– by Rick Harsch
Yesterday I responded to a blog on promoting books by saying that Instagram was full of great and generous readers, or something like that, and a certain Mr. Deckard asked me to write a blog post about this observation. However, since I can’t separate my experience on Instagram from that on Goodreads and Youtube, I’m just going to say what I have to say about all three.
For purposes of diminishing the onrushing obscurity, let me define the period I am referring to generally about the conditions for writers in the US to post World War II. This allows me to refer to the generally abysmal state of affairs for US writers and include the sufferings of such talents as William Gaddis and Chandler Brossard, among about 73 million others. This is important because even as the pyramid of publishing from, say, Hillary Clinton (7 million dollar advance in 2001) down to where most of us toil among greater numbers each year, becomes more bottom bloated and pointy topped, writers in the US today are not worse off in every way than writers were in the 1940s and 1950s.
Read about Gaddis. Read about Brossard. Writers then were under the same pressure to produce money as they are today. It was easier to get a first book published, but at the same time a poorly selling first book could bury a writer. These days many great US writers are being ‘rediscovered’ and there is even a press specializing in crowdfunding such authors.
On to Instagram. Like many writers, I am on social media reluctantly. I hate facebook; I was persuaded to join over ten years ago, tried it for two weeks, decided it was a waste of time, and I quit. Then I published a book in Slovenia in English and decided I had to be on Facebook to push the book. Facebook wasn’t very good for that then, and it isn’t now. But I am still on it because it doesn’t hurt.
Strangely, goodreads (must I capitalize everything?) exists, a place where people can keep track of their books. That seems a strange notion to me. My books are on my shelves, here around me. I have no need to keep track of them. If they were dogs, I would probably need some kind of system to care for them, but they are books, and they need only rest on the shelves. Yet millions around the world engage in book organizing on goodreads. Why? It must be the social aspect. On goodreads you have people gathered in order to discuss books, be involved in bookish matters, engage with others about books. So I joined goodreads. It is not terribly dynamic, but if you are writing you should set up a page there and communicate generously with strangers. Goodreads is easy because you can check the track record of other writers and readers and judge who you want to ‘befriend’.
So, having several books published, I joined goodreads and participate to some small degree.
The major change in my social media behavior came when through a series of circumstances, I had to pull my book The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas from its publisher because he kept missing deadlines. The fifth deadline was going to coincide with a Youtube ‘booktube’ artist named Chris Via, whose channel is called Leaf by Leaf. He’s as good as a reviewer gets, yet he is not beholden to anyone. I can’t really say how he got onto my books, but he did two great videos of two of my novels, and it was clear that he was gaining enough in followers that his review could make or break my book. His review of Eddie Vegas came out in late May of 2020, and, coincidentally, I sold my last copy to a watcher of his channel today. The book has been bought by Zerogram Press, an excellent mid-size press that has published Steven Moore and the extraordinary Novel Explosives , by Jim Gauer, their chief editor. The next version of Eddie Vegas will be out in June 2022.
When I pulled the books (I had two coming out) back in April 2020, I decided to borrow money and print the books in Slovenia, where I live and where I’ve had several books translated and published, with the help of a former publisher. The short version: I had to make up a press title, chose corona\samizdat because corona was necessitating lower prices and samizdat meant I could made Eddie Vegas a samizdat book, not for sale in the US officially so I could still publish it with…well, as it turns out Zerogram. During this period I was led to believe it would be a good idea to join Instagram. There I found that Chris Via had a presence, as did many of his followers, and I also found that there is a network of every kind imaginable to engage with. Most of these people are on goodreads, too, but fewer, and most of them are on to the relatively new practice of booktubing. What I’m gettting at is that there is a nexus of readers and writers that has a vibrant interlacing presence on goodreads, Instagram, and Youtube.
My press decided to grow as a non-profit after my colleague and friend died and when I decided to publish people I knew deserved it, as well as to retrieve from the past books of my own that had been ignored or faded to near oblivion. David Vardeman is a great writer I have known for 30 years, who has never stopped writing even though before corona\samizdat published him he had never had a book out. Now he has three, and the reviews may not be legion but they are all very positive. Many consider him one of the outstanding modern writers. I can’t logically refrain from discussing my press ( http://www.coronasamizdat.com ) because this process I am struggling to describe, which consists of sharing generously and paying attention to currents of literature, has yielded extraordinary results for the press, and without this nexus, such would not be the case. We have two of the best current Canadian writers published, one of the best Portuguese, a couple deceased writers, and some excellent writers who may never have had a chance if we had not come to know each other. The thing is, there is a great deal of talent out there, but for every great potential writer, there are 398 ways of destroying his or her career and spirit. C\S has published 30 excellent books in 19 months, non-profit, and the list of 2022 books is already between 15 and 20. And that’s with a policy of refusing submissions. The reason I have this policy, besides the lack of interest in reading as much as I would have to to do a proper job, is that I don’t want to be an arbiter who influences anyone’s writing life. This is not disingenuous, though of course if I select a book that comes to my attention I am influencing a writer’s life: the thing is, writers have to find their way, and no matter how much energy I put into publishing, my own efforts change nothing for the majority of writers in the English language.
I have found in about a year and a half on Instagram a lot of talented people including the person who does the typesetting for my press, and several who have done covers. Meantime, I have been able to follow trends in literature and writing, and engage with people I feel are worth the time to befriend in this odd new way this machine has devised. A great deal of this occurs through finding booktubers. And as Chris Via is extremely busy, let me suggest Noah Clemons, whose sight is called Everyong_who_who_reads_it_must_converse. Noah is a good reviewers, not quite Via’s caliber, but very good, but more importantly he is extremely conscious of creating and promoting a community. C\ S’s best novel, and bestselling, is called America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: a Diagnostic . The books was written beginning Sept. 28 2020, and published on May 17, 2021. Noah was interviewing me, the author, and the illustrator, as early as January. He loved the whole idea and loved being a part of promoting it.
So, my suggestions are to get involved with these three sites. Find people like @piobald_puffpuff (believe it or not) on instagram, W.D. Clarke at goodreads, Noah on Youtube, and you will soon be invovled in a literary community. There is no map to ‘success’, but I think the author of Cactus Boots , Phillip Freedenberg (eraserheaddad on Instagram), would agree that the point IS community, not success, or that community is success. I could write a long blog on every aspect of publishing tactics, and most would be discouraging. I have nothing discouraging to say about this vague way forward. The US is despite many countersigns alive with book readers, writers, reviewers.
Titles By Rick Harsch