One question interview

A one question interview: from Alex Boyd’s blog.

Michael Bryson has published a number of short story collections over the years, most recently The Lizard (2009) and new this year, the self-published How Many Girlfriends?

What made you consider self-publishing your new book?

Alex, I was going to begin with a wind-up about the evils of multinational corporations and the need for a rigid defense of creative individualism, but the truth is much simpler. I had a book-length worth of material on my hard drive, and it pleases me to get it out in the world in this form.

Why this form? Didn’t any publisher want it? I actually didn’t give anyone the chance to say no. I wanted to take this one straight to readers. There’s almost twenty years of work in this manuscript, a wide range of material. In the author’s note, I compare it to Bob Dylan’s Bootleg series. I’m no Dylan, but the comparison is apt. This is a book of stories that didn’t make it into other books. There’s even one “alternate version” and hopefully some “lost masterpieces.” It’s quite a personal book, and I’m glad to be able to present it to readers without going through the filter of a publisher.

As you know, most publishers see short story collections more as risk than opportunity. As does just about everyone else, it seems sometimes, except … creative writing programs. I’ve been lucky to have found publishers for my three previous books – but I think each of them have measured sales totals in the dozens of copies. I hope I don’t sound pompous if I say that when I started writing, I’d hoped for something more than that.

I published two books of short stories a decade ago, then spent eight years writing and trying to put a new book together. I put a number of different books together. The manuscript kept changing. Eventually, it became The Lizard (Chaudiere, 2009). Which is a slim and focused book. It includes stories that have won contests and appeared in anthologies, including Best Canadian Stories (2005).

Not sure if you saw Jason Epstein’s essay, “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future” (NY Review of Books, March 11, 2010). Here’s a quote from it:

… retailers, unable to stock a deep backlist, now demanded high turnover, often of ephemeral titles. Best-selling authors whose loyalty to their publishers had previously been the norm were now chips in a high-stakes casino: a boon for authors and agents with their nonrecoverable overguarantees and a nightmare for publishers who bear all the risk and are lucky if they break even. Meanwhile, the backlist continued to decline. The smaller houses, unable to take those risks, merged with larger ones, and the larger ones eventually fell into the arms of today’s conglomerates.

So maybe it’s about evil multinationals, after all. And I’m simply counter-cultural.

We live in interesting times. The internet initially promised a democratization of information and the potential for a culture based on true individual demand. My self-published book is, on the one hand, a culmination of this promise. Readers can order a book from the internet that comes direct from me to them.

On the other hand, what’s more often true is what Epstein calls “high turnover … ephemeral titles.” The internet hasn’t democratized us. It has instead enabled greater manipulation of consumer demand and artificial choice. It has raised our social anxieties to new levels.

What made me consider self-publishing this new book (of old work) was experimenting with a new model. When I thought about it, I felt good. It seemed, though it may not be, a more authentic way to present my work to the world. In any case, I hope readers find this book and like it. I do.

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