As an employee of F+W Media Inc., I was required to give the company the right to publish (and pay me for) anything that I’d written on my own time.
While that might sound draconian, it’s not. Many companies claim to outright own everything that you think, dream or fantasize about at any moment in your sleeping, waking, leisure or My-Pretty-Pony moments.
So after I wrote “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” I submitted it to the company’s editorial review board and held my breath. If they liked it, they would publish it. If they didn’t like it, then I was going to publish it on my own.
Neither result was ideal.
If F+W published the book, then the company obviously would get the lion’s share of the money. That’s what traditional publishers do (Lost Art Press, I might add, does not). So if F+W published the book I’d end up with a check that would allow me to buy a used, mid-range Japanese car with about 75,000 miles on the odometer.
In exchange I would receive legitimacy. In the media world, publishing your own book is akin to marrying your sister. Most self-published books are about encounters with aliens that involve wax paper and Wesson oil, or Klingon wildlife poetry, or recipes for curing cancer with celery salt.
Self-published books aren’t treated seriously. No one reviews them. Few people buy them. The only way they are useful to society is because paper has a pretty good R-value as insulation when stuffed between studs.
A week or so after submitting my book, my boss sat me down and said the editorial board liked the book but wanted me to change it. They suggested a title like “The Practical Woodworker” and suggested I refocus it on how to balance hand and machine work.
So now I had a third bad choice.
My head was so bleary that I don’t even remember what I said that moment, or even what I did the rest of the day at the office. But I do remember the ride home.
One of my favorite rock bands is Superchunk, a North Carolina-based independent group that started out with its own label, called Merge Records. That label has grown remarkably since 1989 and now publishes music by bands like Arcade Fire, The Magnetic Fields and Spoon. And they still release their own Superchunk stuff, too.
In 2010 Superchunk released “Majesty Shredding,” an album that I still listen to with devoted regularity. And on my drive home from work that day I cranked that very album.
Is Merge Records a vanity label?
Does Superchunk lack artistic validity because it’s not published by Warner Bros.?
By the time I reached my house I knew what I was going to do: Publish “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” myself and take the scarlet letter for doing so.
— Christopher Schwarz