No sooner had I published my column than I heard of a local poet and all-around artistic sensation hoping to publish his first book by the same means. “Kickstarter fatigue?” I posited in my last column. On the contrary—Alexander Norelli says Kickstarter is really just beginning to blossom, particularly for literature lovers like himself.
For Norelli, there’s no shame in self—or group—publishing. Not to mention the end result is so much more than just a book—there is also an incredible sense of ongoing community and support.
“I’ve never really tried very hard to get published, mainly because I never wanted to write anything but my own poems,” says Norelli. “I never had much luck getting them published. Now I feel is the time to make a book of it—it’s an intuitive feeling.”
He adds: “2013 sounds like a good year to start out on an adventure.” (We hear you, Norelli.)
Those entrenched in the literary world know there’s a certain stigma surrounding self-publishing, but Norelli is quick to dismiss that.
“My great grandfather did a lot of self-publishing so I never saw it as being a low-brow thing, it was more a way to get your ideas into the world,” he says.
“There is talk about self-published books not having the same editorial process and so the work can’t possibly be as ‘good.’ This is a myth, it’s my belief that good vs. bad in poetry is the wrong question, I think it should be interesting vs. dull.”
A major part of the process for Norelli has been learning the logistical aspects of publishing beyond putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
“The tools that exist today are amazing and make the process accessible to anyone willing to take on a little debt to learn a new skill,” he explains. “Some elitists might fret ‘now everyone can write a book’ but I don’t see any harm in self-publishing, it’s a liberating challenge–like running a marathon.”
Prior to launching his campaign, Norelli did briefly toy with the idea of funding the project himself.
“I remember hearing a story about Spike Lee funding Do the Right Thing with 26 credit cards and was inspired to just take the risk and go for it. I was thinking I would just put it all on a credit card with the hope it paid off somehow.”
But he kept going back to Kickstarter, and what the platform represented to him.
“I just didn’t see much poetry being done through it, and most that I did see was journals and group projects. I didn’t really see any poets trying to get their own books published– though it took me a while to realize that was in fact an opportunity and not an impediment.”
He adds: “I really like the inclusive aspect of it.”
“Doing a Kickstarter helps get people to believe in you, because you really do have to put yourself out there. Making a video made me really nervous, but in the end I just laid it all out there. We are still very early in the age of Kickstarter—few technologies are as empowering to people wanting to realize their dreams.”
Norelli draws inspiration from many sources, but, while times have certainly changed in the publishing world, he was encouraged to learn Leaves of Grass was initially self-published by Whitman.
“Leaves of Grass wasn’t published by some big publishing house pre-vetted by the greatest poets of his time,” explains Norelli. “It was a risk, a huge one…not only was he a poet he was an entrepreneur, shamelessly so, which I think is truly venerable.”
Some writers have luck with publishing houses, he explains, but Norelli has never been fond of the process.
“I never really liked the set-up of sending your work out for approval and resting all your hopes and dreams on someone else’s judgment—months of anticipation to have some young reader go, ‘boy does this suck!'”
“While a complex editorial process might heighten what is already there, half obscured, it won’t ever put into something what isn’t there in quality to start.”
If anything, Norelli points out, self-published books occasionally suffer from poor design choices. He hopes with his newfound skills he will be able to create “the whole package.”
His advice? “The more you learn to do yourself, the more empowered you will be, and the less expensive the process.”
If his book gets funded, Norelli plans to distribute them himself as “[he’s] always had a thing for the mail.”
“Distributing the books is something I really am looking forward to, not only because I like the mail, but because I look forward to sending the book out to people who are interested in what I am doing,” he says.
And New York City has certainly played a role in shaping the local poet’s process as well: “The loneliness you find here is unlike any other place. Here, loneliness is just another color in your palette. Writing requires more than a bit of solitariness to get done, at least in New York you don’t seem like a recluse because you are holed up in your studio for weeks or months.”
“New York normalizes the habits of the artist and allows them to get work done,” he adds. “Here it seems you are in the thick of the ferment.”
Ultimately, Norelli hopes and believes Kickstarter, and whatever similarly positive, artist-friendly platforms crop up in its wake, will help push the boundaries of what is currently being done in literature.
“Kickstarter is just a means, it is not an end in itself,” he says. “While the many editorial levels in traditional publishing houses can help bring out the best of a work, I would not say they are conducive to trying new things, or testing anything established to make sure what is taken for granted deserves to be.”
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