How humanity (not a literary agent) changed my life
A Thank You For 232 Humanists
I was in a bar the other day — Au Chat Noir on Rue Saint Maur, not far from the bohemians and prostitutes of Belleville — and a mustachioed Frenchman with skinny arms asked a friend of mine, “I like your poetry. It’s very futuristic. Do you know about transhumanism?”
“Yeah, sure,” my friend replied. “I’ve read about it before. Has some interesting ideas…why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason. I just happen to be a transhumanist.”
When I heard this I smiled and wondered about the term, because I like to think of myself as a humanist without the trans. I wasn’t so much interested in robotics, however, as I was in the Frenchman’s self-definition as an incarnation of what he believed in. This seemed bold if not pompous, not the least because the guy couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, but it did indeed challenge my own assumption of “being” an ism.
Believing in something is different than being it, and there’s no shortage of wannabes when it comes to writing (for a time that included me). Still, humanist has always sounded like a noble thing to be—I’m convinced that for the world to be a better place, we have to believe it can be. Unfortunately, humans have an innate negativity bias: we seek out the negative when it comes to judging our fellow human beings, so witnessing even a few examples of cruelty plays a large role in how we judge the rest of humanity. If I watch too much news (i.e. any news at all), or see a group of jackass men catcalling a woman in the street, or see a fat old French lady knock over a beggar’s change jar and continue down the road without saying excuse me, the knot in my stomach winds a bit tighter and I wonder if it’s really possible to believe in humanity at all. But humans are adaptable, and the thing is we can change this: I can turn off the news, tell the jackasses to walk away, or pick up the homeless man’s change and give him another quarter or two. Being a humanist doesn’t mean always believing humans are great, only that they can be. This requires effort and living actively versus passively, of course, which brings me to my debut novel at Inkshares and all of you.
As soon as I put Slim and the Beast on Inkshares (Inkshares is a crowdfunded publishing house democratized publishing) I was confronted with three fundamentally humanist questions. First, how much do I believe in myself; second, how much do I believe in the support of other people; and third, how much do other people believe in me? All three questions were interconnected, and none of them had a clear answer at first. I had to believe in myself before you could believe in me; but for you to believe in me, I also had to have faith in my communities. There is a mutualism with Inkshares that is particularly attractive, not the least because when it comes to being human, we can’t be human alone.
Inkshares is a start-up, and we all know most start-ups fail. But I didn’t join Inkshares because I was afraid of succeeding. It’s true, I could’ve gone with a more traditional approach to publishing, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t try it previously. After college, because I thought “writer” was something to be versus to do, it took fourteen MFA rejections, a three-year solo-dance of literary masochism culminating in a shitty first novel, countless short stories that I more or less hate, and two years of editing Slim and The Beast to find not only an alternative to the traditional publishing model, but also a better way to connect with all of you.
A caveat: some critics will undoubtedly bring up the fact that if a writer has enough friends (or more likely, enough rich friends), he or she will be published not because of talent but because of popularity (N.B. If you really believe mainstream publishers are more concerned with literary/philosophical merit than popularity, kindly send me a message outlining your argument, please).
It’s true, many of you supported me because you’re a friend or part of my family, and whether or not you think my writing is good enough won’t matter much to a critic. But there are other backers I’ve never met, and many more acquaintances that had no obligation to support the project. The bottom line is 232 people decided to make a debut novel happen, and that’s significant.
The reason I’ve told people they can be a part of history is because Inkshares signifies a change — in my life, of course, but perhaps in the publishing industry, too. I’m a mostly unpublished and unknown writer, and unpublished unknown writers don’t usually get the chance to speak at Shakespeare & Company. Many writers whom I’ve spoken to say it’s all about who you know, which makes it hard for a debut writer to find a publisher. But with Inkshares what matters is I know all of you, and unlike self-publishing, Inkshares is based upon a democratic model that requires faith in something other than one’s own ego, a communal versus individual sense of success.
If that isn’t humanism, I don’t know what is. I succeeded because of your kindness, support and generosity. Had I failed, it would’ve been solely on me, too. Inkshares’ model doesn’t allow writers to blame literary agents for “not understanding them,” or to spend years criticizing The System. Slim and The Beast will be published because enough of you wanted to read it—whether or not it succeeds commercially isn’t up to you or me, but thankfully that’s not the point. The point is we did this together, and I mean that literally: you’ve made my dream a reality, but perhaps more importantly, you’ve given others writers a chance, too.
And that’s why I can confidently say that I’m a humanist. I don’t just believe in the potential goodness of humanity anymore, but have 232 arguments for its existence. Knowing that you are the reason I am being published is both humbling and gratifying and I don’t plan to forget it (hence the pending poster with all of your names on my wall). Your support has been financial, of course, but it has been so much more than that. In a very real sense, you’ve affirmed my faith in humanity (it’s cliché because it has to be — as a famous person said, deal with it). You’re part of Slim and The Beast, but also part of everything that comes after. This wouldn’t have happened without you, and I’m humbled and honored to be a part of it.