“I’m coming out with two books next year,” I announce, with pride but unable to keep a touch of defiance from my voice, in automatic anticipation of my interlocutor’s next question: “Who is your publisher?”
I’ve got my response down: “I’m pulling a Virginia Woolf—I’m publishing with my own press, Green Fire Press.”
Raised eyebrows, a nod that implies surprise and a touch of disdain. “Oh, so you’re self-publishing.”
No, not really. With a partner, I have created a publishing company that publishes high-quality work in alignment with its mission of encouraging positive social change and well-being. We have three titles in print so far, and my two books will bring our total to five.
Self-publishing has a bad reputation for a few good reasons.
First of all, self-publishing is often seen as self-indulgent, arrogant and vain (hence the old name, vanity publishing).
“Just who do you think you are, bypassing us?” the agents and big-publisher editors snap. “You know your book won’t pass muster with us, that’s why you’re not taking the traditional route.”
To which I would reply: I have the highest standards of anyone I know—as a publisher and an editor as well as a writer. Yes, it’s true a lot of dreck gets self-published, but that is not the case at Green Fire Press, where we will only publish books we believe in and work hard to make as perfect as possible.
The truth is that I have declined to explore traditional publishing because:
- I don’t have time or energy to go through the whole get-rejected-by-25-agents game;
- I want control of the production of my book;
- I know I will have to do most of the marketing myself anyway, so
- I might as well reap the rewards of the hard work I’ve put in, by actually making some money every time I sell a book.
I published my first two books through traditional publishers. Neither paid any kind of advance. On the first, I literally never made a dime in royalties, even though the book sold fairly well (several thousand copies). On the second, the royalties were meager in the first couple of years, and soon stopped coming altogether, although the book remains in print and in frequent circulation in college courses.
Unlike Virginia Woolf, I do not have a husband or a trust fund income. I need to make money with the work I put in to my writing. With my next two books, if the books make money, I will too.
Creating a good book takes tremendously hard work and careful attention to detail, not only by the author but by the editor, proofer, designer, marketer and distributor. It’s a team project, and there are very few authors—maybe none!—who can successfully fulfill all these roles. Even Virginia Woolf had the faithful Leonard by her side, along with the whole Bloomsbury Group functioning as her marketing team.
At Green Fire Press, we have an outstanding team of publishing professionals working together to create polished, professional books. We’re part of the new “gig economy,” in that all the services offered by traditional publishers in-house are being performed at GFP by freelance specialists.
We could no doubt debate for a while whether this trend towards freelance publishing services is positive or negative—for the authors, for the publishing companies, for the freelancers, for the economy overall. As someone who has worked off and on as a freelancer or “independent contractor,” I know that it’s a precarious way to make a living, and I strongly believe that our tax structure and social safety net (ie, health care, unemployment, disability, etc) should be amended to support the millions of players in the new “gig economy” (for more on this, see the current issue of YES! Magazine).
But that’s a topic for another day’s column. Today I simply want to thank and acknowledge the excellent work of our Green Fire Press team in producing my two forthcoming books, What I Forgot…and Why I Remembered: A Journey to Environmental Awareness and Activism Through Purposeful Memoir and The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir: A Writer’s Companion. As an author I feel in such good hands, and I am excited to roll up my sleeves and work on getting my new books out strongly into the world.
Not just to make money, although that would be nice. My memoir and writer’s companion book are both aimed at fulfilling my mission of “writing to right the world.” I write “purposeful memoir,” and I want to get more people doing that too, through my workshops, online writing circles, author coaching and editing and yes, through Green Fire Press itself.
As I say in the Writer’s Companion, purposeful memoir asks us to look back at our lives in order to understand where we are now and to envision the future we want to create, not just for ourselves but also for human society and our beautiful, beleaguered planet.
If that sounds like something you want to do too, join me! In sharing our own experiences, we can help light the way for others, and come together to write our way towards the positive changes we want to see in the world.