And now for something completely different
I have a confession to make: I've always been a writer, and I've always wanted to be published. Well, I guess that's not so much a confession but I feel it's worth putting out there. Furthermore, I'm always stumped when I run across this question in interviews. It's a common thing to ask, granted. The equivalent of “what do you do for a living?” on a first date. Yet as someone who has always written, I never know how to answer. Storytelling is as essential to me as breathing, and I’ve actually noticed that my mood highs and lows almost always directly correlate with my creative productivity. If I’m depressed, I’m not writing, and if I’m not writing, I’m depressed. I’m not the only writer in the family. My aunt is a multi-published, award-winning author of YA novels. Her first book came out when I was ten or eleven, which fed me with inspiration and hope that I might one day also know the thrill of seeing my name in print. I wrote stories or story notes during class, attended a five-day writer’s camp from grade six to eleven, and involved myself in any activities that furthered my reputation as “that weird writer kid.”
To say I was ecstatic when my novella, Firsts, was accepted for publication in 2009, is an understatement. I was a shrieking howler monkey on speed. It was early evening, I was at a friend’s house (Nikki London’s, to be exact), and I literally ran home (which sounds a lot more impressive if you don’t know we lived a parking lot apart in the same apartment complex) and bounced all over my husband in excitement. Accepted. Contracted. An actual deal. Me.
I can’t lie. I came into this business incredibly green. I had written a lot—a lot—and never thought any of it was publication ready. My aunt would send me those phonebook-size Writer’s Market books, and I’d carefully scope the guidelines of the listed publishers. It honestly didn’t occur to me to try an online publisher. Heck, I don’t even think I knew they existed, though it should have occurred to me that as our technology broadened, so did our means of publication.
My aunt is more a traditionalist where the publication process is concerned. I know she’s happy for me, but I’m not sure she considers it “real.” She’ll often ask if my next book is going to be published through an e-press or if it will appear in a “brick and mortar” store. The lack of “brick and mortar” bothered me at first, I can’t lie…but it doesn’t now, and it hasn’t for a long time.
Still, having said that, I was green. I knew about vanity publishers and had a decent understanding about self-publishing, but I didn’t have a favorable opinion of either (and in my ignorance, often confused the two). In the early weeks, well before Firsts debuted, I made an embarrassingly ignorant faux pas in which I said something disparaging about Smashwords. Similarly, I was so nervous that the whole “I’ve been accepted” thing was a dream. I became a yes-man on everything. Cover? No complaints. Edits? I made all the suggested changes, even the ones I didn’t agree with. I lived under the fear the publisher would change their mind, and my dream of seeing my words with the stamp of approval an actual company would die.
Put it nicely, I was naive. Put it truthfully, I was a dumbass.
I was also incredibly, insultingly stupid about self-publishing. I thought it was for people who couldn’t get accepted at an actual publisher. That those of us with a company name behind our titles were those who could write. I had, inadvertently, cast the same judgment upon self-publishing as my aunt has cast upon e-publishing. And I don’t say this against my aunt. I love the woman to death, and though I don’t agree with her opinion on e-publishing, I understand why she thinks that way. We’re both elitists to one degree or another. I’ve just come to understand the opinions I cast and the views I held were wrong.
If we’re honest with ourselves, there is a lot of crap that gets published. A lot of crap that a submissions editor reads, approves, and contracts. A lot of plain crap. I’m sure everyone reading this post has, at one point, bought a book only later to wonder how in the hell it ever got published.
I think this is the answer: the market is saturated to the point of combustion right now. How many Fifty Shades books have been promoted or written since James hit it big? How many vampire novels since Twilight? They keep coming and coming, and the filters by which good and poor writing is determined have become increasingly less discriminating, all because readers have become less discerning when it comes to quality. Check out the best sellers on Amazon if you don’t believe me. There you’ll find any number of porn-o-rific stories involving gang bangs, group sex, incest, and so forth. This ain’t Shakespeare. It ain’t Steinbeck. Hell, it ain’t even Glen Beck. Publishers have to determine what will and what won’t make them money. Yes, quality matters, but not quite so much as marketability.
Then there’s the question of publisher stability. Recently, one of my publishers underwent a rather large and certainly unexpected overhaul in upper management, one that has yet to be fully resolved and has left many authors with unanswered questions. I have three works with this publisher, all locked into contracts I should have likely negotiated down in terms of length, but again—I am and, in many ways, remain green. The events of the past week really got me thinking, and considering things I would not have expected to consider this time last year. In this, I’ve evaluated everything I’ve learned, all the people I’ve met, and the success stories I’ve heard.
I’ve made it no secret that I am in love with my own series. I am. I love the Sinners and Saints world. I love the characters, I love writing the stories, and I love where it’s going next. Yet I know my sense of humor, my mythology, and my irreverence toward sacred material has been perceived as offensive to some readers. And I also know the next books are not going to ease up where that’s concerned. While I love Liquid Silver (and I really, really do; they are an awesome house to work with), I am concerned about some of the latter books in the series. There are things on which I am not willing to compromise, and things I wouldn’t expect a publisher to get behind. I have toyed with taking the series elsewhere, but at the end of the day, there isn’t anywhere I really see it fitting. I’m also wary about locking the series into contracts with what has happened recently at my other publisher. I’ve become very much aware of how quickly things in this business have changed.
I consider myself open-minded. If I have an opinion on something, I better be prepared to back it up with evidence. If I am presented with evidence that conflicts with one of my convictions, I have to be open to changing my mind. And because of this, because I don’t want to close myself off to new possibilities, I have changed my mind on self-publishing. I was wrong. As a result, I’m leaning heavily toward going the self-publishing route with Book 3. What this would mean for the readers is a more concrete release date and a less expensive product. What it would mean for me is artistic freedom and control. I wouldn’t go at it alone. I’d have an editor, a cover artist, and a formatter, because I do not trust myself to handle these things.
Quality matters to me. So does the story. I am not willing to compromise either.
I’m also not turning my back on my publishers. I plan to continue writing and submitting to those places I currently call home, and probably others. The point of this post is this: drawing conclusions about anything before weighing all the facts only makes you look foolish. I wasn’t vocal in my self-publishing opinions aside from conversations with friends, and those opinions didn’t change overnight. The past year has been leading up to one large wake-up call. I’ve read and interacted with self-published authors, read their success stories, empathized with their failures, and slowly broadened my horizons. There are amateurs and professionals everywhere you look. My concern is telling the best story I can, however I can. You have to be open to ideas you might have previously rejected. What works in this business changes by the day. I just need to be ready, willing, and able to change with it.