Self-Publishing Volume One


          NINETEEN STORIES BY JOSEPH VOELBEL                        BUSYZEN BOOKS © 2017


                      BUSYZEN BOOKS © 2017

Perhaps the best thing about a book is you don’t have to plug it in.
— Joseph Voelbel

Well, it started off with writing a few short stories. Then I wrote a few more. After about a year of this, I realized I was starting to develop a collection. Somewhere in the middle I named the collection, NINETEEN STORIES, from there I had an end goal, and the race was on. Over the next four years I carved out a short story here and there where I could, and kept bouncing them off my Father for edits, whom remained faithfully interested in my craft, and anyone else whom I could cajole into reading them. 

I got some really good feedback from some really smart people and it gave me hope. I realized that people do want to read me. My thoughts, dreams, imaginations, do matter. Seemingly, particularly for the forward pushing edge of our creative culture. Some of my best received compliments were from semi-famous songwriters, published poets, and even academics whom barely had time for anything, "creative". One friend, whom is an exceedingly talented singer-songwriter, said, that my story, "Harold", reminded him of Gregor Samsa, and the opening line of Kafka's, The Trial. I had put my finger on a blasé paranoia, a feeling which is not in the words themselves but hovers around them like a spirit, or a mood. 

Now, in January of 2017, I have completed NINETEEN STORIES. The project began back in 2012, when I wrote my first short story for the collection, entitled, "The Examination." It was loosely a Borgesian homage - spurred on by my reading of the The Babylon Lottery, and was a mystery wrapped in a puzzle portrayed through a mere few pages of words. I passed it around. It got some praise, some critique. An editor at Random House said it didn't have enough exposition, the very thing the story attempted to function without (as I mentioned it was a Borges homage). 

After some time, I realized that I had a base of about 50-100 people that would read my story simply because of who I am. Whether or not it was good was a side issue to the fact that people believed in my art. If it was good, (ahem, is good), I believe more people will find there way to it. This was the fuel that kept me moving in my writing career when nobody else seemed to care (as I know every writer must have a Kierkegaardian long night of the 'nobody cares about my' soul), and the only writing I made money on was developing language for other companies.  

I began to publish the stories individually, as I finished them, on Amazon. I put them up for .99 cents. I probably made, all told, 40-60 bucks from sales, after taxes. But, my readership far exceeded that marker. I sent each story for free to my mailing list of about 200+ people, maybe half to a third of them read it, and a quarter of those reviewed it. Most importantly, people saw my short stories on Amazon, and this in turn, gave them the perspective of me as an author, which I am, and which is significant in the cultivation of oneself as an artist. Also, rather importantly, having a dozen plus stories self-published on Amazon made me quite familiar with the self-publishing process, how to make covers and take good photos for them, and the importance of reviews in search ranks. An added bonus was the title of Amazon Author, and then later, Goodreads Author, both of which are verified. If you are going to start a marketplace for your book, it is important for the audience to know that you operate in the domain you say you operate in. These external confirmations of the fact that I was writing, re-enforced my image of myself as a writer, and the success it could carry. Both of these website credits helped push my personal website near the top of the cue when you search my name, and let the world out there know that I am writing, even if Random House isn't publishing (me). 

To publish each story individually was more of an SEO game, than a monetary one. I could care less (alright, not too much less), if someone wants to drop a dollar on my book. What I care about, is that someone went through that process to read me. The greatest obstacle in starting your own brand is shooting yourself in the foot with a price barrier that keeps a lot of people that might pay money for your work later (after they know they like it) from even checking it out in the first place. 

So, as I said, mostly, I just wanted a lot of words out there on the internet surrounding my name to be about books, writing, and literature. I hooked up my blog to my Amazon Author page, I released each story publicly on my Facebook Page, I got my buddies to like my stories on Goodreads, and Lo!, the SEO results started to pour in. This was achieved, and quite successfully.

To think today, in 2017, when I'm actually going to self-publish the full book for the first time, that I already have a well grooved template to sell it in, is exciting. This was provided with a modest amount of forethought and also spiked my motivation to finish each story. Another story up, and a general progression towards completion. Even in the end, if you change the sequencing, and continue to edit those published stories (which I have done), you can always update them with your new word files, and you've reaped the benefits of two plus years of that information being combed, backlogged, and cached on the web in association with your brand.  

