I recently started writing a novella called “Things I Do When I’m Awake.” It’s essentially a stylized mood piece in the horror erotic vein. When the title popped into my head one morning, the basic concept quickly formed in my head. All writers have a different type of creation process. This is typical of mine.
I didn’t have much of a plot in mind – and still don’t – so while I could “envision” the piece in my head in terms of aesthetics, I didn’t really know where to begin the actual narrative. In fiction, “atmosphere” only goes so far. Readers want a story.
That part is coming along now because when I was staring at the blank page, I had the idea to leaf through the stack of typewritten manuscripts sitting behind my computer, all from around 25 years ago or more.
While I have deemed these manuscripts as not worthy of publication by my own standards, there are passages here and there that I am still very proud of.
So, I began typing them onto the blank computer page in front of me, so I’d least preserve the original “analog” material in digital format.
To my delight, I discovered that two completely different opening passages from two totally different works – a novella called “Rain in the Night” and a novel called “Neon Rose” – actually synced up with a little tweaking, since both evoked the sound of a train, oddly enough.
I pulled that thread and viola, I had the first few pages of my new book, to be published later this year or early next via my own imprint.
Now, I’m certainly not suggested you exhume your old high school English assignments and rework them for publication. Unless, of course, they’re sheer genius and deserve to be shared with the world at large. You should probably get a second and third opinion on that, though, before proceeding.
My only advice is to make sure your old work is of the same quality as your current work, so you’re not undermining your own brand name by issuing substandard material with your byline on it. Indie writers are solely in charge of their own literary reputations, so be careful about whatever you decide to put out there, no matter its age. Or yours, for that matter.
You also want to steer away from cutting and pasting bits of your previously published work into a piece being pitched as wholly original. That could seriously backfire. If it's for a freelance assignment, that type of unimaginative laziness is often prohibited, though sometimes you are permitted to resell an entire article to another publisher, once your deal with the current buyer is complete. Read your contract.
When I first decided to self-publish back in 2010, I started with a brand new novel, A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, the first 35 or so pages of which I’d actually written back in 1998 before getting sidetracked by my new full-time career as a film programmer/impresario.
A lot had changed in the world around me – and inside of me – during those 12 years, and the resulting novel proved what a circuitous path it had been. It turned out a lot more warped than it began, but also far more interesting, in my humble opinion. In fact, it remains my favorite of my own books.
After Mermaid I decided to finally publish my very first novel, Chumpy Walnut, completed back in 1982 when I was only 19, but which my New York agent at the time found impossible to sell due to its unconventional nature. Ditto another experimental novel, written entirely in dialogue, called Lavender Blonde, which was actually my agent’s favorite of all the unsold manuscripts I wrote during our long but fruitless association.
When I eventually self-published both of these old novels via Lulu, I rewrote large chunks of them, discarded others, and added brand new passages so the work would seem fresh not only to their audience, but to me, as the author.
Famed “Czar of Noir” author and Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller considers them to be my best novels. I’m very proud of them, though they’re still proving tough to market.
I also self-published another old novel, a comedic crime saga called Down a Dark Alley, via Lulu. (I now publish via CreateSpace, by the way, like most small presses.) It’s dedicated to my friend Brian Hill, sadly deceased now, because it was his favorite of my novels, and he was the one who encouraged me to self-publish years before it became trendy.
While it’s very gratifying to have the power to publish your own work, rather than letting it rot away in a drawer (or on a flash drive), it’s very important to be as discerning as possible when you’re your own acquisitions editor.
The downside to that is you have to do all the work yourself – except for the stuff you subcontract, like cover art, interior design, and copyediting. The promotion is all on you, though.
But that’s also the upside. Take advantage of it, but don’t abuse it. You’re are the steward of your own career, and whatever cargo you’re carrying throughout your stormy journey is entirely yours to toss overboard, or deliver safely to its proper destination.
Just make sure to protect yourself from pirates while you're out there.
PHOTO: SETH SAWYERS