O Me of Little Faith

More writing-related questions. Let’s get right to them:

What is your opinion on self-publishing?

Just a few years ago, self-publishing was how writers got their books printed when the books weren’t good enough to get printed “for real” in the traditional sense. It carried a bit of a stigma — bypassing official channels — and most of the writing and publishing world looked down on it. It was expensive, too. But that stigma is decreasing more and more, and so is the cost, and self-publishing is becoming a viable alternative. Thanks to publish-on-demand places like BookSurge and Lulu, it’s easier than ever.

But it’s still hard. Unless something crazy happens, your self-published book probably won’t sell very much, or get the attention of an agent or publisher. Unless you’re a good designer or willing to pay one, it won’t look like a “real” book. Unless you get a pro to edit it or you’re a better writer than most professional writers, it won’t read like a real book, either.

So self-publishing is easier and more acceptable than ever, but I’d still only use it as a last resort if you’ve tried all options for your book — or if you have the kind of book that will sell in a niche market and you’re willing and able to sell it like a maniac.

But don’t take my word for it, because I don’t know too much about it. Here’s a great overview by a guy who’s actually done it: 25 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing.

I’m reading a book right now that was self-published. It’s called The Gospel According to Chubby, by Jeremy Rochford. I’m pretty sure he wrote it intending to self-publish from the beginning. It’s very well done and a compelling read, but I keep finding myself thinking, why didn’t he take this to a publisher first?

How do you feel about e-books?

I don’t have any problem with e-books, and am not the kind of writer who goes on and on about the textile value of a book in your hand, the smell of paper, the death of real reading, and all that stuff. To survive, the book industry will have to evolve, and e-books are the next step. As the Kindle continues to improve — and as the iPad does whatever it’s going to do — we’ll see the market for e-books expand. This is good for publishers and writers in the long run, because e-books are cheaper to produce and distribute. iTunes was good for musicians. It can be good for writers, too.

I still prefer to read a book the old-fashioned way, but that’s probably because I don’t yet have a Kindle. My Pocket Guides are available for Kindle, by the way. Pocket Guide to the Bible, Pocket Guide to the Afterlife, Pocket Guide to Sainthood

What’s your favorite type of work? (Melanie)

I love having written a book, but I can’t say I adore the process of writing books, especially since most of mine are very intense when it comes to research. Don’t take this as me complaining about getting to write books. I know I’m living the dream of a lot of aspiring writers. But writing research-heavy books under deadline, when you already have a full-time job, is mentally and physically taxing, to say the least. It’s enjoyable, but it’s a weird kind of enjoyable, like running a marathon.

I like finishing work — checking things off a list — and that’s one reason copywriting appeals to me. It involves a lot of small projects. I can work on a brochure or website FAQ and finish it within a short period of time. Writing print ads are a creative challenge, and TV and radio commercial scripts are fun, too. I love writing for Twitter, both personally and for client work (yes, I actually have a couple of clients for whom I ghost-tweet).

So, short-form work pushes a lot of my buttons. Books take months to complete, and as a result it’s hard to keep my intensity and enjoyment level up. But I’d much rather look back at a year and say “I wrote that book in 2009” than look back and say “I wrote 2,360 tweets in 2009.” Call me crazy.

How do you not get ripped off when publishing a book? (Nicodemus at Nite)

I’m not sure I completely understand this question. Does it mean “why do you continue writing books when you make so little money at it?” That’s how I take it, and it’s a legitimate question. The truth is that only a very small percentage of writers make a good living from writing books. I am not within that percentage, but I continue to write. It takes hours and hours of commitment, and I make way more per hour as a copywriter than I do as a book writer. So why do I do it?

Part of it has to do with my identity. I won’t lie: I like identifying myself as a writer, because it sets me apart. It impresses people, even though most of them have never heard of my books. It helps me get clients, too, in my regular job. When a business asks for samples of my work, I can give them a book. Or 9 books. It makes for a nice addition to the resume. And there are other benefits, too: because I’ve written these books, I get invited to speak in interesting places. I’ve gotten to be on DVDs and cable documentaries. I get to do radio and magazine interviews. Once, I almost got my own TV show gig out of it. Fun stuff.

And there’s always the potential. The hope that someday I’ll hit it big and writing books can be my full-time job and I can roll around in pools of money like Scrooge McDuck. (Shoutout: Bryan.)

But mostly, I write books because I like to do it. It gives me a sense of fulfillment. It’s become part of who I am — like competing in triathlons or running long distances. Some people see the time and effort I put into it and the meager reward it brings, and they think I’m crazy. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The best-lived lives are the ones that look a little bit crazy.

Or maybe I’m totally misreading the question and it’s about getting ripped off in another way? I don’t know. If I missed the point, Nicodemus, let me know.

Can you juggle?


Assuming you could use only five condiments the rest of your life and they were stored in a fresh and never-ending supply in one finger each on one of your hands, which condiments would you choose and which finger would they be stored in?

Thumb: Salsa. Is salsa a condiment? I hope it is, because it’s a staple of my diet. It would have to be fresh salsa, though. Homemade. Not that stuff in a jar at the grocery store.

Pointer finger: Miracle Whip Light. If I eat a sandwich, wrap, or hamburger, you can bet it will have the tangy zip of Miracle Whip (Light).

Middle finger: Because you have to have ketchup for french fries or burgers. You just have to. In a pinch, it will even replace barbecue sauce.

Ring finger: Honey. Because I love honey on biscuits, toast, bread, crescent rolls, fruit, nuggets from Chick-Fil-A, and occasionally in hot tea.

Pinky finger: Syrup. I’m a fan of honey, but honey on waffles or pancakes instead of syrup is just wrong. I don’t need a ton of it, but a life without syrup is unimaginable.

And now I am filled with deep regret that I have no digits left for Louisiana Hot Sauce. If I were tied to these five fingers and these five condiments for the rest of my life, I would seriously consider plastic surgery so I could fit in the hot sauce. Maybe I could shoot it from my wrist?

(Thanks to my brother for asking me this question, which came from something he saw on Deadspin.)


If you want to answer the finger/condiments question for yourself, you go right ahead.

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