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Craft of Writing, Fiction, Publishing, Self Publishing

My Decision to Self Publish: Why This? Why Now?

So I wrote this book a few years ago for my MFA thesis project called The Ballo Brothers. I thought it was pretty good. In fact, an agent thought it was pretty good too, and signed me up for representation. But then his bosses disagreed with him, and then he got sick and died, and after that no other agent wanted to sign me, or it.

I’ve since revised it like eight times, and changed the title to Curtain Calls, but haven’t had any luck getting it published.

The book is a historical fiction, a combination of my grandfather’s career in vaudeville, coupled with some rather astonishing events from the beginning of World War I. Since my grandfather died in the 1970s, I had only a scrapbook of photos on which to base the first aspect of the story, so that’s complete fiction. The other part, a fictionalization of the last days of French statesman Jean Jaurès, follows the events of his life fairly accurately.

It’s not widely known in the U.S., but Jaurès almost single-handedly kept WWI from starting in 1912. He tried to do so again in 1914, but the force of events by then was too much to stop.

I’ve sat down with the story and read it again, and although I’ve changed (and hopefully, grown) as a writer since I wrote it, it’s still a ripping tale. I placed Grandpa Gus and two fellow performers (Kera and Jack) in Paris just as the fighting starts. They fall in with Jaurès and his associates’ efforts to keep France neutral, and are part of the drama that leads up to the great man’s assassination, and France’s declaration of war.

I’ve always wanted the validation of a traditional publishing house, whether it’s one of the big New York firms or a good-size independent, but the book never made it there. I never really queried the small independents, since they don’t typically have much marketing clout. Plus, as a former graphic artist, I can handle all the production aspects myself, so I have to ask, what would they do for me that I can’t do for myself? Apart from providing some independent editing, the answer is not much. But I’ve had several trusted writers go through it, and have incorporated their suggestions so even that aspect is covered.

Normally I wouldn’t give much thought to self-publishing. There is still a stigma regarding the quality of most self-pubbed work, and with good reason—the vast percentage of it is still poorly written, edited and produced. So there are significant barriers to success to overcome.

But 2014-2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the war. And recently, a couple of factors have helped change my mind about the marketing aspect. I’ve learned of some techniques and services available to self-published writers that can raise awareness tremendously. The marketing opportunity is now, so if I don’t get this book out soon I might as well shelve it forever. And since I have been thinking, planning and writing this book since Grandpa Gus was still alive, I’m not going to let that happen.

So here I go. I will self-publish this book and do my best to get it out there.

We (my cover artist and partner at Woodward Press, Dora Badger, and I) have been working on the print version, which includes writing the back cover copy. A unique experience indeed! For once I get to abandon the rigors of legitimate prose in favor of clichés, vague adjectives and general hyperbole. Here’s what I’ve worked up so far:

When three American performers travel to Paris in the summer of 1914, they become caught in the passions and politics of a nation on the brink of World War I. Separated by events, they fall in with factions on both sides of the debate over the conflict, and move ever deeper into a mysterious underground world of political intrigues.

Only one man, a statesman and journalist, has the courage to stand up to the corrupt French government and keep the country neutral. But a madman plots to kill him. As his life hangs in the balance, the three Americans represent the only chance to save him from assassination.

Based on true events surrounding the genesis of World War I, Curtain Calls captures the excitement of the times that changed the course of modern history, in a story filled with power, betrayal, friendship, and love.

Doesn’t that get you all eager to read it? Honestly, all that stuff is really in there, and it makes a helluva story. The true events of Jaurès’s life were just made for a novel.

Soon I’ll post an image of the cover to further whet your appetites. And if you are interested in reading it, I’ll provide a discount code when it’s released that only readers of my blog will have access to.

I guess if I’m going to go this route, I might as well give it my all. More soon.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


20 thoughts on “My Decision to Self Publish: Why This? Why Now?

  1. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

    Posted by michellemorouse | January 14, 2015, 8:54 AM
    • Thanks Michelle.

