Imagine being on a roller coaster, climbing up that first long incline and, just before the cars lurch forward to test the bounds of your nerves and the laws of physics, someone calls out from the control panel, “By the way. Some of the track may be missing or damaged.”
That’s kind of what self-publishing is like.
I am never more nervous than when I click the “submit” button. The opportunities for fail are endless. Did I format it well? Did I send the write version from the piles of backups I keep? Did I undo any of my editor’s work? Did I miss some word because it wasn’t misspelled, but in the wrong place? Is it just simply going to suck?
About a week after any publication, I run every detail over in my head, wondering what (not if) I missed. Usually, it’s a week or so before that finally goes away.
But there is something worse. A month after I published my second short story collection, The Gears of Strange Machines, I was out mowing the lawn, contemplating the details of the first story in the book, “Empties”. This is one of the stories that established the tone and theme of the work more than any of the others. It was one I’d been happy with and that had genuinely creeped out one of my test readers which is what convinced me it needed to be front and center.
Amid the smells of gas and new cut greenery, it hit me, “It needed to be longer.”
If you go to the Amazon site and download the sample, “Empties” should be available in full. You’ll see there’s a point where things get real and that point is one that I kept asking myself if it felt rushed. Suddenly, I realized how I could have added about half a page to the story and have made it so much better.
Being that it’s self published, I could pull a George Lucas and go rewrite the story, upload it and pretend that nothing happened. The 100 or so people who’ve downloaded the collection would be the only ones who would know, and then only if someone discussed the story with them. I could totally turn Anakin’s ghost into Hayden Christensen. Why not?
The reason why not wears fishnets, actually. I went to go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show the weekend before Halloween this year and something hit me, aside from the fact that half of the audience had 1) never seen the picture and 2)could have been my children. That was that Richard O’Brian is sort of the anti-Lucas when it comes to the film.
Other people took hold of his work. They emphasized aspects of it, added to it and made it their own. This muted some of the subtle accents of his story, but only because now there was this experience that has been shared by people for three decades and shows no sign of fading into obscurity.
O’Brian could have rejected the shadow casts. He could have denounced their actions and antics, perhaps even tried to get things stopped. He didn’t, though. He embraced it. He has celebrated it.
Compare this to a man who has twice edited one of the most pivotal scenes of one of the most beloved Sci-Fi characters in history to such a degree that if Lucas is ever lynched, one the things they’ll be chanting at the gates is “Han Shot First”. I’ve heard rumors that certain of the most execrable details of the prequels were added simply as a middle finger to the “extended universe”. Star Wars is his and he has little interest in letting others play in his sandbox, a fact that has presumably changed now that it’s been sold to the House of the Mouse.
Once an author lets a work be seen, I think there’s some degree to which it is now public property. I’m not saying that others should exploit the author’s efforts, but that if you’re very lucky, you’ll inspire people to put their stamp on your universe. There’s a certain satisfaction I imagine I’d have if I had to seriously question how I felt about fanfic written about characters that I created. You just have to let it go, sometimes.
For that reason, I don’t think I’ll go back and edit “Empties”, even if I think it will make a better story.
Though you can be damn sure that when I put my first novel up, Even the Dead May Die, there were fine tooth combs involved.