not large and it took me hours to fill that basket. I couldn’t wait to turn twelve so I could start babysitting. Twelve was the age you had to be in our neighborhood to babysit. My older sisters made a dollar an hour babysitting and came home with tons of money from watching television and snacking while the little kids were sleeping.
In the meantime, I wracked my brain for ways to make money. One day I saw some kids selling lemonade and making tons of money. We had tons of lemons on our trees, I knew where my mother kept tons of sugar, and water was free. I would make tons of money with a lemonade stand! I announced my plan to my parents. Dad gave a ten-minute lecture on the stupidity of magical thinking. Mom said, “The lemonade will cost more to make than you’ll make selling it. Besides, I don’t want you making a mess in the kitchen.”
My friend John lived across the street and had a mother right out of Leave It To Beaver. Almost everything I said made her laugh. I proposed to John that we go into business together. John did not need money—his parents gave him as much as he wanted—but he was excited about going into business with me because I was ten and he was eight.
John’s parents, quantum opposites of my parents, thought selling lemonade was a fine idea. John’s father said, “I have just the thing. A big barrel.”
So we went into business. We painted the barrel white and decorated it with red and blue stars and circles and half-moons. We made a big pitcher of lemonade, added plenty of ice cubes, secured a large supply of paper cups, and set up our stand at the mouth of John’s driveway. We charged ten cents a glass. We worked from eleven in the morning until late afternoon four days a week for most of that summer.
Because John’s parents paid for sugar and paper cups, and John’s mother made the lemonade so we wouldn’t wreck her kitchen, we made tons of money. Well, several dollars anyway.
“Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.” Saint Augustine
After four days of driving back and forth from Mendocino to Fort Bragg and severely taxing the springs of my old pickup with tons of books, I finally got the last of those incredibly heavy boxes stacked in the last remaining available space in our house—Marcia’s closet. To celebrate, I made a cup of cocoa and checked my email. Nothing. But then something came through: a most excellent publisher wanted to bring out a paperback edition of Buddha In A Teacup. I pinched myself, rubbed my eyes, and read the email again. I wasn’t imagining things.
I had wanted to bring my books home for the last two years but never had the emotional fortitude until now. Which reminds me of what Mr. Laskin says at the end of Under the Table Books. “I refer to it in my book as chumming for synergy. There is nothing the universe appreciates more than action. Do you know why that is? Because action is the mother of the whole kit and caboodle.”