Why I Self-Published My Thesis

Ready for a bullshit post about my “feelings”?? Some hardcore navel-gazing? Here we go!

I wrote a book. Actually it’s a collection of short stories. Whatever, same difference. All you need to know is I wrote a thing and, eventually, I self-published the thing.

Back in the day, you’d have to spend money to get your books printed and bound and shipped to you. I never saw much value that. Still don’t. But digital publishing for e-readers? Count me in.

A lot of people rag on self-publishing. I know this because before the days of Kindle Direct publishing, I used to be one of those judgmental assholes. I used to think if your work was good enough someone would publish your stories or give you a book deal. And sure, there are those writers who are so damn good they automatically get noticed and published. But, more often, your work needs to fit a certain style. You need to fit the voice of the journal you’re contributing to, or fit the publisher’s image. Your subject matter needs to be in line with what’s considered “serious” and “literary”. You need to SAY SOMETHING IMPORTANT ABOUT THE HUMAN CONDITION through as many metaphors as possible. I’m not one of those writers. I never have been.

When I went to grad school to get my master’s in creative writing, I thought that meant something about my talent. I thought it meant that I was good, that I’d found the fast track to “awesome writer” and I jumped aboard with a smile on my face. I got accepted to an MFA program! I’m so cool! Look at me! Except…a lot of people get accepted to MFA programs. A lot of schools will let delusional folks pay a lot of money to workshop stories for two to three years. What they don’t tell you is that if you never do anything with those stories that MFA program doesn’t mean fuck anything.

The things I didn’t know before going to grad school could fill several encyclopedias. The first thing I didn’t know – If you’re really good, like the next David Foster Wallace good, you’ll get accepted into a program that pays you. You’ll get a stipend. Tip number 1 through 9999 – DON’T GO TO GRAD SCHOOL UNLESS THEY PAY YOU TO DO IT.

I attended a grad school that focused a lot on the arts and entertainment. Going in, I had planned to write screenplays and spec scripts and pilots so I’d be well prepared for when I went to Hollywood. I thought that there would be some crossover between my program and the media arts program. Perhaps I could partner with a filmmaker/director – I’d write the script and they’d make it into a movie. I saw a lot of potential for a partnership like that. Imagine my surprise when I learned there was no interaction between the “writing” program and the “media arts” program. My husband was in the media program – they had a completely separate screenwriting class with a completely different instructor than we had in my program. I found that counterproductive.

Yes, I could have chosen to write a screenplay for my thesis instead of the collection of short stories I eventually decided on. But that meant I’d have to take the one and only screenwriting class over and over and over again like one of my classmates who had chosen to do a screenplay for her thesis. That sounded less than ideal so I went back to short stories.

In grad school, I felt lost. I’d never felt as unsure of my work or unsure of myself as a writer. Maybe it was because I was forced to examine my work in a way I never had before. Or maybe because I ran face first into a class divide I’d never experienced before and I felt constantly judged and uncomfortable. I worked a full time office gig throughout grad school because I had no other choice but to work. Taking out loans for living expenses was not an option for me (though I would be chided by the head of my program for not doing so. This was before the 2008 crash and before the media started talking about the student loan crisis so I’d just like to say – HA! Fucker. Told you.). So I worked. Maybe my writing suffered because of it, maybe it didn’t. Maybe my career prospects suffered, and maybe they didn’t. I can’t say.

Grad school wasn’t all bad. So many things happened to me in my life that would never have happened to me had I attended another school.  I met my husband because he heard me mention the name of the school while we were both at a comedy club. My current manager called me for an interview after he saw the school’s name on my resume. Getting accepted to grad school finally provided me a reason to move out of the flyover state I grew up in. Once I moved to Boston, I wrote and performed sketch comedy for a few years.

I graduated with a collection of short stories in one hand and a college loan bill in the other. After graduation, as I waited for my husband to finish his program, I submitted my stories to every journal that had literary merit. I submitted to any place I felt my work fit. Then, finally, I submitted to any place that was accepting submissions. I was published by an online literary journal, but that was it. I felt I needed a new batch of stories and set about crafting something new. I hit a wall.

