Q&A With Self-published Writer John Waldron
Last year was big one for self-publishing. E.L. James (who famously got her start self-publishing) won Publishers Weekly’s author of the year (here’s the entertaining response to the news from The Washington Post’s Ron Charles). Penguin adopted Author Solutions, Inc.—a big machar in the burgeoning, self-propelled industry. And Bowker reported that 235,000 print and e-books were self-pubbed in the U.S. As indie booksellers noticed years ago, indie books can satisfy niches too small for the big five. The Huffington Post noted that 40 self-pubbed authors signed with traditional publishers for a $250k or more.
This year will be even bigger for indie books. Industry blogs are expanding their coverage, including GalleyCat, which runs a weekly indie bestseller list. IndieReader continues to offer good resources and coverage, along with a bestseller list. And Wattpad and Goodreads serve as well-known communities for feedback and recommendations. And with an impressive growth rate (287 percent since 2006), the numbers of indie books will only increase, especially since sites like Amazon’s Kindle Direct, B&N’s PubIt, BookBaby, CreateSpace and Smashwords make it so easy. Sales of self-pubbed titles are harder to quantify; most individual indie authors don’t sell more 100 or 150 copies (according a recent article in the New York Times). But that doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone. Who knows who’ll be the next Darcie Chan, Brittany Geragotelis or Amanda Hocking?
This boom in self-publishing has launched a revolution in reading—and writing. The questions that arise when talking about self-publishing are about quality. Of course, for some titles, the “quality” is that of a first draft. But so what? Many writers have stopped talking about writing a book and now have actually written one. There’s tremendous value in sitting with a topic long enough to write an entire book about it, even if that value is to the writer alone. And with self-publishing, there can always be a second, fifth, or 23rd draft.
With so many blogs and review sites (full disclosure: I’m the senior Indie editor at Kirkus Reviews) fueling the movement, the bar is rising and the quality is noticeably improving. There will undoubtedly be new, thrilling work. There are already a number of excellent indie titles, including LGBT titles. And of course there were all those famous queers who self-pubbed ages ago: Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf. Today, books that might have never left an author’s hard drive are appealing to readers and the market. With the relatively recent loss of LGBT publishers (Alyson, Carroll & Graf), that’s happy news for queer readers.
The abundance, however, sometimes makes the best reads difficult to find. This sea of books is already the greatest obstacle for LGBT authors trying to stand out. To cast some light on recommended LGBT indie titles, Lambda Lit introduces a monthly Q & A with self-published authors and professionals. This month, Lambda Lit speaks with John Waldron, a gay dad from Phoenix, about his memoir, A Father’s Angels.
Please tell us a little about your book.
The book is about relationships between my two adopted sons and a series of babysitters, all from Mexico, who at some level were in the country illegally. As a single gay dad, the book also addresses the challenges I encountered in adopting, along with the anguish and insights I experienced in raising a child with mental illness. Overlaying much of the story is the tension regarding the immigration climate in Arizona.
What drew you to self-publishing?
I have a very focused goal for self-publishing: secure a traditional publisher for A Father’s Angels as well as my second book which I am now working on. My second book, Extra Curricular Activities, is a much lighter look at parenting as a single gay dad and my encounters with Little League, Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church and Soccer Moms. Can anyone tell me why Boy Scout troop meetings must be scheduled at the same time as Glee and American Idol? It’s dilemmas such as these, which I encounter with more traditional parents, that have led to my share of humorous anecdotes.
Regardless of the publishing format, hopefully my book initiates additional meaningful discussion regarding the immigration debate and real solutions for the 11 million undocumented workers who are already in this country. Furthermore, my experience with parenting a child with mental illness may provide perspective and compassion on a topic that is rarely, freely or openly discussed. As a result, those of us who travel this road often times feel isolated from mainstream parenting.
Can you talk about the process of creating a self-pubbed book? Any caveats/suggestions for other indie authors?
First and foremost, consult an editor early in the process. It’s really critical in both structuring and building a story line to have some additional eyes on your writing. I knew very little about self-publishing going into the process, so I tried to follow other successful authors who have traveled this path and learn from them. Along the way, I came across some great resources from cover design and text layout as well as marketing and promotion recommendations. I also joined Backspace and other author websites where writers talk about the process of writing and publishing.
Your book tackles several weighty issues simultaneously: being a single gay dad, adopting special needs children, working with undocumented immigrants in Arizona. Was it ever difficult to balance these topics and not let any one of them overwhelm the story?
Perhaps less so in writing the book and more so in my own life. I have always had to juggle a lot at once. I’m finally coming to a place in my life where I could genuinely appreciate being in the moment and find joy from some of the simplest actions, whether it was being with my kids or some truly magical moments with the women who helped me care for them, are some of the intended takeaways of the book. I always try to write from an honest place and allow the emotion to hit the page. My biggest concern was making sure I honored those who have played such an important role in my sons’ lives.
In your book, you mention that when applying to adopt a child, you checked ADHD, depression, anger issues, and previous abuse as “acceptable conditions that [you] could handle as a new parent.” That’s a lot to handle as a new dad. What made you think you were up for that challenge?
Before adopting, I had spent a lot of time around kids. By fourteen, I was a swim instructor at our neighborhood swimming pool and for several years after, I coached a number of different youth sports teams. I was also a substitute teacher in some really rough parts of Los Angeles while earning a Master’s degree. All that said, in hindsight I was really ambitious and likely checked a few too many boxes. However, many of the state adoption systems do not freely place young healthy toddlers with single or partnered gay people. As a result, you realize that unless you are willing to take on some additional challenges you may never receive a placement.
It sounds like the adoption process for a single gay man was nearly impossible. Do you think it’s become any easier for LGBT people to adopt?
Over the last ten years, it has become easier on all fronts to be LGBT. However, state agency adoption in many conservative states, like my home state of Arizona, remains a very difficult process. In Arizona there is legislation that provides preference to married couples and the state forbids partnered gay couples from adopting. I write in the book that even after having a successful track record with my first son, adopting a second time around through the state system became impossible. I was eventually forced to go international, which is no walk in the park, itself. Even today, there appears to be a similar agenda in which state agency workers continue to earmark some of the most challenging kids with gay parents.
How are your sons doing now?
Good, thanks for asking. Although I adopted both my sons at three years of age, my oldest clearly had the tougher start with a very tumultuous beginning, prior to his adoption. In the book I talk candidly about some of the outcomes that result when a child is abandoned or neglected as an infant. Regardless, he is a great kid with a loving heart and he has many interests which he is in the process of pursuing as a young adult. My youngest son is a high school sophomore, plays in the band and participates on the school tennis team. He has a great sense of humor and rolls easily with life’s changes. I definitely feel blessed to have had the opportunity to parent both my sons. At times, it remains a challenge, but I am definitely a better person to have had the experience.