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.

There’s a Reason I’ve Been Mostly Quiet…

It has to do with the fact that I’ve been busy getting my novel ready for release.

Can we say “YAY” or SQUEE? Or sympathize and pray for my soul? 🙂

Yes, I’ve decided to publish FINDING CADENCE myself and I’ll go into the reasons why in a later post (I keep saying I’m going to do that, but my notes keep getting larger and larger and I might have to chop my one post into three more manageable ones), but today I will tell you a little about my book by using the world-famous Chuck Wendig’s Ten Questions About [Fill in the Title]. I hope he won’t be mad that I lifted his device from his web site, but I figure if an author can’t answer the ten questions, he/she should probably find another line of work.

So without further ado, I’ll get on it.

1. Tell us about yourself; who are you?

Wife, mother, business owner. I MAKE time to write. I began writing as soon as my mother put a pencil in my hand. (Cliche, I know. She regretted it, especially after I was expelled from Catholic school for…writing.) I enjoyed some local success in high school, some journalistic endeavors in college, 100 pages of a first novel (still in my basement – somewhere).  Then came life and I figured eating and putting a roof over my head was more important than art. Marriage, babies, when the babies went to college, I started writing again. It’s a full circle.

2. Give the 140 character pitch.

Recent widow learns ugly truths about her husband, her best friend and herself. She overcomes financial and personal hurdles to find peace.

3. Where does the story come from?

While obviously the story is fiction, you may pull threads of it from my life. I drew much on what has happened to me, my time in Michigan, Colorado, and my love for San Francisco. How music has played an important role in my life. There are parallels with the son in the story and my own son, both classically trained pianists, both attended the San Francisco Conservatory, both with a soft spot for Rachmaninoff. The list goes on and on, but remember…this is fiction.

4. How is this a story only you could have written?

See #3. Plus I’ve felt that ultimate betrayal in the way Cadie experiences it – enough of a blow where it leaves you incapable of functioning. I wanted to get that across, as well as the healing.

5. What was the hardest thing about writing FINDING CADENCE?

There were many. The first one, getting to “The End.” It took two years. After that, cutting and editing. My first draft was 175K words. It took some convincing for me to see I didn’t need all the words. After that, editing became a matter of tightening.

6. What did you learn by writing this book?

Everything! This was my first completed novel and I made all the rookie mistakes you can think of. I took classes, I bought reference books. Somehow I turned a mindless stream of consciousness blob into a story with an arc, a reveal, and everything!

7. What do you love most about this book?

It’s cohesive and makes sense. It’s a book about adversity and hope. I love how it’s finished (finally!) and I can move on to other projects.

8. What don’t you like about it?

Dare I say it? I don’t know if it’s “literary” enough. I know it shouldn’t matter, I should write my best story and let it go. I went for literary with this one, and don’t know if I succeeded.

9. A favorite paragraph from the story (the fourth paragraph):

Carter, consistently late, would be later still because of the storm. A fine pinot, first a glass, then more, kept me company. Hours of waiting on my husband turned my annoyance to vexation. Outside, my wind chime collection banged hard against the garage wall, the once soothing tinkles replaced with dissonant clatter. I remember thinking, if Jackson were here he could name the pitches of each steel and copper rod, contralto A flats clanging against high C sharps. Behind the discordant score, the wind’s relentless, anguished caterwaul vying for attention.

10. What’s next for you as a storyteller?

I have two completed manuscripts to edit and query. One is Virtually Yours Forever, the sequel to my first novel, and a YA tentatively titled Acorns and Oaks. There are other 100 page starters that beg to be completed too. I’ll be busy, no doubt.

Sparks Fly During The San Francisco Writers Conference

It had to happen.

After weeks of Internet back and forth on the self-publishing versus traditionally publishing options (which kind of blossomed into WWIII), with articles like this,  and this, and this monstrosity of a blog post that took me three hours to read and that time was spent on the post, not counting the comments, you’d figure that some of that fiery emotion still lingered in the air.

