This interview first appeared in Louisiana Libraries, 2014.
Question: Why do you write?
Dayne Sherman: I don’t know. I’ve been writing seriously since I was 18 years old. It’s something I do. I’ve done it so long it’s a habit, and I have no idea why I keep writing.
Question: Come on, do better. Your answer is insufficient.
Dayne Sherman: I just write. It’s something I do, an act, perhaps a way of understanding the world.
Question: Could you explain why you spent three years in ninth grade?
Dayne Sherman: No. It’s impossible for me to understand.
Question: That’s a cop out.
Dayne Sherman: Maybe. But I fell through the cracks. It shows both my willingness to buck convention and my fierce independent streak. It’s hard to spend three years in ninth grade. It takes a certain knack. You have to work hard at it.
Question: You have an MA in English. But you never progressed beyond English II. In fact, you never even finished English I. Something must have gone haywire.
Dayne Sherman: Haywire is a good term for it, growing up in and around Natalbany, Louisiana. The best thing I can say is that my adolescence gifted me with a lifetime of stories, a well that never seems to run dry. At the same time, I wouldn’t wish my path on any other writer, friend or foe.
Question: What is “The Writer’s Manifesto” you keep talking about?
Dayne Sherman: It’s a principle that declares the author to be the primary beneficiary of the economic gain from his or her work. In the supply chain, I believe the author should receive the largest chunk of the money from a book, eBook, or audio copy. The supply chain runs from the author’s ink pen (keyboard) to the reader’s eyes. The writer should make more per unit than the agent, publisher, editor, printer, wholesaler, or bookstore. In the 20th century, this was not the case at all. But in the 21st century, it is possible. Without the author-artist, there is no book. I give the example of the dairy farmer. I believe the man or woman slopping in the mud at 3:30 AM should make more money off a gallon of milk than Walmart. It’s that simple, and I am working hard to make sure it happens for all writers. Thus, I have developed “The Writer’s Manifesto” to address what has been a disparity. It’s a way to explain what should be happening.
Question: What is the future of the book?
Dayne Sherman: Print media has been in decline for decades. I mean newspapers and magazines. People began to see it in the mid-1990s, but the decline was going on long before 1996 and the growth of the Internet. There are many reasons for this, and there’s no point in outlining all of this here, but the book as a codex, a printed item, is dead, dead, dead. The book is as antiquated as an 8-track tape. But the book as a non-codex, I believe, is doing just fine. Multimedia forms and eBooks are getting along just peachy. The market for eBooks is growing and people are reading. The printed book is nothing more than a nostalgia item from the past. Don’t get me wrong, I like the printed book, but it’s no longer practical. It costs too much to print and ship and ends up in a landfill.
Question: Have you taken sides on the Hachette vs. Amazon dispute?
Dayne Sherman: Do I have to?
Question: Not really, but go on and answer the question.
Dayne Sherman: I understand the arguments on both sides. But no one steals from authors like traditional publishers. Self-published authors selling through Amazon, Kindle, and CreateSpace, as well ACX (Amazon’s audiobook program sold through Audible), are given maximum profits, often 70 %. This meets the demands of The Writer’s Manifesto. I guess I have to go with Amazon for now. Usually Amazon only requires a 90-day commitment, sometimes no commitment at all, whereas traditional publishing requires a “forever commitment.” The life of the author plus 70 years or thereabouts under US Copyright Law. Goodness, even married people can get a divorce if one party is abusive. Just try getting out of a standard book contract. Good luck to you.
Question: Aren’t you a member of the Authors Guild in New York? They are clearly behind Hachette.
Dayne Sherman: Yes, I’m a member, but that doesn’t mean I agree with all of their positions. They have taken up the defense of the bigtime authors, the John Grishams and Stephen Kings, but not the little guys like me. But they’ve helped me in other ways, so I joined.
Question: Isn’t there a stigma to self-publishing?
Dayne Sherman: I suppose there still is. I think it’s sad and will harm libraries. Libraries are supposed to be about intellectual freedom, great ideas, and diversity. If the only thing they buy is what the New York publishing world cranks out and markets to them, such as “Snooki and 50 Shades of Grey,” as independent author Barry Eisler recently surmised, we won’t have anything that remotely looks like the stated goals of libraries in this country.
Question: But what about the junk being peddled by self-published authors?
Dayne Sherman: Returning to Snooki and others. You do realize Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi has books, right? At any given time about half of the New York Times bestsellers are ghostwritten by professional writers like me. In fact, the average reader would be shocked to learn who is and is not actually writing the 23rd thriller by his or her favorite author. I trust readers to ferret out good from bad. I trust librarians, too, but they’re going to have to work harder to make sure real quality works and ideas—self-published or Random House—are bought for patrons.
Question: If the book is dead, why the optimism? You’ve started a publishing company.
Dayne Sherman: Well, I am optimistic. I believe the changes in the publishing world mean it’s possible to go directly to readers and gain an audience. This group of true fans—perhaps 100 or 1,000 or 10,000—will be enough to sustain an author and her books. They’ll help sell enough through word of mouth and social media to reach an even wider audience. If the serious writer pleases the small group of careful readers, he’ll gain enough readers to make a living. In other words, I trust readers more than I trust interns working in Manhattan or any editor on his or her third martini by one o’clock. I trust readers to judge good writing from not so good writing. That’s what I’m banking on.
Question: Why did you become a librarian and not a writer?
