"The self-publishing world is certainly changing," Tim Anderson will tell you. "And it will continue to gain more respect [if] more quality self-published books are out there getting noticed."
Anderson, 38, is a poster boy for self-publishing. After years of working with an agent and struggling to publish his memoir, Tune In Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries, Anderson took matters into his own hands. Earlier this year, he self-published his book—a comic "new gay, left-handed, diabetic travel memoir"—through Amazon's CreateSpace. We called it "laugh-out-loud funny" in our review (page 22).Without self-publishing, you probably wouldn't know anything about Amderson.
"It's kind of funny," Anderson says. "Even if I had gotten a book deal... who knows if I would have been interviewed."
Back in 1999, Anderson—now a project editor at book packager MTM Publishing—was stuck in a rut in hometown Raleigh, N.C. He was working three jobs and suffering from wanderlust. His solution was to move to Japan. "I basically needed a kick in the pants, which is what I gave myself by seeking out a job in Tokyo and then forcing myself onto that plane," he says.
That kick in the pants was also the seed of Tune In Tokyo. Although Anderson had planned to work on another book in Japan, he soon realized that the stories he needed to write were the ones he was living. In Tokyo, Anderson—who always wanted to be a writer—outlined and began writing Tune In. When he returned to the U.S., he finished the book, got an agent—Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary management—and revised his manuscript three times. Tune In began making the rounds of publishers. Rejections followed.
"We got a lot of encouraging responses, but no deal," Anderson says.
Eventually, Reid stopped sending Tune In to editors. And while Anderson started writing a new book, he couldn't shake the need to see his memoir in print. "I absolutely knew there was an audience for it," he says.
So Anderson signed on with
CreateSpace, had the manuscript proofed, handled the layout and design himself, and—for less than $400—sent his book out into the world. "I ultimately decided, What the hell, screw the gatekeepers, I'll do it myself," Anderson says. "I guess it [was] a renegade move in a way. Self-publishing is a great way for authors... to take the bull by the horns."
Anderson is quick to point out that self-publishing is not without its drawbacks. Self-published books remain marginalized. And if the lines between publishing and self-publishing are beginning to blur, the stigma of self-publishing remains, although several self-published books that have sold respectably have gone on to find traditional publishers.
"I'm not going to say that I don't care that Tune In Tokyo wasn't picked up by a publisher," Anderson admits. "I'm still really bummed about it."
Additionally, without a distributor, he adds that it's been difficult to get his memoir stocked in bookstores. "It's great to have the book available to buy online, but there's no beating the visibility you get from having the book on the shelves," says Anderson, who has become something of a guerrilla marketer: he sneaks copies of Tune In Tokyo onto bookstore shelves and inserts promotional bookmarks into bestsellers.
To authors considering self-publishing, Anderson—who is currently working on another memoir and also a novel about drag queens in space—stresses the importance of editing, layout, and design.
"One reason self-publishing gets such a bad rap is because, besides not spending enough time and thought on good design and layout, authors misguidedly think their manuscripts are already perfect and need no further input," he says. "Good editing is part of the process. The bottom line for any book is still quality. [Authors] shouldn't forget that a self-published book should do its best to look like a professionally published book."
Adam Frank Boretz is a freelance journalist and fiction writer. He lives in Brooklyn.