      Posted by Joe Ponepinto | January 14, 2015, 10:03 AM
    • Joe old buddy, GD checking in. Let’s get real. People self-publish because they fear consciously or subconsciously that their work is either mediocre or non-commercial or both, and that’s the reason no publisher of any status wants it. Self-publication is an act of desperation and last resort. The narcissistic personality has a very difficult time coming to terms with cognitive dissonance created by rejection. Personally, I think you are a giant among writers, a damn genius, but then what do I know? Now that I think about it, I didn’t see any well-known lit-mags on your publishing résumé. How do you explain that? Was “Show Us, Mr. Faulkner” accurate in its exposition of the insider-based, wholly subjective and corrupt selection process, or did I miss something? Hmmm…. Well, seeing how you’ve decided to self-publish, maybe you have realized one of two things: Your work is in fact mediocre … or the fix is in and you’re not one of the literary pretty people for whom the red carpet unfurls. Come on big guy tell your readers how you really feel beneath this veneer of chatty chitchat. Now I get to ride your wave! But seriously, Joe, you’re a good guy and I wish success for you and that your work goes on to be compared to Dostoyevsky and Stephen King! On second thought … how about Dos and Hemingway!!
      Should I submit a story to your mag? GD

      Posted by G. D. McFetridge | January 15, 2015, 12:25 PM
      • Hello George, long time no chat. You sure know how to open up a can of worms. Yes, I’ve thought about it both ways. The fact that I have no major credits after 10 years of trying has me questioning my talent and commitment almost daily. But then I look at the junk that gets published in a majority of journals and think, maybe it isn’t me. Maybe the writing is good, but I get rejected because I’m not writing about teenage relationships or couples having trouble getting pregnant. Maybe GD was right and the majority of journal readers and editors are suck ups to celebrity writers, and are locked into the kind of sentimentality and self-absorption that has ruined modern fiction. As one of my favorite writers, William H. Gass, said, “There isn’t very much satisfaction in getting the world to accept and praise you for things that the world is prepared to praise. The world is prepared to praise only shit.” He was so right. But every once in a while I get something published and some review site calls it out as the best piece in that issue. And sometimes someone I respect lets me know I’m on the right path (or nominates me for a big-time fellowship, as happened this week). And so I keep going.

        (Hey, just got another rejection in my email while writing this response!)

        Bottom line, you just gotta believe and keep moving forward. Forget about whether the writing world is fair or unfair. Screw the naysayers. If the door is locked, then kick a hole in the wall to get in. So it is with my self-pub novel. If someone wants to see it as a surrender, so be it. The proof, however, is in the pages, and they’re damn fine pages. I could keep trying to get an agent for it, but the timeline for sales is now. I like to think I have enough business sense to go this route.

        Which is part of the reason, to tell the truth, why I started our journal, TLR. I know I’m far from the only decent writer out there who can’t get anywhere because I didn’t go to the right school, or won’t write for the sentimental, bourgeois market. This is my small way of giving us a voice. It’s my way of saying I’ve decided not to go away, but to carve out a place in the writing world, whether the establishment will give me a benediction or not.

        Posted by Joe Ponepinto | January 15, 2015, 1:19 PM
      • Joe by God and by Jesus you are a good sport! I’m busy needling you and you are nevertheless a gentleman. Really what I think we see in the micro literary arena is also by extension what we see in the macro aspect of our great empire. One percent of the population owns 37% of the fricking wealth. Then when we add to the one percent the 19 percent that follow, i.e., the toady privileged class, the bastards own 60 percent of everything, Leaving the rest of us to gnaw on whatever chicken bones they toss out the back door. I’ve worked my literary ass off for 15 years and have never been able to break thru the glass ceiling. I have at least 30 publications in solid mid-level academic and commercial mags but I have never been able to crack one of the so-called major magazines. Hell no!

        So … what I say is that our great country, which I love, needs revolution from top to the bottom. How that’s going to happen is another question, one I may be getting a tad too old to tackle, but I certainly hope the young people coming up turn things around, both in literature and in politics and social consciousness. Now, my grandiose speechmaking aside, the conflict between subjectivity and objectivity as applied to the arts is a tough question. It is possible that art is the antithesis of objectivity because the appreciation of art requires that one have some sort of subjective agenda from the get-go? I need to think on this. But what I also know is that thru advertising (propaganda) a clever fellow can sell refrigerators to Eskimos!

