The Indie-Trad Argument, From My Perspective, or Yes, I’m Self-Publishing

cadence coverThe cover for my new book.

If you want to be thoroughly entertained and crave a shower of fireworks on the Internet, one might be better served to stay away from the political realm and follow authors and agents embroiled in the brouhaha over self vs. traditional publishing (or as Barry Eisler would say, as he did during the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference, the indies vs. legacy options). It’s a virtual shit show of information and misinformation, competing opinions, mud slinging, happy and less-than-happy endings, spreadsheets produced with dreamy algorithms, and nightmarish anecdotes. Both factions are passionate. Both have valid points. Both are loud and proud.

Beats TV. With. A. Stick. Yes, even House of Cards.

Even with the path fraught with pitfalls of evil operators (including some small presses) who want to drain the unsuspecting writer of every dime they can scrape together, indie publishing is an option that the modern writer can’t take off the table.  “Eyes wide open,” I always say. It is why I have decided to self-publish my next book, Finding Cadence.

It’s not just the successfully indie-published authors like Eisler and Konrath or the Create Spaces and Author Houses who think this way. I’ve spoken to plenty of literary agents, some of whom encourage self-publishing, for various reasons.

My PRO reasons are many, including this brief Cliff Notes version:

1. I have a story to tell. In recent days, I’ve picked the brain of many an artist, including visual artists and musicians. My informal poll shows most artists want their work OUT THERE. Sure, they want gallery time and recording contracts, but reaching that level does not confirm (in their minds anyway) the fact that they are artists. Example: If you create a painting and it sits in your closet, or if you write a song and you never play it in public, is it art? Probably. But art is meant to be enjoyed. If it’s not being enjoyed by a wider public, is it worth the effort?

2. I have limited time with which to get my story out. I’ve read some very depressing stories of late of writers working for twenty years or more before they received a traditional book deal. Twenty years? In twenty years, I’ll be dead, no probablies about it. I’d just as soon begin the next WIP and worry about my next story than to spend that time wishing and hoping and praying for lightning to strike me.

3. The technology is there, why not use it? Back in the day, hell, only ten years ago, e-pubbing and self-publishing books weren’t even options, or they were limited in scope. Aspiring authors had to send out queries, and wait, and wait. And go to church and make offerings to the literary gods. It’s different now. Most people (even dinosaurs like me) are Internet savvy, and if they’re not, there are other people in the world who are. Even after paying for help, in the form of editing services, book cover design, and file conversions, you realize it’s not going to drain the bank.

4. The process is quick. Instead of taking two years from agent deal to finished product on the bookshelves, the indie author can complete the job in two months.

The CONS? There are a few:

1. The stigma of “vanity.” Yes, we’ve all heard the term. Self-publishing equals “vanity” publishing. Vanity publishing calls to mind anyone with a pen (or word processing program) who hastily writes a book and puts it out there for the world to see. Vanity publishing was often full of grammatical errors and/or sported horrific covers. However, the new breed of indie author is different. They’re excellent writers with great stories, and they realize that the finished product reflects on them and the sales of now and future work.

2. It’s nice to have an agent on your side. Yes, having an agent working for you is great validation, and I hope to be on the agented bus soon. Scoring a literary agent is just the first step; next comes selling to a major house. And even though you might have landed an agent, that doesn’t leave you, the writer, to sip scotch while you’re pounding out the next novel. You’re expected to market your work as well. (And remember, days of BIG advances are long gone.)

3. The expenditures of time and money, or “you should get paid for your work, not the other way around.” Yes, it costs a little to self publish. Yes, you’ll be pulling the hair out of your head trying to imagine marketing ploys that won’t leave you looking like a common shill. Yes, writing checks or begging people to buy your book is less than pleasant. I know agented authors who sell 100 books and think this is a good thing. (Yes, it is.) They don’t make enough from writing to quit their day jobs.

4. If you self-publish, you’re just adding your drop to an ocean filled with books, and no one will see your work. Yes, and if you don’t self-publish, no one will have a chance to see your work, EVER. (BTW, the traditionally published authors suffer that same predicament now, competing with a tsunami of books, some of which are interesting and just as entertaining as those traditionally published.)

This is my take: I’ve been writing online for nearly ten years. I’ve gotten paid for some of it, and I’ve not been paid for the rest. If you look at PRO reason #1 above, you’ll see that I’m not writing because I’m thinking I’ll make a windfall from my words. I write because it’s my art of choice.

Does this mean I’m going to stay an indie publisher?

Hell, the no! I’m going to always write, and I’m still going to query what I’ve finished writing. In fact, my dream agent would be Donald Maass and my dream publishing house would be Simon and Schuster. In the meantime, I’ll choose a parallel path and keep to my goal. As long as there are viable options, I might as well explore all of them.

