the contextual life

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Posts Tagged ‘self-publishing

Interview with Nathaniel Kressen, author of Concrete Fever

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This is an excerpt from an interview that ran on The Rumpus. Read it in full here

Concrete FeverWhen I first saw Concrete Fever on the front table of a local bookstore, I knew it was something special. With e-books on the rise, smart publishers are taking more care to create physical books that are also art objects. With its colorfully-splashed, slightly-ribbed cover, French flaps, and interior illustrations, Nathaniel Kressen’s debut novel stood out among the sea of many new releases.

Kressen, a playwright, screenwriter, and a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, brings to his fiction a love of acting, a knowledge of stagework, and a desire to tell stories without waiting for permission.

We met up at Café Grumpy in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and talked about Kressen’s experience creating the book from start to finish, the importance of editing, the difference between self-publishing and independent publishing, and what writers can learn from musicians.

The Contextual Life: I saw your book in the store and found myself picking it up over and over again. It’s so gorgeous. It’s well-designed and the textured cover feels so great when you handle it. I immediately needed to know who published it. When I looked on the spine, I saw it was a small press I’d never heard of, Second Skin Books. On closer look I noticed it was you who was behind it. You are also the author. To me, this felt like it was more than self-publishing, like you were taking it to a whole other level. In my mind, it’s more like indie publishing rather than self-publishing.

Nathaniel Kressen: I think that’s definitely a phrase that’s worth noting: independent publishing versus self-publishing. I think the difference is, an author by themselves who can’t wait to get their stuff out to people might not necessarily take the time to edit everything, think about the design and the materials. They’re just so happy about finishing their product they want to get it out to people, which is totally valid, but I think that’s what self-publishing is. Indie publishing is where you do research and look at other small presses. You see what fits what you’re trying to do, what you would like to explore. You make sure it’s edited to a T, no typos. Make it tight as can be. You give it out to people to look it over and give you notes, and then you make the best possible product you can; make something that people will pick up off the table time and time again. That’s what I think the main difference is.

There are a lot of people doing that around this area. I’ve spoken on a couple of panels about indie publishing, at Spoonbill and WORD, where there are a few people coming from the same place I am. Authors who aren’t necessarily writing stuff that’s so outside of what the mainstream wants, but for whatever reason it doesn’t get the initial traction. So we decided maybe we’re chasing the wrong dream; let’s just make this the best possible thing we can, make it look sexy as all hell, and get it out to people.

………

The Contextual Life: A stage is public. Performing is public. Do you see the novel as a stage? Is there any connection?

Kressen: Recently, I’ve been thinking about novels as physical art objects, with everything from judging a book by its cover to how it feels in your hand; we chose this textured stock because I wanted something that feels really great in your hand. I mean, I’m a no-name author at this point; I need this to be my marquee. You walk by a restaurant and you see a great typeface on the awning and you think, Oh, I bet they have good food.

………

The Contextual Life: What have you learned about publishing from doing this?

Kressen: Tons. One thing is that it’s accessible. It’s not this monster out there that one day you hope to get into as a writer, that somebody believes in your piece. Nobody is going to fight for your piece as much as you. It’s like anything else. As long as you write the hell out of your book, get somebody to look it over, take notes, and revise it fully, as long as you pair up with a designer who understands your vision and really makes it fly, and as long as you’re willing to work your tail off, go around the stores, talk to people, come up with really unique events, just work tirelessly on behalf of your product, at the same time making new writing because that’s the only way you grow, and just go ahead and do it. Nobody has to give you permission.

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Written by Gabrielle

September 11, 2013 at 6:54 am

You Must Read: Love is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life

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Anyone familiar with Choose Your Own Adventure books—the stories written in the second person where middle grade readers, after a few paragraphs, are given options as to how they’d like the character to proceed—will take one glance at Love is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life and wonder if someone is playing a trick on them. Or at least that’s what I thought when I first saw a copy in the bookstore.

The book was placed prominently at the checkout counter and as the bookseller was ringing me up I couldn’t resist. “I used to love these,” I said. As I picked it up and thumbed through I asked, “did you ever read these?” Unfortunately for the bookseller, he hadn’t experienced the wonders of these fantastic little books as a kid; and, unfortunately for me he was of little help when, to my confusion, I noticed a long string of curses on one of the pages. “I think it’s a joke,” he mumbled, or something to that effect. Not sure what to make of it, I put the book back on the display but by then it had already made an impression. The cover, so convincing in its authenticity, juxtaposed with its content, unsettlingly askew, was seared into memory.

