Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

A Project

An interesting project has finally come up and started rolling.

As I think I’ve said before, I’m part of a writers’ group that meets at a local arts center every Sunday. It’s a nice group of people. We have fun, and once in a while I actually produce something worthwhile (“Last Man Standing”, published this past summer, was born in my writers’ group, as I think I have said).

The director of the arts center has been talking for at least a year now about trying to publish our work in a book. As it stands, we’ve already had ‘featured writers of the month’ in the newsletter the center puts out. The book idea has largely not gone anywhere–we are not publishers, by and large, and she’s too busy. So for the last year or so the talk would surface from time-to-time, but it wasn’t going anywhere. Until now.

Yesterday we sat down with a person who is a new employee of the center, a young lady who has a freshly-inked piece of sheepskin in the field of creative writing and publishing, and is in charge of making the book happen. She handed out a production schedule, we talked a bit about what needed to happen, and when it needed to happen by, we talked contracts and rights–and then I had to leave for a potluck dinner for the Catbird’s Cross Country team.

I have to say, I have mixed feelings about the venture.

On the one hand, it’s always nice to claim publication, isn’t it? This will not be a paid gig; I will not make any money off this, but that’s okay, even though I want people to pay for my writing. Also, this will be a self-published book. As of now, our Editor-in-Chief is looking at Lulu for printing. As all of us will be involved in the project, this is a great opportunity for me to learn about the process, should I ever choose to self-publish. It’s a low risk situation for me, submitting a few short pieces that likely wouldn’t see the light of day anywhere else, anyway. And, of course, it’s a way to show my support for what I think is a great organization.

But I am the doubting writer, so I have some doubts.

First, I am a notorious non-completionist when it comes to writers’ circle. Most of what I write in the circle are fragments, bits and pieces of things picked up from here and there. Some of them are fun, some of them could be good, but most of them are not. The things that really grab me, the ones that I come home excited about, and actually do more with, are things that I aim at publication. And it often takes me time to get there. “Last Man” was initially drafted in about a week. It then sat for over a year before I dusted it off and started playing with it again. Yesterday, I printed out five pieces that I thought were kind of fun, that I thought had potential for this book. Two of them were pieces I submitted here and there, the other three were things that I liked well enough, but never polished to a high shine. To get all of them ready, I’m going to need to spend more time with them, and time is in shorter supply than it had been.

Second, I do have to say I worry a bit about quality. There were eight of us around the table yesterday, most of whom have been in this group for at least a year, some for longer. The skill level varies greatly. I’m no Tolstoy, but I do consider myself one of the better writers in the group (Yes, I actually said that; can you believe it?). At the risk of sounding like a complete ass, I worry a bit about having my work surrounded by things that may not be as good, quite frankly. There’s a fear that someone may buy this book, read a story or two, and throw it against the wall–after putting all the contributors’ names down on a blacklist. There, I said that, too. Could this hurt me in the long run?

No. I suppose that’s my fear for the day, my doubting self coming up to the surface. This will be an interesting look at the book production process from the inside, and now that I’ve vented my fears, I can move forward.

8 Responses

  1. Hi JeffO. Powerful post this morning. I understand your feelings because I've been in similar situations. My main question is, Where would this book be sold? Just at the art center, or would you try to get it into your local book stores, etc? I kind of agree with your thoughts, too, about people reading a story or two that doesn't come across very good, and so they don't read the entire book. How many writers/chapters will there be? And as far as Lulu being the publisher, I've heard they are more expensive than Createspace, from more than one source. That's all I got for ya! And most of all, though….I say good luck with whatever you choose!!

  2. It's a legitimate concern. Even so, I wouldn't worry about it. It's a short story in an anthology put out by a local writing group. It's being done to showcase the efforts of the group, and you're part of that group. Find something you're proud of and submit it. Plus, like you said, the learning experience is the payment you'll get for participating. 🙂

  3. I would hope that even with this project, you'll have someone editing the work. One of my writers group also put a book out (I did not submit because I didn't have anything along the theme given) and they had a select group who did the editing. Could it have been edited better? Probably. But they were careful in not just taking any piece (as our fearless leader always states – "they didn't take mine!"). Maybe you can bring up editing and then offer to do some of it! Or suggest making it a contest, and only the best stories are selected.

  4. I'm going to add comments down here today, rather than individually. First, thank you all, your input is always appreciated.

    -Becky: It will primarily be sold (I think) at the arts center, though we may also be able to get it in a couple of local bookstores (we actually do have a couple!). Part of why we're looking at Lulu is because I believe they already have arrangements in places with Amazon, B&N, etc., but it's not cast in stone yet, all options are on the table.

    -L.G.–Yes, that's where my thinking is going. It will be fun, it will be an experience, we'll all have to make sure we put our best work forward. And it was fun, also, going back through 'the archives' as it were, and finding more there I liked than I remembered. And I doubt that agents or editors are going to grab it and blackball me, not unless it's my stories that are awful.

    -Stacy–actually a concern for me is the editing. Much of this is going to be done 'in house' or 'in circle', so to speak. I'll be curious what the project leader has to say in two weeks time when all submissions are due, and I'll be curious how she handles cutting work from the anthology.

    Thanks again, everyone!

  5. I can understand why you would be worried about that last one, but overall I think it would be a great little experience for you. Maybe the fact that you'll have a chance to showcase your work will encourage you to finish off a few more pieces, even if they're not up to publishing standards elsewhere. All the best with this!

  6. I think you have valid doubts. I would, as others have said, go with it though because it is still a publication credit. My writers group puts out an anthology of short stories every so often. I've only been a member for a year so I've never participated but I know they take it very seriously and work very hard to make sure the entire thing is filled with quality work. There are editors and proofreaders, etc. I read several of the stories in the latest one and there were certainly stories I enjoyed more than others but they were all well-written by any standard and on the whole I thought it was pretty cool and a worthwhile project.

  7. I think the pros outweigh the cons. You'll be published and it's a great way to showcase your work. Perhaps some intensive critiquing could take place to make sure everyone's pieces are up to a certain standard, as long as no one felt that was treading on their toes. Will it be published electronically? That will give a wider reach than your local bookshops. Best of luck!

  8. Nick, Lisa and Bonnee–Thanks for the comments. It's been good to hear of other writing groups doing similar projects. When I get down to it, this project can only help, not hurt, and I'm looking forward to it. The editing will be interesting: we're a pretty 'soft' and supportive group in terms of critique; actual editing can be a pretty big eye opener. Thanks again!

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