Lisa A. Kramer

Author, Speaker, Theater Artist, Creativity Facilitator

Creative Spotlight: Lemonade and Holy Stuff

I have a love-hate relationship with the concept of self-publishing. I know it can be done well, and in the back of my mind I am still flirting with the possibility for my own work. There are ample examples of self-published author's who are extremely talented writers but who chose or were forced into the less traditional path for any number of reasons:
  • They can't get a foot in the tiny crack of an open door to a traditional publishing house
  • They write in a genre or a mix of genres that are difficult to categorize
  • They haven't found the "agent in the haystack" that loves their work--a search which is akin to internet dating without the ability to even ask a single question
  • They have more control over their own earnings
  • They have a backlog of books that they want to get out there again
  • Etc.
There are also, unfortunately, numerous self-published authors, like the one discussed in this article over at 4am Writer called "Pen Names: Sleazy or Savvy Writing Strategy" who leap into publishing without bothering to perfect their own craft. Perhaps their goal is simply to say "I am a published author" or they really just want to make as much money as they can without regard to the quality of their work. Or maybe they are just naive enough to think their writing is perfect from the start--and that they shouldn't have to draft, redraft, edit, have someone else edit, or anything else.

These are the writer's who give self-publishing a bad name. They are also the writer's who make it nearly impossible for a good independent book to get any reviews, any publicity or any support from the publishing community.

I am making more of an effort to write reviews for independent work that I find good. I will, occasionally, review books that I find awful (although usually I don't mention names within the body of this blog). However, if you want to know which books I pan, it usually doesn't take much effort . . . all you have to do is find me on GoodReads or perhaps Amazon and you will know which books I dislike.

While I do have a relationship (at least through the internet) with some of the people whose books I review, I will not give a good review to any book that I dislike simply based on that relationship. I respect myself and the people who might choose to read something based on my recommendations too much to do that. I try to be honest and helpful with my reviews. So, for example, I wrote a review for Read for Animals, an anthology put together to support animal shelters and edited by a blogging friend of mine (although she was not part of the selection process). Most of the reviewers of the book gave it 5 stars, because--I believe--the concept and desire to support this cause overwhelmed the ability to write an objective review.  This is what I wrote:
Read in March, 2014
This is one of those times when I wish I could give half stars, so that this would be 3.5. I love the concept of this collection, and there are some really fabulous short stories and poems ("Survivor", "He Could Only Say Meow" and "The Magnificent Seven" were among my favorites). However, there were also several stories that seemed to not quite achieve the emotional impact they could have. They seemed to be more descriptions of certain animals then fully told stories. I wanted more. I do hope this series continues and that the contributors flesh out the stories more fully.
My basic recommendation: buy the book if you want to support the cause but not if you are looking for an incredible read.
Lemonade and Holy Stuff

Enough about my theory of writing reviews and supporting independent authors. Today, I want to spotlight one of them. Miranda Gargasz is someone I've gotten to know through the blogosphere. She decided to self publish Lemonade and Holy Stuff partially because she knew that getting a traditional publisher interested in a collection of essays is one of the hardest things to do.

I confess, I don't read a lot of memoirs unless they are about really interesting people and lives. In the past I have read memoirs where authors were just complaining about how horrible their lives had been and blaming everything on other people, rather than learning from and growing through their experiences. Miranda is not one of those people. She's had a tough life, and she could be one of those complainers who wallow in the past rather than move toward the future. She doesn't do that. In my interactions with her, her spirit, love of life, and desire to break through a cycle that could have destroyed her shines through on a daily basis.

For that reason, and my growing interest in personal essay, I read the book. This is the review I wrote:

's review
Mar 07, 14  ·  edit
Read in March, 2014
". . . the measure of a [person's] character isn't composed of what [s]he does when [s]he's lifted up, but rather how gracefully [s]he stands up when [s]he's knocked to [her] knees." This slight variation of a quote from Miranda Gargasz' collection of essays basically describes the amazing spirit of her words. With humor, nostalgia, reflection, and even self-criticism Gargasz shares honest moments of living a real life. She shares the stories of a world where parents make mistakes, children aren't always easy, dogs have attitude, and life isn't always perfect--but where the journey is still joyous because of the underlying power of love.

Miranda has now reached that point in her independent publishing journey where she is stuck. Book bloggers tend to write reviews about fiction and refuse to write about self-published books. She's tried to get into places for book signings and readings, only to be met with closed doors in many cases. Meanwhile, within a week of publication, her book had reached the top 100 books in memoir. There is something very wrong with a system which closes doors on good work simply because it was not presented through a traditional publisher.

What can we do? Buy the book. Read the book. Review the book. Share the book. The only way we can support each other as artists is to get the word out there.

My basic recommendation: This is a book worth reading. It's not perfect (there are a few minor editorial glitches) but it far surpasses so many books out there, both traditionally and independently published. Read it, you won't regret it.