It turns out that Love is Not Constantly Wondering isn’t a joke but a parody, a well-crafted and endearing one at that. Self-published anonymously by a 33-year-old Portland transplant, the story is based on the author’s real relationship with his alcoholic girlfriend, a time spanning from August 2002 to November 2006. His anonymity is to protect his parents from the tumultuous parts of his life as well as identity of the hard-drinking girl, Anne.

However, to his friends who will recognize him in those pages, he hopes they will now understand that the years spent with this girl, the years they spent wondering why he was putting himself through such pain, were not all bad, that there were some good moments, too, and, as Slate reported, that there was an “excitement that went hand in hand with the mess.”

To digress with a bit of interesting information, It was that Slate review that gave the book a new life. While in Portland, the Book Review Editor Dan Kois found the book at Powell’s and decided to write about it. The third printing is now being handled by the author’s friend who owns a small press. But back to the book.

I can’t speculate as to why the author decided to include a race of hostile Ant-Warriors, other than it fits with the Choose Your Own Adventure genre—the first book in the (real) series features an adventure trip to the Himalayas where you and a friend go in search of a Yeti. Intentional or not, the alien race adds to the already inhospitable landscape in which the protagonist finds himself. As often comes with addict friends, if you keep them in your life long enough, you’re bound to bear the brunt of their erratic behavior, the consequences of their poor choices, and possibly even get caught up in their legal troubles, depending on your patience and goodwill.

Unlike the series it’s based on, Love is Not Constantly Wondering is best read linearly. These choices at the bottom of the page are more for effect than instruction. They range from being abstractly related to the story to being wildly unrelated. From time to time I would g back and follow a few—“If you jump across the chasm, turn to April 26, 2006; If you decide to turn back and look for another way around, turn to June 29, 2003”—and found that even though it’s a short book, when you bounce back and forth through time, reading the story in this new order gives it an infinite feel.

In a recent interview with The Portland Mercury, the author discussed the importance of creating an authentic replication. “Producing authentic-looking zines and books is incredibly important to me. With Love I spent weeks researching how Choose Your Own Adventure books were constructed: the fonts, the amount of space between lines, the kerning, how the choices are laid out within the books.” There can be little doubt that this meticulous attention to detail pays off; even the illustrations closely mimic the originals.

As mentioned, Choose Your Own Adventure narratives are written in the second-person and so Love is Not Constantly Wondering begins:

It is a beautiful day. You walk up the stairs to the library. There is a girl sitting on the steps, smoking. She is pretty in a Virginia-Woolf-meets-Helena-Bonham-Carter-in-Fight-Club sort of way. You exchange, “I think you look interesting but I’ll be damned if I’m going to make the first move” glances, then pull the doors open and step inside.

While looking at movies you see her staring at you. And again while flipping through a pile of graphic novels. Every time you look up, she looks away. Every time she looks up, you look away. You find excuses not to leave, browsing through sections that hold no interest to you in order to prolong your opportunity to steal glances. Eventually you decide that this is getting ridiculous and you walk up to her and introduce yourself. Here is what you find out:

–Her name is Anne.
–She is 22 years old.
–She just moved here from North Carolina.
–She plays the cello.
–She is a stripper

As odd as it might sound given that the book is something of a replica, Love is Not Constantly Wondering is by far one of the most unique books I’ve read in my life (no hyperbole). It’s charming and fun, and I hope destine to become a cult classic. It’s one of those books you’ll want all your friends to read. When you find a copy (and I suggest you search high and low), buy a few and pass them around to everyone you know. It will not be the biggest mistake of your life.

::[Links]::
Buy a copy from the publisher ($5)
Slate review
Interview with the author at The Portland Mercury

Written by Gabrielle

August 14, 2012 at 6:53 am

On the Shelf: Cory Doctorow on Self-Publishing, Jesse Ball on Bookworm, and King Arthur at the Round Table

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Cory Doctorow, author, blogger, and co-editor of the wildly popular pop culture website BoingBoing, is also a columnist for the science fiction magazine Locus. In his most recent article, Why Should Anyone Care?, he gives thought to his self-published short story collection With a Little Help that came out in December of 2010.

Over the past two years there’s been a steady increase in both talk about self-publishing and writers actually doing it. It’s quickly becoming easier to produce a book on one’s own and there have been a few successes—Amanda Hocking for one—that have helped create a sense of possibility. Both computers and the software needed to create a book are easier to use; print-on-demand websites like Lulu and Blurb are gaining popularity; the proliferation of e-readers makes it possible to test out a digital only version sparing the writer print costs; and the rise of social media culture encourages self-promotion and entrepreneurship—not to mention that a strong online can help sell the final product.

