I Was An Asshole

The two printings of that first hand-bound edition of EYEHEART EVERYTHING add up to about seven hundred copies. And seven hundred sales, over a ten year period, means about as much to a major publisher as seven hundred squirrels farting in outer space. But to me, those sales are like seven hundred flaming pink candles on a bright orange birthday cake. This book opened doors for me everywhere. One copy was read by the CEO of a local entertainment firm and got me employment writing for film and television. Another copy was read by Carlton Mellick III; it begat a long a fruitful friendship and the eventual release of my first novel by Eraserhead Press. A short film was made from one of these stories, and several others were reprinted in various journals, online and off. I’m often asked to read from this book at literary events, or campfires, or weddings, and I always say yes. Best of all, some huge percentage of readers have bothered to track me down and tell me how much they loved this book. Had they not, I’m sure I would have succeeded in my furious effort to fail at writing.

Probably every headstrong young writer believes that they only need to find the audience who loves them for who they are, and that editors just get in the way. Probably every editor believes that writers are like uncut diamonds, in need of vigorous polishing and sharp blows with a chisel in order to realize their full potential. Probably the truth is somewhere in the middle. Looking back at this collection, I sure wish I’d had an editor. I see things I should have thrown away and things I should have sent to Granta or The New Yorker — some of my best work, and some total crap, and nobody but myself in charge of knowing the difference. It was a snapshot taken at a poignant pivot point in my life. Ten years later, it’s a historic document. Someday it might be valuable.

Many things happened to me in the intervening decade. We had that child. We bought that house. We got married a second time, in the backyard so everybody could watch. I did some journalism, some screen writing — I was once paid more than thirty thousand dollars to write fewer than ten lines of dialogue for a major motion picture — and I played a lot of music and wrote a lot of software and rode a lot of bicycles. Powell’s continued to sell one or two or three copies of EYEHEART EVERYTHING every month, and I continued to manufacture more copies for them, ten or twenty at a time. I hot-glued the covers, and my daughter applied the little stickers with the ISBN barcodes — an absolutely crucial element of any professional book cover, by the way, and one that Brady and I forgot to include in the design, amateurs that we were.

Meanwhile, another thing happened entirely without me: Print On Demand. The publishing world has struggled for years now with how to love this bastard child of printing and the Internet, but I think it is the raddest thing ever. Basically, you can upload your book document digitally to a great big photocopier in the cloud, where robots hot-glue the covers so you don’t have to. I positively would not have bothered printing my own book in the middle of the night at Kinko’s, surrounded by muttering conspiracy theorists, sleepwalking office assistants and festive but foul-smelling methadrine addicts, if POD technology had existed in 1999.

(If I seem to harp on the hot glue, it’s because I have suffered enough hot glue burns in the last ten years to cover most of my body. The seven hundredth book is finished and I’m not doing that any more. A hundred of something is a limited edition; seven hundred is a minimum wage.)

Today, POD technology is enabling droves of young, headstrong geniuses, who lack editors or even proofreaders, to publish their brilliant, flawless first novels without even lifting a stapler. This is both good and bad; some of these people really ought to wait. But who am I to tell them so? In the area of Not-Self-Publishing, I have zero credibility. It seems the printed word has simply broken free of parental supervision for the time being. That will be awesome and that will suck. My one piece of advice for the brave new wave of POD self-publishers is: don’t forget the barcode.

This glossy new edition of EYEHEART EVERYTHING feels slightly bourgeois, but it’s now distributed via major catalogs, it can be shipped overnight (if you’re really that desperate), it’s more correctly spelled than ever, has much finer registration and no longer triggers airport metal detectors. Also, the story “UHF” now includes most of Dave Eggers’ suggested improvements. I love to make beautiful things, and I truly believe that the POD edition of EYEHEART EVERYTHING is the loveliest thing POD can produce. Plus, it remains an excellent tool for stabilizing a wobbly table.

But you may have to take my word for that; you may in fact be reading these words on a digital e-book reader, or a super-intelligent telephone, or a beam of pink light that implants short stories and medical advice directly in your brain. The future will be full of crazy stuff like that! I would never discriminate against your preferred book-input port. Please just know that there was once a time when people made books with their hands, out of paper and ink, and handed them directly to one another, and read them with their eyes, and held them to their hearts. It was sweet. TC mark

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  • statusandapager

    THIS IS AWESOME AND REALLY ENCOURAGING. I LIKED PAGE 2

  • Mychale

    Strike one.

  • # SisterWolf

    You can really write! That's the main thing.
    p.s. I would've argued with Dave Eggers too, and that's why I can't have nice things either.

  • sarahlb

    how long did you agonize over that final “sweet”? did you consider “nice” (too distant) and “cute” (too condescending)?

    we are writers too, we know.

    • Mykle

      In search of a sincere answer to your question, I just dug out an earlier draft where I instead used the word “awesome,” in that typical Californian sense of generic enthusiasm for stuff. But that would have been lame. And while I'm not above using “sweet” in the sense of “dude, ninjas are totally sweet,” I think in this sense I really meant it as, you know, adorable in retrospect.

  • http://nothingspaces.com Carina

    This was sweet. Thank you.

  • Wedge Faraway

    Thank you, Mr Hansen.
    There was a reason why we became facefriends.

  • YEP

    The last part was really awesome. I didn't know self-publishing was literally gluing the pages together. Or was that a metaphor? But whatever, it was a great article.

    • Mykle

      Thanks! Yes, actual glue from an actual hot-glue gun. That was the 1999 alternative to printing a thousand copies and then warehousing 950 of them in my garage. Also, hot glue guns are kind of sexy. These days, of course, there is Print On Demand for one-at-a-time trade paperbacks. But I do like working with my hands, and I might manufacture a small run of hardbacks someday.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    And seven hundred sales, over a ten year period, means about as much to a major publisher as seven hundred squirrels farting in outer space.

    It was sweet.

  • Tim

    i stopped reading when you started getting into a fight with Dave Eggers. You became repellant.

    • ANON

      Finish it! He's remorseful!

      • Mykle

        And then I turn into a unicorn!

  • Adamhump

    I liked this, nice work.

  • http://twitter.com/allirense Alli Rense

    This is why you are better than me. I would have done everything Dave Eggers said.

    • Mykle

      I dunno … the thing is, he was mostly right. I just can't be told what to do, for better or worse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Parker-Baldin/516709205 Parker Baldin

    i like when thought catalog has really well written pieces like this

  • Earl

    Was?

  • Faust

    Great article – there's hope for us yet. Maybe. I should probably write something … still, loved the article. Thanks for posting it.

  • http://twitter.com/nycGtrain G Train

    Dave Eggers is the guy who wrote “What is the What?” right? Fucking retarded title. Fuck him.

  • Casey

    Kicking myself for that time when I was stoned out and peeled the ISBN sticker right off! Like refinishing an antique, I have devalued my copy.

    • mykle

      No problem! Print these out on Avery sticker stock, and apply to every book you own.

      http://mykle.com/images/second

      Nobody will suspect you were high.

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