Gilmore's novels come out of the drawer.

by Hugh Gilmore

I’ve found a workable solution to my long-term quest to become a published novelist. I’m almost positive it will work. The solution is simple: change the definition of the term “published novelist.” After that, simply by doing what I know I am capable of doing – heck, in fact, have done – I’ll be an author.

I’m not being funny here. You know that, don’t you? You’re probably saying, “That’s not funny. Why does this guy think he’s funny?” But I don’t. I mean, I’m not. Kidding, that is.

I’m quite serious. The world is changing and, for once, I’m changing with it. I’m jumping on the carousel by running alongside in the same direction it’s spinning, rather than running straight at it, as usual, and getting knocked on my “but.”

Not funny either, I know. Grammatical humor never is. Especially when it’s homonymic. You’d be arrested for anything homonymic in Texas. I’ll get on to the story now.

A formerly bookish child, I turned into a bookish boy, then a bookish teen and a bookish young adult. All this by the age of 21, mind you. Taking advantage of the momentum I’d built, I found it easy to grow into being a bookish man, then a bookish middle-aged man, and years later, a very bookish, very middle-aged man, and still years later, a bookish-as-hell middle-aged man.

I’m working on becoming a bookish “older man” in the distant future, when I become an “older man,” with hopes of some day becoming a bookish senior citizen. But that is so far in the future I have to ask, why count your road-crossing chickens before you have to ford that stream?

All this bookishness has bred envy within me, of course, leaving me wanting to be adulated in the manner of the authors of the books I’ve read.

That’s a harmless enough ambition, unless one is serious about it. If so, he/she must write a book. That’s a lot of work. And there’s never time. Authors just sit around and write. The rest of us have to work all day. And raise children. And count sheep.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say, one goes ahead and writes a book. A fictional work. A novel. Does that make you a novelist? If you build a table, does that make you a furniture-maker? If you raise a bumper crop of corn, does that make you a farmer, or a bumper-cropper? Some would say yes, some would say no. Those who say no say the difference is: there must be an element of commerce. You have to sell your product. Others would say: you also must perform that activity all day long if you want to write that job title on your IRS 1040 form.

Since the year 2000, when I said “now or never” to my dream of making the transition from being a bookish middle-aged guy to being a bookish middle-aged novelist, I have written three and a half novels and a memoir. They are all sitting in a drawer. Am I now a novelist?

Well, some would say, you are not a novelist until someone else reads your novel.
Hmmm … is that true. Suppose I made cakes, gorgeous chocolate cakes with buttery chocolate icing, all day and then put them in the cabinet.

Would you call me a cake maker? Did you say no?

Oh. Suppose you wanted to sell them to people who like cake, but couldn’t find a distributor to place them in stores for you. So you put them in the freezer. Are you a cake maker? I guess you are. But you’re the only one who knows that, so you’ll never get groupies.

Regarding the novels I wrote, I’ve described in detail the process of seeking an agent for one of them. (See my blog:enemiesofreading.blogspot.com for a series called “Writing ‘AmericanaRama.’”) After trying several titles (“Lovesick in Ann Arbor”, “Malcolm’s Wine” and “AmericanaRama.”) I nearly found an agent (whom I nicknamed Mr. Goodtaste) for that last title, but in the end he said, in effect, “So very well written, exciting … but in the end it did not make me leap off my sofa with super enthusiasm … so I’m afraid I must pass.”

That was after considering hundreds of agents and writing to every one that handled my kind of story. No, no, no, no and no. I put the novel in the drawer with the others.

I’m much more interested in writing than I am in marketing and I had another novel I was itching to write, so I began writing it.

Why? Why does someone make cakes, or furniture, or ceramics? I used to think it was because they had something to “say.” I don’t think that anymore. I think the act of creating something, of following up on an idea, is almost like a craving. There are people in diners who play with their drinking straw wrappers, bending them this way, and shaping them that way, and people who toss the wrapper aside. I’m a player/shaper/bender.

Back to our theme. This year Amazon, the USA’s largest seller of books, announced that they now sell more e-books than print books. The best-known e-book reader is Amazon’s Kindle, but Amazon also offers books that can be read on the iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, and Android phones, and for Mac and PCs.

Here’s the news that matters: If you want to, you can download your book to Kindle and Amazon will sell it for you. You can also download your book and have it be distributed by a number of other services (such as Smashwords.com) and see it get offered for sale by Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and several other important booksellers.

You do not have to pay upfront as you do when you self-publish a print book. You do not need an agent. You do not need an editor, sales staff, or publisher. The royalties average around 70 percent.

After all my work, all my frustration, all my disappointments, I think I’d be foolish not to take my novels out of the drawer and offer them as e-books available to the world through Kindle, Barnes & Noble and all the other places, too numerous and too perplexing for me to understand.

So, that’s what I’ve decided to do. Out of the drawer and into the universe. I’m old enough, and bookish enough, that it still seems weird to me. And an e-book is not a “real” book to my mind. But if someone reads my novel, after buying it, and I get paid a little for it, maybe under the new rules I can call myself a novelist at last.

I invite you to come along as I give it a try. My first book may be available by this time next week. Isn’t that strange? It’s exciting, but incomprehensible to me.