By Akmed Khalifa
My first rejection letter convinced me. I would have to find another way of getting the manuscript I had worked on for three years into the hands of the reading public. Submitting it to publishing houses and waiting for their approval was not the way to go.
The idea of having to obtain someone else's approval before my work, my passion, could be seen in print -- and that it might take months or years to happen -- could end up being a deterrent to my writing at all.
Besides waiting to get an initial nod from a publishing company, there was the process of it all. I would be subjected to the dictates of the publisher's editorial expectations, scheduling, layout and cover design. It would mean handing over publishing rights. And working with a publisher could add years to the actual production of the manuscript.
Of course the benefits of having a publishing deal were attractive to me. Those things are part of why writers write. Money that is usually paid to writers as advances, wide distribution to major retailers, book tours and other marketing services loom large. But for the majority of us they remain as unreal as the fiction we write.
I'm not a control freak; the converse is usually true for me. Going with the flow and molding the outcome as I go is much more to my liking. But I'm a realist too, and that first rejection letter screamed "harbinger" directly into my eardrums.
I became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of handing over my work to strangers for development. My writing was my baby and I wasn't ready to abandon it on the doorstep of a publishing firm. I was not prepared to give it up for adoption to be raised by someone else. I wanted to nurture it, to hold its hand, to watch it board the school bus on the first day of class, to see it graduate from college and go off to join the world as an adult.
Then I discovered the world of self-publishing, on-demand printing firms, the outfits some call vanity publishers, who produced work that perhaps only the author was willing to pay for.
It would mean paying for everything, or doing much of it myself, including editing, proofreading, cover design, marketing (guerrilla marketing, out of the trunk of my car), and arranging book-signing parties in the homes of friends. If I could pay the costs I would be afforded the benefit of seeing my work in print in a self-determining period of time.
I wasn't interested in making millions of dollars or in producing a bestseller. If those things happened it would be great, but holding a printed copy of the book I produced was the reward of several years of self- expression. I could handle the stigma that self-published work often carried. Most of the books are never reviewed by critics, seldom reach the shelves of major retailers, and are viewed with disdain by much of the media.
I self-published my first book, which was memoir and creative non-fiction, several years ago. I was able to place it in a major retail bookstore in Pittsburgh, and the first printing sold out. That process convinced me to do the same with my second book, a multi-genre novel, due out in a couple of months.
Although I've had some of my poetry published, and a pinch of the work I've written as a playwright has been produced, I'm considering steps to self-produce these creative efforts as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed being both author and publisher of my first book. It allowed me to become involved in the entire creative development of my work and expanded my knowledge base and concept of the book-making and marketing industry.
I understood that by self-publishing my work I was guaranteeing that it would never make the Oprah Winfrey show -- but at least it could be read while watching Oprah. I am of the mind that unpublished manuscripts exist in the forest where no one reads. They have no voice. They are tied to the tree that falls when no one is around and make no sound.
Akmed Khalifa holds degrees from Metropolitan State University, studied as an artist in residence at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, and is a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Hamline University.