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:




Shep said...

Ha. Okay, it might not be classic literature, but it ain't THAT bad, homes. If I was writing it for book snobs like yourself, I would have taken some creative writing classes along the way, probably majored in English, and likely hired a ghostwriter. But that's missing the point of the story altogether. (Please excuse me starting that previous sentence with the word "but.") I'm a regular dude writing to regular people. Besides, who are you to judge my writing? You ain't no Steinbeck, babe.


CKL said...

Thanks for commenting, Adam!

To answer your question about judging writing: I'm a reader. That's what we do. That's what all audiences do.

I think you had a fascinating story to tell, and I'm glad I read it, but the telling could have been better. That's all.

Anonymous said...

Shep, wow, way to get people on your side. I won't get into all of the arguments about the definition of "classic" literature with a capital L vs. "everything else" or your obvious disregard for those who pursue an education in the liberal arts, but I will say that your attitude toward readers and their opinions of your work show you to be the snob. One of the first rules of being a writer is to get over yourself and listen to criticism. Granted, not all of it is spot on, but dismissing it out of hand because it comes from someone who, in your words, "ain't no Steinbeck," shows that you lack the ability to respond to any readers you may have with even a modicum of respect, regardless of whether they're writers, too. It's a damn shame, too, because writers learn a lot from other writers.