The older I get the more I feel like I repeat myself. It’s a weird feeling as a writer, especially if you’ve written a ton of stuff and haven’t organized it very well. You start to ask yourself: Did I already write about that? Have I said that before? Twice? Three times?? I know I’m guilty of that and in my mind I feel like some geezer who tells his same war stories over and over to family rolling their eyes back in their heads…bah! Like I said, it’s a weird feeling but indulge me here for a bit while I talk about my experience as a publisher.
Recently, a fellow writer and aspiring publisher asked me for some advice on the business. He asked me what BSP could do for him that he couldn’t achieve on his own as a self-publisher. It’s a great question and I had to be completely honest with him: not much. At least, not any more. There was a time when I had the “juice” but those days are over. We live in puritanical Twilight Zone times now, where up is down and down is up, and I am seen as some kind of throwback to an era no one wants to remember.
“The horror! They believed in free speech! Burn them!”
I have long encouraged people to self-publish because it’s possible now for anyone to do it. I see it as an act of rebellion, especially now. It’s “punk” for me – true grit…and way to say fuck you to the mainstream publishing world. But people don’t value that any more. These days people want IN the mainstream publishing world and they’re willing to shine shoes to get in.
It used to be that the bottom line came down to marketing and budget, but these days if you don’t have a large social media following, you are not likely to get very far. And these day that is a brutal and soulless endeavor because everyone is watching what you say and how you say it and if you fuck up, ay que lastima! It can go up in smoke overnight. Trust me, I know.
Truth be told, I believe I have a wealth of knowledge about independent publishing and in what works and what doesn’t work, especially as a Chicano. I have the experience of starting off with virtually nothing and doing this completely underground, to rising to national press and then slowly sinking again to virtually nada, which is where I’m at now.
Been there done that. I understand now why so many indie presses, especially Brown ones, go out of business.
I think, as a publisher, I peaked towards the middle of the decade, right before things went insane on social media. Once people started to lose their minds, I checked out and moved on. Spoiler: people are still nuts and I am still checked out.
I ended up getting off of Twitter (and almost all other social media mediums), where I had a pretty decent following, because people went crazy. Try being a business with no social media presence…yeah. Uphill battle to say the least. But I value my sanity and my integrity.
And I don’t want to over dramatize things but there was a lot to it. People started to section themselves off into little groups and cliques and then further divide themselves again and again. Fingers were pointed. Accusations made. Sacrifices done. And it continues…The “Latinx” Inquisition marches on. Us native heathens were burned at the stake for various degrees of heresy. Alas, Chicano Twitter was conquered and colonized by woke inquisitors and corporate sponsors. Only scant few pockets of resistance remain and our days are numbered.
I believe what was once “Chicano Twitter” is now completely obliterated into a million tiny subgroups, all of whom hate each other. Trust me when I say it’s hard to sell books to a group which is in the throes of self-loathing, crop burning and chaos. The political turmoil of the times has destroyed what was once a solid and cohesive voice for Chicanos. We are, in a word, shattered.
By the very nature of the business, it’s difficult for any artist to succeed. The phrase “struggling artist” isn’t just a cliche, it’s a reality. But it’s extremely difficult for Chicano artists to succeed because 1) Our own rarely support our own community the way other cultures do, and 2) The mainstream publishing world won’t accept us unless we “shine shoes” and conform to the popular politics of the day and I refuse to do that. It’s a principle thing with me.
Without getting overtly political here I will say this: when 2016 happened and certain groups started to demand that you jump and then ask how high, I refused. I still refuse. I’ve said many times over that I am not a follower. I refused to go along with the crowd. And to beat a dead horse metaphor here, I walked out of the pep rally again.
I did what I always do and stood by my principles and did NOT change my philosophy or my business model because everyone else was. I refused to blindly march along and parrot what everyone else was saying/doing and continues to say to this day. I refused to take out my brain and present it to the group for a thorough washing and inspection. My work speaks for itself.
This cost me friends. It also cost me my business.
I was called many things online during this time and by my own gente, “Nazi” being probably my favorite. It was then that I knew it was time to exit stage left.
Hunter Thompson once famously said, “When the going gets weird the weird turn pro.” I know now exactly what that means.
And slowly but surely the emails stopped coming and the phone stopped ringing, until one day I noticed that I was once again, on my own. People moved on to their own private mental illnesses and Chicano Twitter was no more. We destroyed ourselves with one too many purity tests…which is interesting because previously to all of this, solidarity online among Chicanos was very strong. Then BOOM! Gone.
Let me put it this way: before everything was turned upside down and the politics of the day were not out of sync with what I was doing, I had national press, radio appearances, invitations to book fairs and was chummy with the upper echelon of the “Latino” literary world. No mas. None of those folks talk to me any more, which suits me just fine. I was never a literary egghead to begin with, I was just another Chicano artist who ended up in college by accident and then got a chip on my shoulder to make my mark.
Once everything got flipped upside down and my last book came out? People won’t even spit on me. I may as well not even exist as a publisher or writer as far as the literary world is concerned and to the “Latino” literary world I am a pariah.
When you are one of the few 100-percent independent Chicano publishers in the world and no one asks to interview you or review your book? Well, folks, that speaks volumes to me.
Which is all the more funny to me considering that I have published books which are in national literary collections, have published famous people and have had my books taught in universities, been the subject of dissertations and had celebs push my books.
It is A-MAZING to me what a little shoe shining will do for your career. All I had to do was get some polish, a brush and a little box! But I don’t shine shoes and I don’t cater to shoe shiners. Alas, easy come, easy go, and the shoe shiners can kiss my ass.
That’s one of the most interesting things about being Chicano and doing this…I think many other cultural counterparts would have bended the knee by now. Not me. I am stubborn as they come, by nature! A toda madre o un desamdre…Chicanos tend to risk it all or burn the house down on principle alone. That’s me. That’s who I am. Fuck it, ese.
It’s funny, but at one point I envisioned myself traveling and teaching/lecturing to younger people on how to do this…on how to “resist” by publishing your own work. I pictured an army of young publishers ready to conquer the literary underground!
But no one is interested in what I have to say any more because free speech is a sin now and selling out is all the rage. And contrary to what most people say online, most of them would rather sell out than resist now. My wealth of experience and knowledge goes unappreciated. Es la vida, as my deceased and estranged grandmother would say.
Eventually, it will be lost, as so many others before me, because we do an especially poor job these days at preserving anything of our own. The slash and burn model the “woke” crowd loves to apply to history so much will no doubt make it appear that we did not exist in this decade at all.
So…I’m focused on other stuff right now, carefully observing the climate and watching Rome burn. I might put out another book of my own writing eventually…but I’m in no hurry. I don’t think there’s a market for it right now. I’ve said this many times but when it comes to being a publisher and a writer I am never white enough to appeal to the mainstream, never brown enough to appeal to my own, and these days never “woke” enough to appeal to the youth. You can’t win. Chicano y que!
My final piece of advice to my colleague was this: publishing is a pain in the ass, but it’s worth it if you can stomach all the bullshit that it comes with and stay true to your self. What the young people of today don’t understand is that it’s thee last stand for free speech now. Print is the only medium the tech giants or the government don’t control…yet. I worry about the day that they do.