Only months ago and with what a genteel observer would call “some trepidation,” I ferrried over that garish, scary river into the world of independent publishing. I had no idea the landscape on the other side would turn out to be the equivalent of Dr. Parnassus’ Imaginarium, a magical free-for-all that is my idea of The Best Place To Be. It feels like the secret home of my chimerical, loner brain. I get to do things on my terms whether they work or not, and I love it! And at this point I feel that an acknowledgement of indie publishing’s keen-eyed, voluble and traditionally bearded Charon is in order.
Every writer with whom I initially chatted about publishing my backlist on Amazon whispered the same word. “Konrath.” “Have you read J. A. Konrath?” “Joe Konrath says…” I had no idea who or what “Konrath” was and wondered why everyone was whispering. Whispers are silvery little flags that mark the doorways to all things interesting. But this was just some guy who writes four books a year and blogs about arduously self-promoting his self-published books. “There are thousands of these people selling vitamins and weight-loss programs,” I thought. “This is not interesting.” And yet the whispers continued.
So I got Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and read it on my Kindle. I contributed to his twenty-something million hits by reading his blogs written subsequent to the book, which is an often-repetitive collection of blogs. And two things happened.
First, while I was appalled at his jokes and took exception to some of his opinions, there was no denying that he knew what he was talking about. I knew he knew because through seven traditionally published novels, I’d already been there. He leaves no stone on the floor of the writer’s world unturned, and he doesn’t pull any punches about what he sees. Honesty is always amazing, especially when it’s backed up by evidence.
Second, and this is the weird part, something about his style felt deeply and pleasantly familiar. Not in that, “He sounds like (name your talk show host, stand-up comic or inspirational speaker)” sense, but in something broader and more significant. That was puzzling.
Konrath’s passion for writing puts the rest of us to shame. He racked up over five hundred rejections but didn’t quit. He just supported a family by waiting tables and kept writing. When he finally landed an agent and saw his books in print, he sent seven thousand promos to libraries and toured close to six hundred bookstores in only a couple of months, signing whatever stock they had and aggressively charming customers who’d never heard of him. On his own dime. You have to admit, that says something about writing as a “vocation” in the original Latin meaning – “a calling.” And I have to admit, I’m impressed. In our time such vocational passions are not acceptable, have negative value and may be denigrated as forms of derangement. But that didn’t stop Konrath. It didn’t even slow him.
Now, as the paradigm-shift of e-publishing proceeds at astonishing speed, Konrath has evolved as its populist voice. Every day he posts his own and others’ impressive eBook sales figures, and predicts the imminent end of traditional, New York-based publishing. All evidence supports his contentions generally, and an exciting maelstrom of books, authors, reviewers, cover artists, technical specialists and interested observers swirls around the sudden freedom of everybody to publish. I don’t think Konrath ever wanted to be the populist voice of a paradigm shift; he just wants to sell his books. It is, however, seemingly not in his nature to just shut up and go off to a cabin in the woods somewhere and write. Instead, he wants to pull the rest of us along with him. And he does.
I might not have crossed that strange river in the absence of Joe Konrath’s voice. And this is where the weird thing comes in. Plowing through page after page of the Newbie’s Guide I felt the cadence of a chant as familiar as my own heartbeat. “Keep working, never give up, always be courteous and help others when you can.” However beamish, naïve, unrealistic and cloying on its surface, this is the chant of the heartland, of a thousand towns with a church at one end and a grain elevator at the other. It’s the conceptual pulse of a nation, the core American identity, and in our little writer’s niche therein, Joe Konrath is its bloody archetype. When I stumbled over the fact that he’s from Skokie, for crying out loud, it all made sense. Of course! I know this guy, grew up with that chant and acknowledge its resonance. Who doesn’t, underneath the veneer?
So thanks, Joe, for not even wanting to construct the phony mask of weary-yet-sophisticated resignation behind which writers sometimes learn to hide a passion for writing. You did good.
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