IndieJourney: Michael O’Neal

Like most first-time novelists, I suspect, I fantasized about getting urgent phone calls from an agent (preferably one with the panache of a New York City address), meeting him or her for lunch at the 21 Club or Blue Water Grill, and watching as a major publishing house trumpeted my book, arranged reading and signing tours, booked me on Oprah, signed a movie deal with Spielberg, and generally converted me into a celebrity, even if one of minor proportions.

You’d think a fifty-nine-year-old man would know better, wouldn’t you. While several agents bit, none swallowed, and I was at a point where I’d have settled for lunch at Arby’s in Wahoo, Nebraska. At no point, though, did I lament that the world was too craven to recognize my towering genius. Agents want to make money, and so do publishers. Come to think of it, so do I.

My book, Crazy Bett, is a bit of a niche book. It’s a Civil War historical novel. It’s a fictionalized account of the true-life story of a Union spy living in Richmond, Virginia (the Confederate capital), who got away with it by posing (or was she?) as a madwoman. Her name was Elizabeth Van Lew, but she was known to everyone as “Crazy Bett.” In a perverse way, I don’t blame the agents for turning me down. Why should they take on my book when such gems as Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by its Grossest National Product (actual title) are available?

So, what to do? The book was languishing in a drawer, which of course today is a metaphor for the hard drive. I tinkered, tailored, soldiered on, but finally spied the truth of the old saw that one never finishes a novel, one simply abandons it. So self-publishing seemed the best way to induce labor and give birth to the thing.

As I’ve further investigated the issue of POD/self-publishing versus traditional publishing, I’ve come to wonder why more authors aren’t turning to the former. The traditional houses, with gimlet eyes on the bottom line, aren’t providing much editorial support. Hell, I’m not even sure they proofread books anymore. Worse, they’re not providing the market support they once did; they want to know what the writer is going to do to peddle the book. Do you have a “platform”? (No, I’m too busy writing.) What’s your marketing plan? (I’m not a marketer, that’s your job. I’m a writing geek.) What successful books is your book like? (I was kind of hoping that my book would enjoy a little success because it’s a bit unlike other books.) Is it OK that we pay you next to nothing for each copy sold? (Do I have a choice?)

So, a pox on them I say. Sour grapes? Maybe. Probably.

Nevertheless, when a copy of “Crazy Bett” arrived in the mail, I was thrilled. It’s handsome, with high-quality paper, sharp printing, a sturdy binding. It’ll never be remaindered. It’ll be available in perpetuity, sort of. My prose endures. Best of all, the book has my name on the cover.

Darnit, I’ve spotted a thousand things I’d change, along with three proofreading errors.

These, however, I choose to regard as beauty marks.

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