I recently saw an old friend of mine, Norm Savage, after about 10 years without contact. He's a writer -- of the post-beat, neo-romantic, soul-searching, confessional variety (although he'd hate being classified this way, I'm sure). He wanted to talk with me about using the Internet to self-publish.
Norm had been a hair's breadth away from landing a big publishing contract with FSG for his powerful memoir of diabetes and heroin addiction, Junk Sick: Confessions of an Uncontrolled Diabetic, which had been about 25 years in the works. Just before the paperwork went through, the economic downturn shook up the market, and his editor got canned. She recommended he wait until she landed somewhere else, and publish with her there, but Norm just couldn't wait any longer. After a quarter of a century of masochistic labor, he wanted his words out in the world.
Despite my frequent championing of participatory culture, I have to admit I was a little skeptical about self-publishing on a site like SmashWords. I've been more successfully brainwashed by the traditional cultural gatekeepers than I like to admit, and for me (an aspiring book author myself), the concept was tainted with the odor of "vanity publishing" -- narcissistic, self-deluded, amateurish, delusional, desperate, etc. After all, FSG is the top of the heap publishingwise, and SmashWords just seemed to be such a tragic fall from grace.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a ridiculous point of view that is. I've read drafts of Norm's book, as well as other work of his, and I know that his story is one that needs to be told, and that his style is one that needs to be read. His book is deep, powerful, painful -- in a word, human. If the traditional publishing industry is so dysfunctional they can't serve as a conduit for writers of Norm's caliber to reach potential readers, then maybe we readers and authors should let them die -- and switch our focus to publishers like SmashWords. Don't get me wrong -- I love the stuff that FSG puts out, from their cover designs to their content. It's just that, knowing the specifics of this case, I can imagine all the other innovative and valuable books they and the other publishing houses are failing to put out.
I'd never purchased a book on SmashWords before, but I just bought Junk Sick. It only costs $2.99, and for that price, I can read it in every imaginable digital format, from HTML to PDF to EPUB. And it's DRM-free, so I won't have the amazingly frustrating experience of being locked out of my own library by a stupid robot, which ended my brief sojourn into ebook-purchasing a few years back.
If you're at all interested in the psychological and social dimensions of diabetes, addiction, writing, sex, music, loneliness, pain, friendship, art, introspection, exhibitionism, love and fear, you should seriously consider buying this book. SmashWords will even let you read the first 35% of it for free. Or you could read an interview with Norm at the SmashWords blog, which will give you a pretty good sense of his character, his story, and his relationship to language.
Norm also publishes his own blog, which is basically fragments of his new book-in-progress, posted as he writes them. It's called The Savage Diabetic.