Dayne Sherman: I don’t like the question. I’m a librarian and a writer. I was a writer before I became a librarian, and in many ways I went to library school to write. Having a steady income and a job in books is nothing to sneeze at.
Question: That’s odd.
Dayne Sherman: It is. Kind of like William Faulkner working at the post office and losing other people’s mail on purpose. But really, I always thought librarianship and writing went hand in glove.
Question: What did you lose by going indie?
Dayne Sherman: The only economic advantage I lost was having to bankroll my book enterprise, which cost several thousand dollars. This included 1,630 printed books, audio recording equipment for my home studio, LLC and business fees, marketing, and a book tour. I had a substantial base of pre-orders and demand for Zion, my new novel, the pre-sales helping make the book a limited success. But the truth is I would have spent at least half as much if I had a traditional or legacy book deal. They don’t do much beyond printing books. I did lose a potential advance, which can run from zero to God only knows how much. They average around $5,000, minus 15 percent to the agent. And it’s possible that review organs that wrote about Welcome to the Fallen Paradise (Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly) will go silent on Zion. I don’t take it as a personal affront. I know they all work for “The Man.”
Another funny and ironic thing: I wrote Welcome to the Fallen Paradise in 30 days. It was reviewed all over. It took me seven years to write Zion, which is a book far more complicated and literary than the first novel. But the review establishment is more likely to cover a book by a “mainstream” publisher than a micro-press. It’s a little weird and somewhat maddening.
Question: What did you gain by going indie?
Dayne Sherman: Independence. A giant sense of accomplishment. Profit. My rights remain with me forever and a day. I believe I will make more art and answer to less suits, which is important to me, and I suspect my son and his children will still be receiving royalties after I die. I can’t say the same for traditional publishing. I went from 2005 to 2014 without a dime of royalties. The publisher sold my eBook rights and optioned my novel for a film and never informed me or forwarded a dollar. It would be heartbreaking if they still owned my rights, too. Liberation is sweet.
Dayne Sherman: It happens more often than you realize. Authors don’t talk. It’s like there’s some kind of publishing mafia, a code of silence.
Question: Are you saying that traditional publishing contracts are predatory and not in the writer’s best interest?
Dayne Sherman: That’s what I’m saying. I wonder if the average novelist even reads the contract, much less if their paid agent reads the thing. It’s a shame and a rip-off.
Question: You seem to have a biased opinion.
Dayne Sherman: Well, some call it bias, others call it facts.
Question: Moving right along. Tell us about your Eureka moment.
Dayne Sherman: Okay. It happened during the Easter holiday in 2014. Some call it “Spring Break,” but I don’t want to take sides in a religious dispute. My family was visiting relatives in Arkansas for a few days. I used my time off to ramp up my efforts to get all of my rights back from my first novel. A librarian with free time and wireless can be a dangerous thing. I started a PR blitz. I launched a Facebook group called “Macadam/Cage Authors and Survivors,” and I invited as many Macadam/Cage authors as I could find on social media, about 50 out of 200 authors, to join up. MacAdam/Cage had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, and we were all in limbo. In short order, I got my rights back for print, film, and eBooks. It was something I’d worked on for years, and it all kind of fell in my lap through luck and social activism.
The Eureka moment was when I realized I didn’t have to go through an agent or a traditional publisher. In fact, after reading the blogs by J.A. Konrath, Hugh Howey, and Barry Eisler, all authors who left traditional publishing for self-publishing, I realized that I didn’t have to be robbed anymore and that I could actually make more money and have more fun being an independent. Because of eBooks and print on demand technologies, I believe all mid-list authors can make far more money alone than with a traditional publisher, both short and long-term. It has been like this since around 2009, though I didn’t realize it until 2014. I’m a little slow. For me, the act of going indie means artistic freedom, maximum rights preservation, and economic reward. That’s why I started my own press, Accendo Books.
Question: What were your biggest mistakes starting Accendo and going it alone?
Dayne Sherman: First, never, ever, ever format your own manuscript unless you are an expert. Second, never, ever, ever try to do your own cover unless you are a graphic artist. Never. These were my two biggest mistakes. The third mistake was not giving myself a full year from Eureka moment until the first book rolled off the press. Twelve months would not have been necessary if I hadn’t made the formatting and cover art mistakes, however. I needed more time to learn as I went along. But the biggest mistake was not starting my own press in 2009.
Question: What if your books are successful, do you plan to quit your day job as a librarian?
Dayne Sherman: Are you crazy? Look, if I stopped being a librarian, I’d have way too much time on my hands. No, I don’t plan to leave librarianship until the State of Louisiana says I can retire or I slough over at the reference desk.
Question: If you did stop being a librarian and could do anything you wanted to do as a career, what would you do?
Dayne Sherman: I’d travel the country if not the world interviewing interesting people on tape. Something like Alan Lomax or NPR’s StoryCorps. That’s what I’d do. Each and every day. But I already do a little of this now through my “Louisiana Talks” column.
Question: That’s interesting.
Dayne Sherman: I think it is. There’s nothing better than a good conversation—other than a good book, which is nothing more than a good conversation between writer and reader.
Dayne Sherman is the author of the novels Zion and Welcome to the Fallen Paradise, both $2.99 ebooks. Signed first editions available from the author. And he does not speak for any of his employers. Please sign up for my newsletter and get the FREE Dayne Sherman Starter Pack Ebook. Thanks for reading and sharing.