I can’t tell you how impressed I am with Seth Harwood. This is what he does as a self-published author of his books: he writes them, he podcasts them, he gives them away for free (yes, for free), he sells limited edition copies to eager fans. This is what the fans do for Seth Harwood: they listen to the podcasts, they download the free copies, they buy the limited edition copies, they send him pictures of themselves holding his books in the air, they fund his Kickstarter projects. They refer to themselves as Palms Daddies and Palms Mammas, after Jack Palms, the smooth kick-ass protagonist of a few of his most-loved books.
Today I received his third paperback’d crime novel, This is Life. I really enjoyed Young Junius, the last one, which writer George Pelecanos of The Wire named one of his favorite books for 2010, and which you can listen to for free HERE, so I’m eager to jump into this hardboiled wonderland sometime over the holiday.
Seth is a pack leader in new publishing, where writers claim the profits of their labor in larger percentages. It’s difficult work, this self-publishing biz. And more so because it flies in the face of what we were taught, that to be a writer of any kind, of any stature, you first had to find a major publisher who’d have you, who’d make you respectable, who’d take your darling self out to the big dance and showcase you. Sure, he asks a lot (all sales minus your pre-tax 15% cut), but it’s worth it, right, for the publicity? To be possibly catapulted to the top; to relish in the envy of the unweddables? He proves you’re good enough. You’re worth it. Which is how you came to find yourself being deflowered in a storage closet. The night ends, the book comes out. A few weeks of pure sunshine. But then, inexplicably, he stops calling. You read Publisher’s Weekly and see pictures of him with a new girl. Yeah sure, she’s pretty, but… All the promises he made evaporate with the book’s so-so sales, the fair-to-middling reviews (You keep the good ones in your hope chest). Soon the attention of your publisher is reduced to that one Facebook “like” of a picture of you on some beach in Portugal, and you can’t tell if it’s you or the girls in bikinis behind you he’s upvoting. Your good friend the agent who first introduced you two is there to comfort you with “Don’t let it affect you. There’s other fish in the sea. You have to remember that. But you’re going to have to get back to work in order to get them. Because you’re not getting any younger, and now you have a history.”
I think I ventured into that extended metaphor not because I think it’s particularly fitting but because I’m eating an enormous turkey club on rye and it took me that entire paragraph to finish one half, timing two sentences between bites, and so I became slave to the rhythm. God bless you salty pickle who clears the palate and the mind.
I’m saying this: I respect the hell out of Mr. Harwood and others like him. With Amazon and Smashwords and Apple and Barnes & Nobles and everyone else getting in on the Undermine Traditional Publishing game, you’d think every writer on the planet would note the change in wind and act accordingly. Not so much. Because it’s terrifying. You work so goddamned hard on a thing, you want to give it it’s best shot in the world. I absolutely understand this. I’m currently waffling on putting a lot of my own stuff out there. I’m pushing myself to take my own advice. I have like many writers friends who think self-publishing it akin to stripping in order to pay your way through college. I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do, but really, did you have to do that? Well, straw man in my head, some people find it empowering.