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Judith D. Schwartz Headshot

Publishing: Taking the Power Back

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As a well-trained, rule-following author I was stuck: I had a written a book, "The Therapist's New Clothes" -- a memoir of training as a psychotherapist, and cautionary tale about the seductions of therapy -- and came close with publishers but never hit a match: it was small when they wanted big; unsettling when they wanted shocking; ironic when they wanted outrage. Editors who wanted it lamented that they would not get it past the marketing department.

The obedient side of me was willing to relinquish the book to the electronic drawer. You see, it was comforting to believe that there was this distinct entity called "a good book" that a writer aspired to and that an editor would recognize and embrace. But I could no longer believe that. From keeping up on publishing news I saw that while money was being invested and decisions were being made, no one really knew what people wanted to read or what books would sell. If a novel featuring a five-year-old magician heroine scored a large advance, you could be sure a slew of copycat projects would get signed on, despite the stated desire for "something different". So the question for me became: why should I allow my literary fate to be determined by what seemed an increasingly dysfunctional system?

I had to consider the book itself, which tells a story of reclaiming authority from someone in whom I had entrusted complete power -- in my case, a therapist. The construct of therapy ruled my life (my motto might well have been: "I free-associate; therefore I am") and the thought of leaving it was terrifying. Only when it became clear that for me to continue entrusting my self and soul therapy was untenable, did I begin to question the framework for healing that I had accepted on faith.

Like therapy, publishing is an institution with an evolving set of rules and strategies. I had learned the hard way that institutions, believe in them as we may, are not infallible. So, tentative about this though I was, I once again chose to take back the power and brought out my book using the Espresso Book Machine (it helped that my bookstore, The Northshire, was the first independent bookstore in the country to have one!) It's been incredibly rewarding to do so, and I recently gave a presentation at the Tools of Change For Publishing Conference on the implications of this publishing model. (I'll post about that next.)

Readers have responded powerfully to the book. Every once in a while I slip and find myself apologizing about its being independently published, but it turns out readers are not as hung up on those publishing brands as I thought. The same with writers (though every once in a while I sense that someone sees self-publishing as a disease they might catch--but this could be my own projection.) Not that I'm against conventional publishing. It's just that, same as with therapy, you've got to know when it's working for you and when it's time to go your own way.

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