The other day, I wrote a tweet about how self-publishing collectives of homies will be the next wave of underground literature and the post actually caught some traction, so I wanted to peel the scab back a bit more; get to the raw meat of this concept.
The current landscape of independent publishing looks like one or two passionate readers/editors/fellow writers investing a lot of energy into contracting, editing, designing, and putting out books they want to see exist in the world, usually in opposition to the bland paint-by-numbers titles being shat out by the big houses and usually (but not exclusively) through a print-on-demand service. These publishers seem to keep it up solely for the love, because that’s a difficult model to make financially successful. There usually comes a burnout point, which seems to be either now, last year, or coming up quick for a lot of indie presses.
I talk with the homie J. David Osborne all the time about experimenting with the publishing format, the roles of editors, what a book even is, how to fuck the whole system up and do something better – something that feels more like art. Through hundreds of phone calls over the past couple years, we’ve managed to give a little shape to the abstract idea of collectives rather than publishers, the thought being we as independent artists are more like a garage band than a publishing house. Really – to mix metaphors – why play the game by the rules when you’re not even in the league? This is street ball, baby.
What this collective framework looks like in effect doesn’t take much explanation beyond the garage band analogy. You get a group of friends, you swap artistic duties for each other’s projects. Our friend Lucas Mangum completed the trinity of mine and David’s collective idea and put a name to it: Less Than Pulp. The three of us have a Signal group chat in which we frequently make fun of each other or send screenshots of [redacted] but also where we trade roles back and forth in sharing each other’s work. We’re all writing at any given time, but one of us may need help getting out of the mud with a manuscript, or going through the logistics of design and print, or simple encouragement… whatever, really. We may even trade cover art for a full-script edit or interior design from one another. Like I said, whatever.
If you want to crack the face off and peek at all the gears inside, this is how the collective worked with my latest novel, Hurricane Season: I spent the time writing the thing ringing up or texting one of the homies when I was stuck for whatever reason, usually due to self-doubt or mental health bullshit, and we’d work around the issue. When I finished the first draft, I e-mailed it to both of them. Lucas came back with, “It needs another horse,” and he was right, I wrote another scene involving a horse that pops up throughout the story and it added a lot to it, I think. David texted several points on which to expand, and came up with a couple funny scenes to add to the end, which I did. Then I threw some coin David’s way to design the interior and reached out to both the homies for advice on the printing process. I already had a front cover I’d commissioned from the extremely talented Matthew Revert and I did the back cover myself. Slapped a sigil on it as a ‘logo’ (’cause I’m a sorcery-practicing freak) and ordered 200 copies, which I’ll hand-number and sign because I want to keep it limited, rare. I like the idea of art as artifact, something that has a lifespan. After the 200 sell, that’ll be it for the foreseeable future. On to the next one.
If this sounds like a vanity press operation, I mean… yeah? But it’s all about doing it right. Write the truest, rawest version of the story you’re trying to tell. Get it edited by someone who understands your vision. Learn how to use InDesign and pirate that shit because fuck those monthly payments. Put a dope cover on it. Be patient and thorough stumbling through the printing logistics (or maybe that’s the easiest part and I’m just dumb lol) and then you’ve got a book published, with 100% of the royalties going into your pocket. Whatever help you were given by your circle of artist friends, give it back. That’s a collective.
And hey, it’s not for everyone. Some dorks who smell like cat piss and burnt coffee grounds love to play by the rules, or even worse, pretend that indie and mainstream operate exactly the same. Personally, I like the DIY spirit and embrace the hustle and artistic freedom of this method. I also treat each book as an experiment, though. We’ll see how things evolve with the next one.
If you want to get more into logistics, keep your eyes on what King Shot Press is doing. They’re an indie press who has always sought to stand out and offer the artist something more than a co-sign. Also, this thread by Back Patio Press is hella helpful.
Pre-order Hurricane Season here.
Check out J. David Osborne’s entire catalogue for pay-what-you-want here.
A good portion of Lucas Mangum’s books are available on the same model, and he’s got more gas coming soon.