By Naseem Ally. ‘Word Slingers: The Story of Self-Publishing’ is a documentary film that follows the journey of two self-published authors, looking to get their work in the hands of readers, in what is a competitive pursuit full of woes and triumphs.
With commentary from a number of authors, publishers and those closest to the ambitious individuals, they give their frank opinions on whether or not they could possibly achieve some kind of success, and their hopes for the future. ‘Word Slingers’ focuses on two main protagonists, Adam Shepard and Giles A. Anderson.
At the beginning of the film, Adam is at a flea market in North Carolina, selling copies of his book ‘One Year Lived’ with the help of his wife. ‘One Year Lived’ tells his story of taking a one year trip around the world, in seventeen countries on four continents, with essays on the lessons learnt during the expedition.
Adam’s very confident demeanour helps him to sell two copies for $20, a lot more than he originally anticipated. His drive is evident, and we see him continue with this attitude over the duration of the film, as he’s seen handing out free copies of his book at college campuses, as well as giving talks and signing copies at his former college.
Later on, he’s stuck with the dilemma of having too many books to shift and has them in a storage unit, where we see him disputing with his wife about what he’s going to do with all these remaining books, which according to her, could be a loss. Adam’s very defiant and adamant that he’ll make it work no matter what – even if he continues handing out free copies.
In the middle of the film, he goes into a mini-rant after looking at the sales of his books and noticing that only twelve copies sold for $63.24. He’s visibly frustrated by this; considering the fact, he had paid editors quite handsomely to edit his book, while some author ‘probably had their mom do the editing’. Adam’s very Kanye-esque in terms of his confidence.
As a viewer, you’d have to respect Adam’s ‘hustle’ and drive to see things through even though the cards do not seem to be in his favour at certain points. Most people in this situation would call it quits and resort to their ‘Plan B’, but he possesses traits such as tenacity in particular, that we see so often in those who are successful in their given fields.
Giles A. Anderson has a similar drive to get his name out there in the world of self-publishing, however, he doesn’t quite have the same level of confidence and cockiness as Adam. Giles is somewhat unsure of himself and does not hold the same conviction as Adam. Giles is a social outcast who has an obsessive knack for horror stories and had some questionable items around his home, that he was more than happy to show to the camera crew. Even his wife had some raised eyebrows.
To say Giles book is ‘dark’, is an understatement. He generated some shock value among readers, but to his own credit, he found a niche that works and according to him, he wants to build a ‘cult’.
Similarly to Adam, Giles printed many copies of his book that weren’t moving any units and in order to get the word out there, he held readings at local book stores to build up his ‘cult’ of readers, who could perhaps increase the notoriety of the book via word and mouth.
He’s trying to juggle all this whilst raising two young children, one of whom, his son, in particular, wants to follow in his father’s footsteps of selling robots and books. Bless him. Like Adam, Giles dreams of being a full-time self-published author but it’s clear to see the occasional self-doubt creep in when he mentions that it just happened to be his 33rd birthday, and he wishes it was his 23rd instead.
Perhaps a sign he’s considering how much left he has in the tank?
If I had to look at the two and say who’d be the most likely to really pull this off, it would have to be Adam. Even though he may not be selling as many copies, as he’d hoped for, his drive and determination to at least spread his message of inspiring the next generation of college students, to take risks and get out their comfort zone is awe-inspiring in itself.
He does mention about branching off into public speaking, as an alternative to self-publishing, so he clearly has options. Good on him. The film was shot in a variety of locations and pretty much captured middle America. With great shots of colleges, local businesses and financial districts, it made ‘Word Slingers’ feel very authentic which I appreciated.
‘Word Slingers’ didn’t feel too scripted either which is the case with many documentary films, and this shied away from that which is a plus.
There’s some solid camerawork featured, for instance, in one of the earlier scenes of Adam selling his book at the flea market, with the great North Carolina sunshine acting as the backdrop. The leafy suburbs and college campuses gave this film a laidback vibe which fitted the pacing of the film really well.
Cut in between all this, were interviews with authors and publishers in their offices and in open spaces, that added some nice touches to the overall aesthetic of the film. The sounds used in ‘Word Slingers’ matched with the overall mood of the film. The subtle riffs of the piano in the background complemented the scenes of the authors making frantic trips in their cars to the next location to sell or promote their books.
A good majority of the scenes had sounds tailor-made for them and they didn’t feel out of place, which further drew me into each scenario. There was nothing too grandiose to comment on in terms of the score in this film, but there was nothing terrible either. It worked sufficiently well, especially considering the premise of the film.
I felt the running time for ‘Word Slingers’ was longer than necessary and it could have been a lot more concise. Some of the scenes in here felt manufactured and could have been made shorter. Looking back, these scenes were slightly amusing. Particularly the scene of Adam and his wife arguing in the storage unit about the number of books they’ve still yet to move. It was funny to a degree, but it felt like they were trying to fabricate something like they were on the reality TV channel E!
I didn’t particularly enjoy how they closed the film. It felt like it was left on a cliffhanger and there was no real ending to it. This film constantly felt like a back and forth between each of the authors ‘day in a life’, with commentary sprinkled in between from pundits, but ultimately, it had no final destination.
I would have liked to see both authors perhaps, meet in a diner and talk about their endeavours and explain to each other their journey and what they hope to achieve in the next, say, 3-5 years.
It just felt a bit, well – that’s it?
‘Word Slingers’ ended in underwhelming fashion. Especially considering they had gone through all that effort to follow these guys around, only to end up with no real conclusion of what they want to get out of this. I felt it could have had a stronger ending.
Overall, this was an insightful look at a topic that perhaps most audiences wouldn’t give too much thought towards, and to a degree, it educates the audience on what goes into getting a book self-published, whilst also appreciating the work ethic and determination you need to have to enter this domain or any, for that matter. Especially, when the odds seem stacked against you.
Like the famous saying goes, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.
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