If I were just now setting up an Author page on Facebook, Amazon or Goodreads, I don't think I would have the same kind of digital sales opportunities that I will be provided once I truly begin my marketing campaign. Having to launch into selling your book, without a market of interest that is at least percolating - or at the very least holding digital space - is tough. This time, I'm not selling on Amazon, though each story is available individually there, for a buck, still. This time, I'm taking all my readers, and asking them to come buy from me directly on my website, to receive the fully updated and final version of the entire collection. I'm covering the cost of printing the books, and will get all the money that comes in from any purchases of the final collection in print. 

I'm buying my self-published book in bulk on, they also have an offer where people can order it from and they will ship it to you, but since I live close to a Post Office, and prefer to have as much of the money from each purchase as possible, I'm buying a box of books for myself, and shipping them myself (plus this gives me the ability to offer autographed copies for a modest mark-up, and to personalize each mailed package, influenced by the notion that a new reader is a lifetime friend). Although, after the first limited edition print run, I may make it available for order from as well. Soon, I'm going to stage a book launch, and get a group of friends and readers together to listen to a few of my shorts be read aloud, and then have an opportunity to buy the book. Again, this is mostly about the spirit of the birth of the book, and not how many people will buy it.  

My secret hope is that the distribution of NINETEEN STORIES, may one day catch the eye of an respectable editor at a publishing house, who says, "Hey, let's see what else this guy has got?" Or perhaps even, "This was a small publishing run. Let's re-release it under our imprint." Either of these thoughts would mean a smashing success for my work. But simply finishing the process was my personal success, and that has occurred.  

Somewhere around the beginning of this journey I wrote in review of myself, "NINETEEN STORIES is at once a mystical and arcane collection of shorts." Such a pretentious statement may not in fact be accurate, but if I were to add, "at its heights", then perhaps, yes, that was true. Writing something brilliant is not easy, and yet most of my brilliant writing (if I have any) has flown out of me at a pace, and only required little structural and intention changes thereafter. That said some of my favorite shorts in this collection were mildly edited over four years. I seemed to have discovered that it is the brilliant idea which is hard to come by, while the execution of the idea is like taking notes on an experience you already had, or a movie you already saw (much like one of the shorts in this collection, "Tabacita, A Review", which critiques a movie that does not exist).   

NINETEEN STORIES is, holistically, Borgesian, that is inspired by the fashion of Jorge Luis Borges, a man who contained his own private metaphysics, a mathematical linguist, but perhaps more like one of Borges' many characters, whom carried their own neurosis, dreams, and worldviews. I like to think in its composition, that I was such a character. Its title is a nod to NINE STORIES, by J.D. Salinger, for the sheer simplicity of that title, and its identity solely as a numeric value, which always interested me, plus Salinger's fascination with the koan, or riddle, aligns. Also, as a Leo, I've a fascination with The Sun, of the Major Arcana, which is the 19th card (XIX) of the Tarot, connoting brightness and happiness, - I recall its popular image containing two young children, naked and happy, skipping up a hillside on a brightly lit day. Lastly, and not the least so, the numbers one through nine are in a way, the only numbers in the world, as zero is the absence of a number, and ten, eleven, twelve, etc., are just repetitions of the previous. In this fashion, NINETEEN is a kind of Alpha and Omega, that is, an A-Z, of sorts. The shortest short in the collection and longest title, "A Hagiographic Account of Sebastian Featherwood Delvatino", discusses its origins.

Today, my graphic designer (and best friend), will complete my cover, which I am profoundly pleased with. It contains a kind of visual onomatopoeia, which to me is a seldom practiced art. The cover itself is a clue, those whom wish to discover the meaning of the cover will find hints in the collection's first story. I leave it to you from there to see how deeply the mystery unravels, whilst looking into yourself off the reflection of my letters. 

There is a tremendous profundity in composing a sentence, reading it, and enjoying it. Such three things rarely streamline together. NINETEEN STORIES has been the scrupulous effort to cobble such sentences on top of one another, until enough had assembled that I could get away with calling it a story. If you're looking for galavanting fantasy, go back to J.K. Rowlings, if you've an interest in the scientific mystic, or the persistently impalpable, you may not be entirely unmoved by the pages herein. 

Today I'm compiling a list of bookstores to approach with my collection. I will begin in LA, and then expand from there. I'll leave you with this thought: Perhaps the best thing about a book is you don't have to plug it in.