The keynote speaker for the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference was Barry Eisler, renowned writer of thrillers. He is also an engaging and charismatic speaker. While the ensuing address wasn’t exactly a s*** show, the sparks were definitely flying, mostly because Mr. Eisler gave a spirited speech on the current state of publishing. He listed toward the side of self or indie publishing, giving his own personal experiences and the reasons why he decided to go that route, while acknowledging the fact that there is still a place for an author to choose the traditional publishing route of gaining an agent and then a Big New York Publishing House. (I’m not going to rehash his words; you can click on any of those above links to get the gist of the debate.)

Keep your eyes wide open and make a decision based on gathering all of the facts. That’s what I got out of this address. Sage words for everyday living, wouldn’t you say?

I observed a wide range of reaction in this crowded room of 500 attendees. Keep in mind that the room was not only full of wannabe writers who have never published a word either on their own or with assistance, but it was also filled with authors, agents, editors, and those who make their living on the “legacy” model. In between the green with a freshly completed manuscript and the greenest at the top of the food chain were people like me, who had attended the conference before, or who had some success in self publishing, or who had started companies specifically designed to make the self publishing experience easier. By the end of Mr. Eisler’s speech, some were nodding in agreement, some were visibly blanched and upset, and others experienced a light bulb moment of “Oh! I can do that?”

At the end of the address, Michael Larsen came up and gave a just as spirited counterpoint to everything Barry Eisler said.

sfwc

I don’t know Barry Eisler. I’ve never read his books, as they’re not in the genre I like to read for enjoyment, but I might buy one of them to throw on the To Read pile that I can now build a small house with. To be honest, I don’t know any of the authors who have broken away from the traditional publishing model. I know the most visible ones write great books and have strong followings and they’re all immensely wealthy as a result. I do know that what works for one might not work for another.

On the other hand, I know agented authors with published works who haven’t seen book sales rise over 100.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe in leprechauns or pots at the end of the rainbow. I buy lottery tickets, but I’m pretty sure I’m never going to win. I missed out on the eBay and Martha Stewart IPOs, and totally missed the bitcoin boat altogether, which means I will work like a dog until I drop dead.

Economic success is a combination of creating a viable product, brilliant marketing, being at the right place at the right time, finding a loyal niche and consistently delivering. There’s also a bit of serendipity in the way the cards fall; all the stars have to be aligned perfectly, especially in the writing world where a book is a work of art and the art of gatekeeping is a subjective (i.e. artistic) one. Not everyone can find that level, if it were that easy, everyone would be rich and famous.

The reason why I attend the San Francisco Writers Conference is that it consistently provides a wealth of information on the writing world, in craft, in marketing, in giving the opportunity for writers to briefly touch those in the publishing world. Michael and Elizabeth have been generous in allowing all points of view, thereby giving the attendees many options.

I go each year, because by mid-February, I need a recharging badly.

And it doesn’t hurt at all when the sparks fly.

I Dream, Therefore I Write

One of the bad things about getting old(er) is that it seems I don’t dream quite as often as I used to. I used to have so many dreams, so vivid in place and time and persons, that I kept a notebook by the bed. As soon as I woke up, I’d write down what happened so I would remember it later. Even though I mostly dream about real people in this world, my subconscious world is quite strange and exciting, not at all like my Real Life. Many of my dreams have ended up in bits and pieces of my writing.

I’m quite a fan of the unconscious state, although lately, I have too many things on the agenda to take advantage of sleep. When I was younger, I used to be a napper, but these days I feel guilty if I’m not cramming every spare minute with some sort of productive activity. I can’t remember the last time I napped in the middle of the day, but there must have been a malady or jet lag associated with sleeping while the sun shines.

The other night, I had a very weird dream. It was about my 40th high school reunion, which will be coming up shortly. (I know. How the hell did that happen?) I was speaking with my best friend from high school, who I haven’t seen nor spoken to in thirty years. He’s always been an artist; I’ve always been a writer. What was odd about this dream was that he congratulated me on my successful novel.

I woke up, sans notebook, and quickly jotted down the gist of the dream into my iPhone (where would civilization be without it? I ask you.)