Every idea I had was terrible. I might be excited about an idea one day but the moment I sat down to work my brilliant idea had turned into the stupidest idea any human as ever had. Ideas I thought I could work with became vapor. I had no ideas, no thoughts, no talent. Everything I wanted to write was passed through a “literary” sieve. Would a fancy journal want this? Could I get this into a collection? Would anyone notice this? Nothing ever made it through.

I moved to LA, cranked out a spec script or two, and found out that no agent in town responds to unsolicited queries. I applied for writer’s residency programs with every studio in town. I tried to get writer’s assistant jobs, jobs at talent agencies, jobs reading scripts. I submitted my work to contests. Every damn thing those How to Make it in Hollywood books tell you to do, I tried. Nothing happened.

Though I didn’t hate my spec scripts, I know that the work itself wasn’t strong enough to get noticed (if anyone read them at all). I couldn’t do what so many writers in this town have done before me – press on contacts or have a friend of a friend help me out. I’m not a people person and I definitely don’t ask others for help. It’s not my thing. Plus, I had turned 30. “30” is code for “way too fucking old to be of use” in Hollywood speak.

It was depressing to realize I’d never set out to do what I wanted to do. Sitcom writer? Nope. Published author? Not happening. Every day run of the mill desk jockey? Apparently that’s more my speed. Knowing the traditional channels to a writing career had failed – that was freeing. It gave me the permission I needed to be my own person, literary voice or employability be damned. If you want proof of this shift, just read the first few entries of this blog compared to the last. Those early entries were an attempt to be as palatable and as employable as I could possibly be. They’re boring as fuck.

Being as completely out of fucks as I am, I decided that I’m no longer trying to get validation from anyone. Now I’m just going to try to entertain myself. And if that means writing fan fiction about characters fucking until they can’t walk, that’s what it means. If that means writing a 1300+ word swear-filled rant about making semi-palatable foodstuffs, then that’s what it means. This is who I am. This is what I do. Don’t like it? That’s cool. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. But I’m not going to pretend anymore.

That’s what I did in grad school. Pretend. Pretend that I could be the next cool worldly writer with a lot to say. Unless “cool worldly writer with a lot to say” means writer with a lot of thoughts about Batman or drag queens or trashy TV shows or cocks, then yeah, I’m your girl. I’ve got plenty of stuff to say about those topics but no one will ever publish those pieces in the New Yorker. And that’s ok.

This is my really long winded way of explaining why I self-published my thesis on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Sorry iPad users, until I get money to buy an ISBN, you will have to settle for my swearing on WordPress, Tumblr, or Twitter (a.k.a my glorified Tumblr).

I don’t know if this collection is what I would write today if I were back in grad school. (Not that the collection is bad. It’s not – it’s totally worth the $2.99 I’m asking for it! You should buy/read it!) Honestly, I don’t know if I would go to graduate school again if I knew then what I know now. It’s hard to say. I sure would love to not be carrying all this student loan debt so the husband & I could consider buying a house. But I probably wouldn’t have met him so, you know. Besides, he’s got cancer now so you just deal with the shit life throws at you, be it medical debt or educational debt. We’re fucked no matter what, might as well enjoy what we’ve got.

People are going to judge me for self-publishing. I could not give less of a shit. I’m not going to pretend I’m an “author” – I uploaded a word doc to Amazon. Formatting the book, picking out the picture, and uploading the word document took an afternoon. It wasn’t hard. I assume being an actual author is hard.

I know there are plenty of film makers and writers and musicians who have taken to the web when all else fails. I’m not going to pretend I’m something special or something different – I’m not. I’m just tired of trying to get people with power and money to notice me. I’ve never been good at standing out. That’s probably why I was single through all of college (that and the fat ass).

In no way am I advocating for other people to self-publish their work – be it writing or music or film – unless they want to. You do you. This is the path I’ve chosen. Let it lead where it may.

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One thought on “Why I Self-Published My Thesis

  1. Pingback: Shameless Plug for my Book | Last Ditch Effort

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