There are all of about three truly “noteworthy” and “recent” self-publishing success stories: Legally Blonde, Fifty Shades of Grey and Diary of an Oxygen Thief (each book being decidedly diverse in content). There have been others, of course, even from the more “old school” authors, like Proust, Woolf, Austen and Hawthorne. And their work was perhaps more “viral” at the time precisely because we didn’t then use terms like “viral” to describe art.
Enter a new (fictional) addition into the fray: Valeria Férrir. In the latest show to parade women as four distinct tropes (though with slightly more “aplomb” [or lack thereof, depending on how you look at it] than Sex and the City), Valeria’s eponymous lead character (played by Diana Gómez) is in the midst of an existential crisis. Not just a personal one, but, even more pressingly, a professional one. For she must “decide” (as if people with truly catastrophic finances can afford a choice) between accepting a fifteen thousand-euro advance to publish her book under a pseudonym (Pierre Duvont) or, apparently, taking the “high road” and putting her work out with integrity by being able to attach her own name to it. Via, of course, the magical concept of self-publishing.
As a conduit that preys on the dreams of an already too dreamer-like class, self-publishing is still upheld by many writers as some kind of panacea. The “perfect” solution for them to secure autonomy while also “monetizing” their “skill” (a word that connotes writing is something that can be taught in a paint-by-numbers way rather than something that is, ultimately, innate). Unfortunately, writers are often disappointed by the so-called “monetary” aspect. That is to say, there is no money to be had. Like that probably offensive fortune cookie meme says, “Whole day I’m fucking busy only get few money.” That is, in a nutshell, the writer’s plight. Because, yes, the bona fide artist—the one who can’t stop doing what they’re doing even if they tried—does work all day, contrary to the popular stereotype about the term “writer” being a polite euphemism for a do-nothing. And yet, there is, for the vast majority, no significant amount of cash to be had, ergo contributing to the philosophy that the pursuit of the paper chase taints art. Corrupts it with ideas of marketing and “compromising” for the vague and likely unfulfillable hope of “striking it rich.”
In being poisoned by the ways in which society works (namely, telling broke people they’re worthless and that if they can’t make money from what they’re supposedly good at, then maybe they’re not very good at it), writers are then indoctrinated further to believe that superfluity is the key to success, with “writers” like Carrie Bradshaw and Valeria Férrir portrayed onscreen as some kind of benchmark. Not only are their lives glamorized for the “struggle” they endure, but also held up as a beacon of hope for those who believe that they, too, can experience the Cinderella story of “the writer’s experience” in exchange for a bout with “poverty” that includes a lot of party girl antics in the name of “research.” In Valeria’s case, that Cinderella story comes with her self-publishing trajectory. At first, it’s somewhat realistic, in that only her three friends have purchased “copies” of the book (available solely as a download). Soon, since they’re all deft in their own specific career expertise, they decide to lend Valeria a helping hand with “pushing the book forward.” Lola (Silma López), the Samantha Jones of the quartet, offers to ask an old friend (read: lover) of hers to do the layout of the interior, Nerea (Teresa Riott)—“the Miranda”—volunteers an artist friend (/romantic interest) of hers to provide the cover and Carmen (Paula Malia)—“the Charlotte”— supplies her marketing/website design know-how to start generating some potentially “viral” “content” (the two worst words in the English [or Spanish] language at this time).
By the fifth episode, “Melt Down,” Carmen is elated to see that Valeria has made it on GoodReads (despite the top of the website saying, “YoureadMOORE”)—as though that’s some sort of impossible feat. Or as though it’s supposed to signal the sort of automatic sales boost she’s miraculously received thanks to Carmen’s help with some SEO bullshit. Which, again, speaks to the highly vexing twenty-first century presumption that a writer and/or artist is expected to be responsible for not only the already taxing task of creating art, but also marketing it and trying to make it “sellable.” No one asked any such thing of Joyce, or Salinger, or any other Great White Male Author, for that matter. But no, the modern writer or writerly aspirant must have more adroitness in the “art” of self-promotion than in art itself. Yet another reason why, as Artaud once said before it was actually true, “All writing is pigshit.”
Up until the point where we have to hear some excerpts from Valeria’s book, called Impostora, we had already made the assumption that it was going to be some Sex and the City-type schlock (the 1996 book—anthology, really—by Candace Bushnell, not the show). We didn’t need it confirmed with a reading of the material that proves it’s actually far worse (or rather, more prosaic) than we could have imagined.
At the reading in Lola’s apartment (since most of the book takes place there) her publisher agrees to put on—because they’ve now come crawling back begging her to let them sell the book, as would never happen—Nerea, who organized the fête, surprises Valeria by having herself, Lola and Carmen read instead of her. After all, she’s too shy for such an occasion, despite being touted by her publisher as “someone from this generation who speaks so freely about sex and focuses on female pleasure.” Mm, really not that uncommon, but all right.
Carmen begins with a segment about her and her boyfriend, Borja (Juanlu González), reading the following middle school-level prose: “Carmen didn’t take long. When I opened the door, she and Borja were chatting happily and laughing. They looked great together. I wasn’t at all surprised by how Borja looked. He was exactly like I’d imagined him, just without the Bogart hat. He seemed like a pretty normal guy.”
Lola then adds, “Lola grabbed a jar of the pickles and took a swig of the brine. It was a miracle I didn’t throw up. Then she burped, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and carried on talking.” Nerea concludes, “Nerea and I had been friends for years. We met in a library. It was a strange coincidence. One that made two people who had nothing in common utterly inseparable. We were polar opposites, but there we were, joined at the hip.” These short, quotidian sentences—perhaps meant to emulate Didion or Hemingway—not only reek of what should be a rejection in the slush pile, but serve as a beacon of encouragement for mediocre writers to try and, who knows, probably succeed. Because that’s just how life is. If you, like Carrie, “couldn’t help but wonder” why, look no further than the clientele that actually opens their wallet for a book. They don’t want “thought-provoking.” They don’t want In Search of Lost Time. Even those with a more elevated approach to reading often don’t want In Search of Lost Time. So how can we expect to see any “writer” except the likes of Valeria succeed? Even if that, too, promotes highly false expectations among a crowd that must hinge so much of what they do on “wishin’ and hopin’.”
By no means, however, does this infer that one should toss aside their naïve dreams with regard to what “could” come with self-publishing (just like you “could” win the lottery). As you can see, yours truly is still a firm believer in the Lana Turner at Schwab’s myth of being miraculously “discovered” by some mysterious “higher literary power” meant to “legitimize” one’s authorial worth with the only thing that still means the most to people: money.