Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Stigma of Self-Publishing, Part 2: Scratch Beginnings

Scratch Beginnings is not a well-written book. To his credit, the author--Adam Shepard--admits in the introduction that he is not a good writer. But someone telling you he's an awful cook won't make the meal taste any better.

I became interested in this book based on the description of the author's recent visit to Powell's. I didn't attend the event, having learned of it after the fact, and that's probably a good thing; I might have been tempted to actually purchase the book, and I would have suffered some serious buyer's remorse around page 12. (I later found it at my local library.)

The gimmicky high concept of Scratch Beginnings--which is a good hook, I'll admit--is a recent college graduate's personal experiment to bootstrap himself out of poverty. He selected an east coast city at random, traveled there by train, and debarked with only $25 to his name. His goal was to go from homelessness to having an apartment, a car, and $2,500 in the bank by the end of one year.

I'll save you the pain of having to read the book: he succeeded. To be honest, I never doubted that he would; I was curious about the details of his actual experience. And the stuff about the homeless shelter was interesting, but his frequent use of sentence fragments and constant self-aggrandizement got old real quick. Several sections could have been summarized thusly: "Dear diary, today I did cool things and made people like me. Because I am awesome!"

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, but it really does get that bad at some points. I'm pretty sure "Shep" is one of the "white people" from Stuff White People Like.

Even though Scratch Beginnings and Daemon are touted as self-publishing success stories, it's important to note two things:
  1. They are the exception, not the rule; and
  2. both authors took pains to disguise the fact that they were self-published.
Daemon was put out by "Verdugo Press," a company created by the author and his wife for the express purpose of marketing the novel. Scratch Beginnings came from "SB Press," whose business address is a condominium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Guess where Adam Shepard's family lives? Yup.

Scratch Beginnings has since been acquired by the Collins imprint of HarperCollins and reissued in hardcover--hence the book tour. Isn't it interesting that the ultimate goal of most self-published authors seems to be getting an actual book deal from a real publisher?

Anyway, here's a half-hour interview with Adam Shepard from a Triangle-based public access cable show. He seems like a nice kid, and I hope he enjoys his fifteen minutes:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz_BNXuBgq0

~CKL
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