A Warning To My Friends and Relatives…

The last few weeks have found me mostly editing Virtually Yours Forever, so new story ideas aren’t exactly on the front burner – yet. However, one of the recent exercises in the Savvy Author Donald Maass workshop I’m taking has to do with brainstorming for new ideas.

It may sound easy, but not for me. I’m a pantser. My creative methods include sitting down and writing the first thing off the top of my head. After a few hundred (or thousand) words, I might have story that could take off. Or I might not. This is how I wrote Finding Cadence: I started with a stream of consciousness meme that exploded into something huge.

The Maass exercise comes at a most opportune time. This is the time of year when I gear up for NaNoWriMo. I won’t have a story this year (VY2 was an anomaly, since I had the characters AND the story). I might have a few characters, or I might have a theme. I’d like to say that I jot everything down in a notebook (neatly) but that would be a lie. A lot of times, stories reside in my head only, although now that I’m sliding into old age, taking notes is a good way to stave off the effects of pre-Alzheimer’s.

Unlike some major talents, I write what I know. I’m totally blown away by people who pen fantasy or sci-fi. I just finished The Hunger Games, and it was great! The whole time, though, I kept wondering how the author did it. I mean to come up with the futuristic world, the Games in question, the brutality? In the same way, I’m in awe of those who write historical novels. Not only do these take a lot of painstaking research, the story has to be told in such a way to make it interesting to the modern reader.

I couldn’t write fantasy or historicals. Which is why I concentrate on modern women and relationships. I guess it’s what I know best.

I know what most authors say. “Sure I write what I know, but this is fiction and not based on my life.” The disclaimer is a necessity to prevent getting sued. And yes, my work is fiction, although many times I use real settings. There is no REAL Janna Abraham or Cadence Reed or Amberly Cooper. But I’m not going to lie or sugar coat the truth; I’ve used my own life experiences and my own acquaintances to populate my books.

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day.  The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any. ~Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is right. Real life is heady; the story lines are endless. Good themes weather the test of time. Potential characters number in the millions, the plot situations may be out of the ordinary. Even the most mundane person or story line can be peeled back to reveal a treasure of the human condition.

Since I’m now actively mining my life for characters and story lines, this is a warning to those who I know both intimately or mildly. Don’t be surprised if you become a star in my fiction.

Anonymously, of course.

🙂

Incredibly Horrible Malaise Scares Writer Back to Work

The headline says it all…

It had to happen.

After bragging for three years about my relative good health and having extolled the virtues of yearly flu shots, last weekend I was felled by malaise.

Now, my family will say that my “illness” was actually a prolonged hangover (I did drink, not that much. I was happy. My son and his wife were in town, whaddya want me to do? Sit there with an unhappy face?); I also consumed some medium well pork roast and a ton of sauerkraut that spent an afternoon bubbling in a pot along with spare ribs – and ate a deceptively small potato dumpling that probably weighed a pound. (It was my homage to the Bohemian ancestors, again, whaddya want me to do? I don’t make this dinner but on special occasions.) The result: I couldn’t get out of bed Sunday, except to make a mad dash for the bathroom. After several mad dashes, which wore a trough into my carpet, I experienced hot flashes worse than any menopause, accompanied by alternating cold spells where I shivered uncontrollably under layers of blankets.

Obviously, I couldn’t write under these conditions. I couldn’t watch TV (hell, I couldn’t operate the remote), answer the phone, read the paper, drink more than a swallow, or be my usual, charming self to our California company under these conditions. And they were begging me to come downstairs and play Scrabble! I was so ill, even a word game couldn’t rouse me.

As I lay on the floor, wadded up in all the spare bedding in the house, thinking I was going to die, and wondering if I should beg someone to drive me to the local ER, I was hit by sudden panic.

MY BOOKS AREN’T FINISHED YET.

I’m in an online Donald Maass class over at Savvy Author, and I hadn’t completed this week’s homework.

MY BOOKS AREN’T FINISHED YET!!

I’ll be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference in less than two weeks, and was going to firm up my speed dating pitches, but no… been putting it off.

MY BOOKS AREN’T FINISHED YET!!!

I’m trying to finish up an ending for the first novel that makes sense. Gave myself a deadline of the end of January, and it’s still in bits and pieces. And yes, I know it’s February. The EIGHTH.

BUT MY BOOKS AREN’T FINISHED YET.

There’s nothing like a brief recline on the deathbed to get a writer off her fat and lazy posterior.

Monday I felt a little better. Not much. I prescribed myself home made chicken noodle soup (which my husband says was the best I ever made – but he says that every time I make soup) and decided to lay low. Tuesday found me hugely improved. Exhausted but in an upright and locked position.

Today I woke up with more spring than I’ve had in a long time. It’s time to write, people, and the only way I know to get there is to sit down and do it.

Which is where I’m heading after I post this.