The Never Ending Journey of the Independent Artist

Independent art requires courage and persistence and a commitment to engage the world, to promote and market the work.
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In February, 2008, BantamDell published my first novel, Immortal. By the time it appeared on bookshelves in Barnes & Noble, I was 150 pages into a sequel about two illegitimate sons of the rags-to-riches-to-burnt-at-the-stake Renaissance protagonist of Immortal.

I got a bad feeling that summer and asked my agent, an eminent sort who professed to love Bastard Sons, "What will you do if Bantam turns down the sequel?"

He said, "I will go out with it in a big way, I promise."

Bantam refused it. At that time, the Big Crash was cresting like a tsunami. Everyone everywhere in every industry panicked.

"I can't sell anything right now," my agent said.

"Don't be chickensh*t," I answered. "Send it out."

That was the end of our relationship.

After that, there were a few agents. One well-known personage sent out the first draft of my dystopian Fallen. Then she wanted me to pay for the privilege of publishing with her literary agency's new ePublishing arm.

I had already researched ePublishing and the POD process for The Art of Life, a sculpture book I was working on with my husband, classical sculptor Sabin Howard. I didn't need her new venture. Besides, wasn't it a conflict of interest for an agent to hawk books while running her own ePublishing enterprise, from which she takes 15% of sales?

I declined politely, because I had learned something about dealing with agents. She dropped me like a hot, starchy, edible tuber.

Two other agents couldn't sell anything.

What I experienced was that the big traditional publishing companies had gotten mired in the quicksand of conventional thinking and groupthink. They had forgotten the importance of nurturing a midlist author through a few books to build a readership. They overlooked the appeal of richness and diversity in a book list and so refused to invest in truly original, unorthodox projects.

Worst of all, they had taken the selection of books away from people who love books -- editors -- and turned it over to people desperately searching for a business school algorithm to make every book a bestseller out of the starting gate -- the marketing department.

Not that some wonderful books don't sneak past the eyes of the marketing department. But, increasingly, legacy publishers emulate corporate Hollywood studios: turning out branded, franchise entertainment, mindless drivel that appeals to the horny, nerdy teenager in us all.

The great books and movies that make it past gatekeepers usually do so because they are spearheaded by someone passionate about the project. These projects come from the creative heart and soul of a dedicated individual. They require perseverance and vision in order to unfold in the world.

With no luck but bad luck with the legacy publishers, I embarked on my own passion process. I founded Parvati Press. I started independently publishing my own books and recently other authors.

I'm fortunate to have two strong-minded individualists in my life as models for my journey: my husband Sabin Howard, and my friend dancer Lori Belilove, Founder and Artistic Director of the Isadora Duncan Dance Company and Foundation.

Sabin has bucked the trend in the art world since art school. He never bought into the conventional fawning over abstract art. He drew and sculpted the figure, despite proclamations that that kind of art is archaeological.

He has produced extraordinarily fine figurative sculptures that are breathtakingly beautiful and shockingly of-this-minute. They're shown around the world in private collections and museums. But don't take his wife's word for it. Peek online at the images.

Not that it's been easy for Sabin. The chicanery in the art world is even worse than in publishing. People have been programmed by a corrupt art market to believe that there's no difference between self-expression and art, and that nonsense means something and should be bought for a lot of money.

They've been so bamboozled that they're afraid to discern what is good art, because they're afraid to sound ignorant. Some PhD will spout specious rhetoric to belittle them.

I've spoken up, saying, "Jeff Koon's stuff is stupid and Frank Gehry's is ugly." I mean, there is gorgeous abstract art and modern architecture -- that just ain't it. Perhaps it will take a while before people suss out that the Emperor has no clothes.

Sabin soldiers on, selling mostly out of his studio, and creating a body of work that demonstrates by its very existence an alternative to what is stupid and ugly.

Lori Belilove faced a similar challenge when, as a teenager, she fell in love with Isadora Duncan dance. She decided to become the best Duncan dancer and to preserve, promote and further Duncan's work. At that time, only a few dancers taught Duncan technique; the work had fallen into obscurity and even disrepute.

Lori became an electrifying performer and beloved teacher. She was always led by her passion and her company garners more and more invitations to perform and teach, both here and abroad.

Thanks largely to Lori's efforts, Duncan technique has grown so popular that she now travels to teach teachers, so the work can continue.

I'm continually awed by her. I'm not the only one. She's become a guiding light for many people, in and beyond the dance world.

I'm lucky to have these examples. Independent art requires courage and persistence and a commitment to engage the world, to promote and market the work. Here's where I circle around to marketing departments and admit I've been too hard on them.

I can write awesomely delicious books and if readers don't know about them, they won't buy them. No books sold means no money coming in, which is very, very, very bad, devoutly to be avoided.

To make a presence in the world, I blog and produce podcasts for an iTunes podcast channel. Recently I started a BlogTalkRadio show, "Independent Artists & Thinkers," because it's not just my own process that interests me, or that has value for others. It's fascinating what people go through when they operate outside of big corporations. I think the most creative, original work is being done that way.


It's also work that demands time to gestate, birth and publicize. Isadora Duncan, one of the grandest independent artists, said it beautifully: "It has taken me years of struggle, hard work and research to learn to make one simple gesture, and I know enough about the art of writing to realize that it would take as many years of concentrated effort to write one simple, beautiful sentence." It never ends.

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