It’s easy to look at the few success stories and think, “why not?” Anyone who’s tried to get their work published traditionally knows it’s hard. Publishing houses rarely have time to pick through slush piles so more often than not you need an agent to pitch your book to editors; the editors need to like your book; and then the imprint’s publisher needs to see a place for it in the current market. The numerous steps, the limited resources of publishers, and a staggering number authors vying for the same coveted position can make the effort seem futile.

As with the rise in self-publishing, there has been, what seems to be, an endless supply of commentary on the subject—the encouragers, the detractors, and everyone else in between. It’s hard to make heads or tails of anything. Cory’s piece, however, is incredibly compelling and, for me, has stood out from all the rest. What makes it interesting is the realistic tone. As he’s said himself about his self-publishing project, he wanted to give unpublished writers thinking about going the self-publishing route a better idea of what they could expect. He experimented so others could see what the upper limit would look like.

Cory reached best-selling success with Little Brother published by Tor, a traditional publisher, he has a well-followed website to promote his work, a strong online following through social media, and enough of a name to interest newspapers and magazines.

Here are some of the highlights however, the article should be read in full:

“Publishers generally know what they’re doing, and they’ve got well-tuned, semi-automated systems for getting readers to pay attention to books. They’ve had a lot of practice.Writers, by and large, haven’t. Not successful, established writers, and certainly not brand new, fresh-out-of-the-wrapper writers. It doesn’t really matter how much time you spend hanging around bookstores or browsing online stores, until you’ve marketed a book, you don’t really know how to market a book.”

“. . . like everyone doing something complicated for the first time, I dramatically underestimated how much work this would be. It’s not impossible, and it’s not horrible work – it’s challenging, exciting stuff, but it’s incredibly time consuming and it can be tough (and expensive – sending out hundreds of review copies ain’t cheap, but it was worth it, if only for the major feature inThe Wall Street Journal this garnered me).”

“I get a lot of e-mail from writers starting out who want to know whether it’s worth trying to get published by major houses. The odds are poor – only a small fraction of books find a home in mainstream publishing – and the process can be slow and frustrating.”

“And we’ve all heard about writers who’ve met with modest – or stellar – success with self-publishing. So why not cut out the middleman and go direct to readers?

There’s not a thing wrong with that plan, provided that it is a plan. Mainstream publishers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over decades learning and re-learning how to get people to care about the existence of books.”

“Getting people to care about the products of your imagination is a profound and infinitely complex task that will absorb as much attention as you give it.”

You can hear his interview about the process with Mur Lafferty on her podcast, I Should Be Writing (it starts at the 23 minute mark). You can find Cory online at his personal site and you can follow him on Twitter @doctorow.

Have you self-published a book? Have you thought about it? Do you work at a publishing house and have any insider insight for authors? Comments are open.

And now for what’s caught my eye this week.

The Curfew by Jesse Ball
Jesse Ball is both a novelist and poet, and incredibly eloquent when speaking about both: you should listen to his interview on KCRW’s Bookworm for proof. In The Curfew the government is overthrown one night while ordinary citizens sleep. The world they wake up to is frightening—there is war, secret police, and random violence. In the midst of all this, a mother is taken and it’s up to her husband and young daughter to carry on quietly, keeping their head down. That is, until the husband, urged on by an old friend who claims to have a lead, tries to find his wife.

Life with Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier
Life with Mr. Dangerous is the story of 27-year-old Amy who’s a bit down on her luck. She hates her job, her not-so-great boyfriend just dumped her, and she can’t get a hold of her best friend so instead, she spends her time watching the cartoon show Mr. Dangerous. This graphic novel is a mixture of daydreams and reality.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Boneshaker is a steampunk novel set in an alternate 1880s America where an inventor, commissioned by Russians, came up with a machine that could mine through Arctic ice at the hopes of getting to the gold said to be below. Unfortunately, he destroyed downtown Seattle, unearthing a gas line that turned everyone who breathed the air into zombies. Fifteen years later, the late inventor’s son is determined to clear his father’s name. Earlier this year she spoke with the Functional Nerds podcast about urban fantasy, publishing, and writing.

Le Morte D’Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table by Thomas Malory
King Arthur “ is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur’s story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians.” (Wikipedia). It seems that many pop culture stories, whether they be in print or on the screen stem from Thomas Malory’s inventive tales. Sometimes it’s worth going to the source.

Written by Gabrielle

September 8, 2011 at 5:57 am

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