Thoughts on Self-Publishing
Updated: Feb 23
I was about to self-publish my book a couple years ago, when I mentioned this to another writer, and she said: “No, don’t do that, because then the big publishing houses won’t take you seriously anymore.”
So, I didn’t do that. Not realizing at the time that she wasn’t quite right; it wasn’t that the big publishing houses weren’t taking me seriously – that implies that they had an opinion about me, and perhaps were sitting around a big oak desk deliberating on whether I was a “serious writer” or not. Actually, in reality, they had no opinion about me at all, and there was probably no oak desk either.
Her advice was incorrect, because I was starting from zero, whereas she assumed I was starting from five or six points above zero. I was starting from a place of: “I’ve never heard of this guy – I have absolutely no opinion about him at all – what were we talking about again - Netflix?” Whereas she imagined that I was starting around here: “Did you hear what that writer guy did? You know - the guy in Boston. Kind of funny. I’ve been carefully watching his career for years as we’ve been sending him tranches of rejection letters, and he just did something amazingly stupid – he went ahead and self-published! Chris, didn’t I always tell you this would happen! I know you made a compelling argument that he wouldn’t make this calculation, but you, and everybody else around here, was wrong. Dead wrong. And now, there’s no chance that we’re ever going to give that guy a book deal. Because he’s no longer a serious writer. What a shame! Why did he give up so easily? After only 14 years trying to get our attention?”
So, I went ahead and pulled the trigger: I self-published on Amazon. I almost got my book published by an actual publishing house in New York, but then the editor that I was working with left, and the new replacement editor wasn’t interested in my book, and then quite soon thereafter, nobody else was interested either. That was many years ago, and the lack of interest only grew stronger and more robust as the years went by. I was ready to give up on it, but then my literary-minded aunt said, “Hey - didn’t you write a funny book once? Did you ever finish it? I’d like to see it!” So, I printed it out, all 180 rejected and forlorn pages, and I said to myself, “Damn, I should at least just self-publish this thing. What have I got to lose - besides my pride?” And so I did, in a pared down version. And now - people are actually buying it.
And so I started self-publishing other things too: essays and short stories. I uploaded them to various reading platforms across the internet, where people can stumble upon new authors. But here I discovered that the cold impartiality of automated uploading robots could sometimes be harsher than real editors who don’t have any opinion about you. I have this short story that I wrote about teaching English in New York City called “Two Diaries,” where I talk about my experience explaining the slang: “You’re the shit” to one of my Japanese students, and how he couldn’t quite understand how “shit” could be used in such a positive, glowing context, which is understandable - given the negative associations that shit has in most parts of the world. So, as you can imagine, the word “shit” appears quite a few times in that short story. And I discovered that with some websites, when you upload your writing, you don’t get to choose the “tags” for internet searches; they have web-bots that do that automatically for you, based on the prominent words in your piece. So, this particular web-bot latched onto the word “shit” in my piece, and then used that tag to advertise my well-crafted and hard fought short story. There it was, being advertised across the internet in three key-words: “Carl McCoy / Two Diaries / Shit.” Who needs this kind of publicity? So, not only did the editors ignore me, but apparently internet writing robots thought my work was shit too. I mean, why bother at that point? The robots were against me, and the humans were ignoring me.
But getting back to my book. I created an advertising campaign, with a nice slogan: “Job Hunter Road: Comedy and Inspiration on the Great American Job Hunt.” That particular ad got over 100,000 views on Amazon, which translated into one purchase of my book, so that’s not the best ratio, but it’s all about attitude, right? One person in 100,000 - I can work with that - I only need to advertise to the entire planet to sell about a hundred copies - that’s totally doable. But, in the hopes of increasing that conversion ratio, I devised a more comical ad. Since there’s a chapter in my book that deals with a cat eating a meditation book, I had the idea to include this motif in my ad, to give people a sense of the raw and unpredictable things that could happen in my book, and so I crafted the following ad:
“Job Hunter Road – The funniest book I’ve ever eaten.” – The Author’s Cat
Unfortunately, this particular ad campaign was swiftly rejected by Amazon, as it did not meet their guidelines. Apparently, you can’t include “customer reviews” in the text of your ad, even if they’re written by fictional cats. So, I had to write back to Amazon and explain the situation, hoping that justice would prevail:
Dear Amazon customer support,
I think there might've been a mistake. My ad included a "customer review" from a cat, who isn’t real. It was meant to be light-hearted and comical - not literal. I completely understand your policy about not including reviews by real people, but I really think most people will understand that this is not a real review, since very few cats actively write reviews on Amazon. And if they don’t get that, I can’t help with that. I’d really like to run this ad, if you don’t mind. It would make my fake cat very happy.
Eventually, the ad was approved, but I didn’t get any bites. But I love self-publishing - as a democratic ideal. It appeals to my sense of equality and entrepreneurship. You don’t need anybody to give you permission to say what you need to say. I like that. And, you get to decide - completely - what and how you publish. I wrote a piece for the Christian Science Monitor ten years ago - where I made the point that Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” would probably be rejected by mainstream publishers in today’s cynical, ultra negative climate. The same is true today, perhaps more so than in 2010. These days, the collective pain-body is feeding strongly on anger, resentment, and fear. But as writers, I believe we have an obligation not to feed that pain. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of cynicism under the guise of appearing sophisticated. Nobody wants to appear naive, and so we swing to the opposite side and embrace fear and pessimism so that nobody can accuse us of being a Pollyanna. I believe this is terribly misguided. Words matter. Thoughts matter. They have creative power. We are all creating our reality everyday - with our imagination. Individually and collectively.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
These are not just idle words. These are radical, powerful, challenging words. They are shaking you in a very unorthodox way, and saying: Don’t focus on the negative. Don’t focus on how much you hate the other political party. Don’t focus on the anxiety. Don’t be a part of the insanity that is raging in our country. This is not how you change the world. You’re not making the world a better place by embracing anger and fear - you are actually contributing to the negativity by participating in it. By reacting to it - by animating it within your own consciousness. As my favorite writer, Neville Goddard, has said, “Stop trying to change the world since it is only the mirror. Man’s attempt to change the world by force is as fruitless as breaking a mirror in the hope of changing his face. Leave the mirror and change your face. Leave the world alone and change your conceptions of yourself.”
And so I’ll continue to write about the lovely things - the humorous, inspiring things that make everyday life so beautiful. That’s the world I choose to create - for myself and for others. Because I’ve had enough of the pain and toxicity and self-righteous anger. I think most of us have had enough by now. We really are all in this together - no matter our political stripes or our beliefs or any of these superficial things that divide us. It’s not naive or idealistic to take this posture - it’s necessary. It’s informed. It’s savvy.
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Carl McCoy, copyright 2021