Elliott DeLine is only 24 and has only just graduated, but has already self-published his first novel, Refuse, which has been met with rave reviews. The novel is a semi-autobiographical story of a female-to-male trans man named Dean dealing with depression, unemployment, loneliness, and being mid-transition, who falls in love with his roommate, fellow trans man Colin.
DeLine will be coming to Trent University from Syracuse, New York as part of the Public Texts lecture series on March 11 to discuss his experiences as a self-published writer and how new technologies are changing the relationship between reader and author.
The talk will focus on the benefits these changes have for minorities, especially transgender people, who are most frequently shunned or misrepresented by mainstream media. The talk will take place at 8 p.m. in Bagnani Hall at Traill College.
In light of this forthcoming talk Arthur sat down with DeLine to discuss his experiences with writing and his views of the contemporary publishing scene.
How did you get your start as an author?
Well, I’ve always liked writing, since I was a kid. I wrote a lot of things in high school and college, but I guess that I got serious about it probably around 2009 or so. That’s when I decided I wanted to focus mainly on that.
Was Refuse the first thing you started working on?
No, I wrote many things before that, especially in journals. I also was published in like, my high school literary journal. Mostly poems. I wrote a book when I was younger, but I don’t think I ever thought about publishing it or anything. I wrote fan fiction a lot, too. But Refuse was the first thing I really shared with a large audience.
What process does someone have to go through to self-publish?
Personally, first I did the writing, then I came up with the plan on how to get it read. A self-published author is author, agent, publisher, promoter, web developer, all in one. Most of those things didn’t come naturally for me, and I did a lot of reading up on it. I could probably break it down in stages:
1. Editing/feedback from people you know.
2. Formatting it so it will look good in a book.
3. Designing a cover.
4. Reaching out to potential readers via social media, etc.
I think the most important part is to have a niche, and to have a good understanding of where that niche goes on the Internet, as well as what is going to grab people’s attention. An important process for me was learning to push past my reserved nature to be able to self-promote. It sounds cheesey, but you have to believe what you’re doing is important, otherwise you won’t care enough to bother others. It’s very difficult to get people to care about something artistic and to set yourself apart from a million other messages they are getting online.
That sounds like quite an involved process, and yet you were able to do it concurrently with your undergrad degree. How did you find the time for it?
Honestly, I wasn’t an ambitious student. I had a B average. I was always content with following my own interests and just getting by in school. I’m an under-achiever in that respect. I’m also not that social, and was especially reclusive around the time I worked on Refuse. I think other people have school activities, sports, drinking, parties, girlfriends/boyfriends, jobs, stuff like that to keep them busy. For the most part, I’ve had just writing. And part-time work. And a couple friends. But mostly writing.
Do you see yourself or hope to see yourself as one of the next members of the American literary tradition?
I like to pretend sometimes, sure. But no, I don’t have anything close to that prestige and I doubt I ever will. It would be enough to know that some people saw me on par with that kind of thing. As far as influences and all that, I’m mostly in conversation with dead Europeans. Some Americans. But I do like seeing myself as an American writer. But to say I’m a member of a tradition seems farfetched and arrogant.
Without giving too much of your talk away, how are emerging media changing the relationship between author and reader?
Authors are potentially more accessible to readers and less… grand. Which is for better and for worse, because prestige is very nice. But I think it does away with “book worship,” because people start to see books as somehow separate from other media, like they are sacred and not products being sold to you like anything else. Especially “literary” books. I hope it makes people realize that it’s stories that really matter. And I think it gives you a way to realize an artistic vision without people changing it so it sells. I’ve read up on how to advertise on the Internet, but I would never consciously change my writing to make it sell. I think that’s a burden that more famous writers have to deal with.
I think that also creates a bond of trust between reader and author, a sense that you really mean what you’re saying and don’t see yourself as superior to them. It’s a way to get around the bureaucracy of the whole publishing world and just put yourself out there.
How can all of this be beneficial for underrepresented writers, especially those from the LGBTQ community?
LGB and especially T people historically have little to zero input on how they are portrayed in media. When artists take it upon themselves to create more thoughtful, human representations, they provide others with a new way to see themselves. They aren’t just seeing stereotypes reflected back from books and movies. I think that’s one of the worst feelings — to think you are a stereotype. In short, it’s empowering. “It” being the ability to make art about LGBTQ people and share it, regardless of what the mainstream media are interested in portraying.
You have the freedom to be dangerous, too, without other LGBTQ people trying to rein you in. It’s escaping many ways that you would otherwise be censored. The struggle is reaching an audience.