Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tamed: A Study in Self Publishing

A good friend of mine and I were arguing the other day about the state of the music industry. Obviously the way we listen to and purchase music has changed quite a bit in the past ten years. The abundance of the PC in the home, relatively inexpensive and accessible studio equipment, and the advent of online music services such as iTunes have made it possible for bands to produce and sell their music to a relatively large audience without major label support. The question is however, while it can be very good, is self published music ever going to be as good as music that was nurtured into existence by professional music producers and studios?

As with music, it is now possible to create high quality books and take them to market without the support of a publishing house. This is what Sarah Witenhafer author of 'Tamed' chose to do. By using Amazon's CreateSpace service she was able to produce bookstore quality copies of her 449 page opus which allows her to generate interest from fans and publishers alike. It is possible that Tamed (and its planned sequels) will one day be published by a major publisher, and if so it will be neat to say that I was able to read a copy long before the rest of the country heard about it.

Of course, it is by pure coincidence that I even had the opportunity to read 'Tamed' at all. I will admit that I don't spend much time on CreateSpace looking for interesting work by unpublished authors, though I'm sure there are many. Instead, I came to the book much in the way that most of us get saddled with a hundred boxes of Girl Scout cookies every year: One of my coworkers is married to the author.

Years ago I wrote a novel of my own. It was an exercise mostly, and when it was finished, not believing it was good enough to be published, I tossed the manuscript into a shoebox and walked away from it. Still, I always thought it would be cool to have a realistic copy to put on the bookshelf (Next to William H. Gass' legitimate 'The Tunnel') to have as a souvenir of that experience. When I received my copy of 'Tamed' I realized that technology had improved to the point that I could now make this happen.

At this point I guess I should mention that the copy of 'Tamed' that I had in my possession was in fact borrowed, and was in fact autographed by the author herself. I was a little intimidated by the length of the book and so I postponed reading it for quite some time. Eventually I began to develop a guilty feeling, thinking that the true owner might want their book back, so I finally decided to read it.

I don't want to give too much away about the plot, but 'Tamed' is at its heart a love story between Reign Phillips, a young woman who has just received her PhD in ancient languages and Damon Sarantos, a gorgeous Mediterranean man who may or may not be a demon. She's tough, a bit of a warrior with sword and gun skills, but she is also very religious and a devout Christian. She makes it her mission to convert this handsome bad boy while he does his best to have his way with her. In the end, they both win, I think, before an epic battle between demonic forces ensues.

This book will most certainly appeal religiously to the readers of stories like 'Twilight'. At church, when I was in the High School youth group I knew several young women who were a lot like Reign; Head over heels for Jesus with a flirt to convert mentality. I'm sure that this is an archetype, and that every church has girls who think this way. Although there are adult themes throughout, Witenhafer's prose is G-rated (at one point in the narrative a street girl who Reign has taken under her wing uses the word 'screw' when she should be using that other word...) and the story basically serves as an alter call.

These are minor criticisms however, as Witenhafer is a good writer and keeps the reader engaged for most of the book while Reign and Damon push and pull each other towards the inevitable consummation of their relationship.

Ultimately though, I hope that the publishers do find and nurture this book. In it's present form Tamed, at 479 pages is just too long in the tooth in spots and could benefit from the ax of a good editor. In that argument I had with my friend the other day I took the side of the artist. But after finishing 'Tamed' I realized that there might just be something to be said for those who know the business of producing and selling the popular arts.

(Of course, try telling that to Stephen King, to whom Whitenhafer will one day be compared.)

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