March 1st, 2008

Entrekin: A Year in Review

Was it a year ago today I clicked the buttons to launch my own publishing venture? If it wasn’t, it was pretty close, I think. I know it was at the start of March, because I remember thinking about its being close to my parents’ wedding anniversary.

Now, like a birthday present, a website called Lulu Book Reviews has put up an extraordinarily positive review of it. LBR is a nascent venture, just initiated last week or so, and its review of Entrekin is only its second, but I see good things ahead for the site, and I don’t just say that because the review was so overwhelmingly good.

As reviews and kind words go, Entrekin had a rather good year. Back in June, the PODler had great things to say about it, and I already mentioned that, in July, one wonderful reader (thanks again to Deborah) downloaded it to her iPhone to read it and shared the experience with me. Not long thereafter, I took a long-ish hiatus from blogging, and during that time, some other nice things happened. The first was my entering Entrekin into the Writer’s Digest self-published book of the year contest. During the summer, I got a note, via MySpace, from one of the judges, who told me how much he’d liked my book and that it had made it to the second round of judging.

That note made me smile, and not just for the kind words; there’s a bit in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caufield says something along the lines that the best authors make you feel like their friends, make you want to phone them up and tell them how much you liked their book and maybe chat a bit. That note made me feel somewhat like that.

Ultimately, Entrekin made it no further in the judging. I’d had doubts it would, truthfully, but mainly because of the category selection; there was none for a collection, so I had to enter it into the “mainstream/literary fiction,” which only really makes up probably less than half the book. There’s still poetry, and there are still five essays, one of which, concerning September 11th, is, I think, one of the more powerful pieces in the book. It was certainly the most powerful to write.

But Entrekin did get 4s (out of 5) straight across the board (plot, grammar, character development, cover design), and whoever offered commentary liked that it’s all over the place, but that one gets the sense that I write because I love to do so (and I do), calling the notes at the end “genuine and heartfelt,” then, “This was a remarkably refreshing read, and its earnestness is catching.”

Which is just lovely, yes.

The judge also commented on a possible improvement, calling it “only … one small thing,” and then mentioned my self-titling the collection. He (or she) noted that doing so “might lead many cynics to think that Will Entrekin is egocentric. Just a thought. Again, I don’t think so particularly, but there are some who might.”

This comment made me chuckle, though I don’t yet know how to react beyond that yet. It’s not a criticism with which I’m unfamiliar, but still I don’t know how to respond; the more I note I’m, in fact, not, the more defensive I appear. Totally no-win situation. Lately I’ve just taken to not responding, except in extraordinarily rare cases; the last time I engaged anyone, in fact, I did so to stick up, so to speak, for someone else. That that someone else hadn’t responded, though, might well have been the clearest indication that they didn’t feel response was necessary. When I was younger, my parents taught me to always stick up for myself; part of it, I think, is that I’m still often learning how.

This bears up to the last review of any of my writing before LBR’s. I very deliberately took a step back to more fully realize what I wanted to do and how I might, during which time a blog called POD People reviewed “How the World Will End.” The reviewer, Emily Veinglory, opened by noting she’d heard quite a lot about me, though she doesn’t mention whether what she’s heard was good or bad, then that “It seems he can write, but it really isn’t clear what he writes about.” So she decided to give a shot to one of the free stories available over at my Lulu page, and I’m positively thrilled she decided to find out for herself. She chose “How the World Will End,” which, coincidentally, was the very first download offered, just a few days before the book became available, noting that she thought it was clear I knew how to put words together, but that the story, which started concrete, became “abstract,” noting that she “didn’t really get it.”

Which is, of course, fair enough. “How the World Will End” is a flash piece based on a song, written as a sort of translation/adaptation; I listened to the song and tried to extrapolate what it would be had it been a short story. It’s certainly experimental, but as for “abstract,” I’m not certain. Veinglory says one might call her “overly literal,” but then, I think the story is overly literal; I’m not a symbolic sort of writer, mostly, and when “HtWWE” mentions a missile, I meant a missile; when it mentions penguins, I meant penguins; and when it meant mountains and rivers, I meant mountains and rivers.

What I think is more important than the question of concrete v. abstract is that, ultimately, Veinglory notes she’s “left certain that Will Entrekin knows how to write but I am not sure that I would be interested in anything he chose to write about,” which is a shame and indicates that “HtWWE” fails, for her, on a number of levels: as a story, but also as a taste of the collection itself and as an enticement to give others a try. Veinglory ultimately gives the story a 5.5 star rating out of 10, which I actually consider extraordinarily charitable considering she didn’t seem to much like it; I obviously do like the story (I wouldn’t have included it if I hadn’t), and though I’m not certain how to rate such things (on a scale of swimming to banana, I’d give it a purple), I’m also not certain I’d have given it much higher. I think it did what I wanted it to, ultimately, and works for what it is; whether that’s good or not I leave to the reader to decide–in Veinglory’s case, then, not so much.

But ultimately that’s the question of the book, and what I’ve learned from this year. Is Entrekin a good, or great, book? To that I answer that I like it and am proud of it, and more than that, I cannot say. Does it do what I wanted it to? That I can’t answer, either, because I didn’t necessarily hope for it to do anything; all I wanted was to learn from this experience, and I have. I’ve learned that what counts is to put out something you stand behind, and believe in, no matter the circumstances, and that you acknowledge it for what it is. I’ve learned that marketing and promotion are difficult. I’ve learned that I don’t believe in self-promotion, because I’m not promoting my self; I’m promoting my book and doing so on my own. And I’ve learned that the best thing in the world one can achieve is belief in yourself and your work, but mostly I’ve learned that I certainly couldn’t have done any of this without you. I couldn’t have done it without the kind words and gracious notes. I couldn’t have done it without the people who took pictures of themselves reading Entrekin. I couldn’t have done it without your support, and for that I am both deeply humbled and extraordinarily grateful; no amount of thanks feels like it could be enough.

I’ve learned that some people like it, and others don’t. Mostly, I just hope people decide for themselves.

To that end, given that it’s the year anniversary, and given that my favorite author’s novel is available for free download for the month, I decided to follow suit. For the entire month of March, Entrekin, in its entirety, will be available as a free download at Lulu.com.

I hope you give it a shot if you haven’t already, and I hope you like it if you do.