        I’ve pontificated enough, but let’s stay in touch, and once again I sincerely hope your project works out well. It would be a good omen for all concerned. Let me know how to buy a copy. Jolly good, pip-pip, and when the hell is the Queen going to step down? Charles is sweating bullets because the smart money says grandson gets the King gig straight up!! GD

        Posted by G. D. McFetridge | January 15, 2015, 2:47 PM
      • George, I have to be a gentlemen. I have a reputation now. Yesterday a lit site said my picture was “adorable.” (I guess they didn’t look close.) But I’m right there with you about the distribution of wealth, power and literary success in the U.S. What galls me is that they stay there largely through propaganda that somehow convinces the majority of the population that they have a voice in things, that their opinions matter. So the bottom is happy with their cell phones and childish movies, and the top is happy to keep raking in the profit. But this has always been the way of things, in every civilization and it’s our job as writers—the so-called smart ones—to keep pointing this out. And THAT is what’s really wrong with literature and art today. Most writers have become willing toadies in this farce. So yeah, sign me up for the revolution. I’m getting up there too, but I can at least send the young-uns off to battle.
        You bet I’ll stay in touch.

        Posted by Joe Ponepinto | January 15, 2015, 3:46 PM
  2. Hello Joe, I don’t know if you remember me, but we met last year at a DWW meeting. I read your most recent postand I simply want to congratulate you on taking the plunge! I’m also working on a piece of historical fiction, so I can relate to much of what you say. I hope you’ll forgive me, but I couldn’t resist making a few suggestions for the back cover.Please discard if I’ve overstepped my bounds. Suggestions are in red, obviously.

    When three American performers travel to Paris in the summer of 1914, they become caught in the passions and politics of a nation on the brink of war. Separated by events, they fall in with factions on both sides of the conflict debate, and move ever deeper into a mysterious underground world of political intrigues.

    Only one man, a statesman and journalist, has the courage to stand up to the corrupt French government and keep the country neutral. When a (be more specific—who was this man? German? French? Anarchist? Fascist?), plots to kill him, the three Americans (briefly name and describe?), represent the only chance to save him from assassination.

    Based on true events surrounding the genesis of World War I, Curtain Calls captures the excitement (peril? turmoil?) of the times that changed the course of modern history, in a story filled with (the lust for?)power, betrayal, friendship, and love.

    Good luck! Will be cheering for you. I’ll order a copy when it comes out. Diana U. Dinverno Date: Wed, 14 Jan 2015 16:07:58 +0000 To: dudinverno@hotmail.com

    Posted by Diana U. Dinverno | January 14, 2015, 9:21 AM
  3. The book sounds compelling, Joe and I want to read it. My only suggestion for the back cover blurb would be to change “brink of war” to something less often used.

    Posted by mysarahskitchen | January 14, 2015, 5:38 PM
  4. That must have been disappointing to get an OK from an agent and then have it fall through. Often times as writers, we think that an agent’s approval is all we need for success but alas much more stands in the way.

    Good luck!

    Posted by bookshelfbattle | January 14, 2015, 7:18 PM
    • It’s funny, that was my first try at getting an agent, and I remember thinking, “well, this isn’t as hard as everyone makes it sound.” Seven years later, I wish I could eat those words.

      Posted by Joe Ponepinto | January 14, 2015, 9:00 PM
  5. Go for it, Joe! Looking forward to reading it!

    Posted by fpdorchak | January 15, 2015, 3:20 AM
  6. Dear Joe, Think of it this way, and don’t lose heart because you never thought you’d self-publish: “Maybe my book will be one of the key books to make self-publishing respectable!” Good luck. I’ll be waiting for that discount code.

    Posted by shadowoperator | January 15, 2015, 10:38 AM
  7. Good for you for making this happen, Joe! You’ve worked so long and hard on this, and I’m glad we’ll finally get to read it.

    Posted by miriamagosto | January 15, 2015, 12:30 PM
  8. Joe, I can’t wait to read your novel and would stand in a long line to buy it. I know it’s been a tough decision for you, but it’s great news for your fans.

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | January 16, 2015, 3:00 PM
    • Darrelyn, that’s so great of you to say. Thank you.

      By the way, I am forwarding your comment to a few people–namely every agent who ever rejected the novel. :)

      Posted by Joe Ponepinto | January 16, 2015, 6:47 PM

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