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Gatekeepers

Gatekeepers

Have you ever thought about self-publishing?

On Redbird Farm I learned early: If the gate is closed when you go through it, leave it closed. If the gate is open when you go through it, leave it open. That was the first rule. The second was equally important: Family members open and close gates.

This makes infinite sense when the farm manager, in our case my mother, has made decisions about where the livestock may and may not be. A gate left open allows animals to pass from the lower pasture into the upper pasture, but if the farrier is coming to snip and shape the horses’ hooves, then they are likely already rounded up and kept in the bull pen directly behind the barn in preparation for his visit. Family members know the combinations for the locks and can be held responsible in the event that a closed gate blows open and the livestock get out. Guests should never be put into this position.

While my mother was running the farm, my father—a well-published author—was teaching in the creative writing program at the University of Iowa. Every few years there would be a flurry of communications with people in New York in advance of a new book being published. Dad had an agent who found publishers for his manuscripts, placed excerpts in journals and magazines, and oversaw the transition from loose-leaf typed pages to galleys to proofs. Each version of the book would arrive for my father’s approval, and eventually he would fly off to New York for a publication party. A reading in one of the UI’s auditoriums from the new book would generally follow, with another party, and there might be visiting author gigs or signings at local bookstores.

Once I remember going the Manhattan with my father to see a publisher. To my delight, they heaped free books upon me, brand new children’s chapter books I had never seen before. We were taken out to eat as well, and that meal may have been when I first tasted lobster. The publishing world of New York seemed very glamorous and miles and miles from the farm in Iowa where a poorly secured gate nearly always meant a wild chase for animals in search of greener pastures.

I would follow my father’s footsteps into the academy, where “publish or perish” dominated the promotional status of my graduate studies professors. I have been told that the arrival of computers meant a proliferation both in the number of journals available and in the length of the articles academics were submitting. Some were slower to adopt: “Word processors are like a movie of words,” scoffed one of my professors, a poet. As an academic myself, I was happy to spend the majority of my career at an institution that valued teaching first, committee work/community service to the college second, and publishing third. Nonetheless, when I landed my first essay, a piece of my master’s thesis entitled “Rusty Water, Icy Hills,” in a now-defunct journal called Iowa Woman, the thrill made me feel like I could fly. Holding the acceptance letter in both hands, I rejoiced, “I’m going to be published,” hopping what felt like a foot off the ground and hovering there, the hang-time of a published author.

I’ve had pieces accepted since and the thrill has never gone away. I’ve also been, for the last sixteen years, a part of the editorial process. Although computers have greatly automated publication (my father’s first books would have been typed in triplicate by a typing pool, the copies comparison-read against his original, the type eventually painstakingly set by a typesetter, reviewed and re-reviewed by editors, and eventually pasted up, printed and bound), there are still a number of eyes that pass over writing on its way to the press. Or at least there often are and often the writing is better, cleaner, neater for it. Plus, there’s the very real approbation that if an agent represents you, a publisher signs your work, and a team of people mobilize to publish, package, print and market your book, you’ve aced a number of tests, passing through the gates of all of those keepers to acceptance. You’re a real writer.

In the era during which I grew up, self-publishing options were dismissed as “vanity presses.” Any self-respecting writer got rejections from established publications and venerable publishing houses until that day, that miraculous day, when someone said, “yes.” The gatekeepers, the publishing overlords, opened the gate and the author strolled, stormed, or snuck through to the greener pasture beyond.

So when I first finished Throwing Like a Girl, I posted to this blog the one-page summary <https://overneathitall.com/2011/04/23/writing-like-a-girl/> I dutifully wrote, meaning to begin querying agents and small publishers, hoping someone would open the gate. That was about five months before I opened my own yoga studio, an ambitious space in an unlikely shopping plaza.

Nobody told me I could or should open a yoga studio. I saved money, worked with a realtor, a lawyer and an accountant, wrote a business plan, leased a space, oversaw the build-out, engaged instructors, promoted the opening, and threw open the doors. There was more to it, of course, but the point is from start to finish while there were plenty of hurdles, I was my own gatekeeper.

So while I dismissed the idea of self-publishing for many years, one day it dawned on me. I opened the gate to Radiant Om Yoga. I did not do it, however, without the belief that people would come. The beautiful yoginis and yogis and dancers who come to practice supported me and are the reason the studio thrives. But someone had to open the gate, and that someone was me.

And so it is that when my son wrote a novella, Zephyr’s Crossing, I was happy to help him publish because I was proud of his efforts and because I wanted to learn the mechanism for self-publishing. I had come to understand—why not self-publish? Why not put my work out into the world myself? What have I got to lose?

The answer: absolutely nothing. Opening the gate to Throwing Like a Girl is actually an opportunity to go through the gate myself, to put the book out into the reading pasture and to release myself to work on the next project—there are three calling to me. And so, with much editing and the kind reading by many of my dearest friends, I am pleased to announce the world premiere of my first novel, Throwing Like a Girl. If you’re so inclined, you may find it on here on Smashwords.throwing efile

This February full moon, a trusted friend tells me, is about getting clear with what you want, what you really, really want. A big part of what I want, I am. I am a writer and here, world, is my book. Thank you for being a part of and encouraging my journey, xoR

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