Later, I opened my Notes and thought about the dream. First of all, I hardly ever think about my once high school best friend, although he comes to me in dreams occasionally and we have cogent discussions about what’s going on. Secondly…success? What does that mean? I’ve self-published the one short, romantically leaning novel. It was fun to write, and for some readers, fun to read, but can’t be considered a financial success. I mean, I’m not swimming in dough, lunching at chi-chi restaurants, and schmoozing with the elite over it. I’m still a coupon-clipping woman sliding into middle age and worried about retirement.

Success is relative, and you can look at success in other ways. For example, I completed the novel. That alone is a difficult task. I (with my Editor for Life) worked it over and reworked it over. Editing a piece is even harder than writing, if you want my honest opinion. Then after a year of rejection email from agents all over the country stating my work was too “out there” for them, I got the bright idea to produce it myself, to design the cover, and to market it myself (not a hard sell salesman yet).

So I only sold 100 books. It seems like a mere pittance, certainly not enough to quit the Day Job over, but it’s something. I know of authors with agents and contracts and hard covers who don’t sell 100 books. Writing isn’t a lucrative vocation, and if you think it might be a goldmine, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps the “success” comes from the fact that writing, like any other art form, is something that must be honed. It’s a skill that needs constant attention and practice. Perhaps the “success” comes from being able to touch and entertain a few readers with your words.

Gore Vidal is quoted as saying, “Ideally, the writer needs no audience other than the few who understand. It is immodest and greedy to want more.”

Got that, I guess I’m a success. 🙂

In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming, not of money or contracts or fame or fortune, but of another story to tell. And therefore, I will write.

 

The San Francisco Writers Conference – 2013 Edition

Five years ago I was THIS: an author with a freshly pressed “The End” at the bottom of an abyss-like (and therefore abysmal) tome of 175K words. My first novel. I’d researched plenty of writers conferences and thought the San Francisco Writers Conference was the one for me. Highly touted by everyone, and when my writer pals found out Donald Maass was slated as one of the speakers, they pushed me to attend. It’s held in February, when I can usually take a week off without the (Real) world coming to a crushing end. And my son was going to college there, so visiting after the conference was a definite plus. But I was self-conscious and didn’t think my work was good enough. That was the year I thought, “I’m just going to be a fly on the wall and observe dispassionately.” I’ll become the human sponge and soak up all the knowledge I can.

Yeah. Right.

I must admit, I was star struck, flabbergasted, and so amazed that my head didn’t stop spinning for a month. Agents, writers, editors – genuine best selling authors! But there was more to it than a reporter’s unbiased look at a world class writers conference. As with any love, I fell, deep and hard.

Wallflower no more, I made friends. I chatted with people around the country and around the world. Their positive energy and enthusiasm caused me to step outside of my comfort zone. Even though my draft was a first draft, and needed a TON of work, I signed up for agent speed dating and gave it a whirl – where I learned not only was my book not ready for the big time, I was not ready either.

Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m., I’ll be jetting back to the City by the Bay for yet another conference. This year, it’s different. I’m seasoned. Thanks to the SFWC, I have accumulated a ton of writing friends, belong to the RWA (PRO member!) and Greater Detroit RWA, and have an editor that I work with. I self-published what was my second completed novel last year. I’ve learned to stalk agents on Twitter without having them take out a personal protection order out on me. I’m hooked up with so many helpful writing web sites, and have increased my writing reference library by 10 fold. But just because I’ve attended five years in a row doesn’t mean I know it all.

I’m counting on Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada to host another kick-ass conference, where I’ll learn more than my head can possibly contain (and therefore will take copious notes), be thrilled and encouraged by the successes of others, and jump start my mojo so that I can write yet another day.

They haven’t let me down yet.

🙂

Writing and Finding Your Inner Artist

If you’ve wondered where I’ve been, the editing of Finding Cadence has taken up a lion’s share of my time. Update: I’m still on the second part, although I’m very close to nailing it down, and will then go on to the third part, which will be more like a second edit since it’s so full of new plot twists and characters. The ending is also new.

In the meantime, I’ve finally figured out the RWA PRO loop. I’ve been PRO for over a year, but Yahoo! forums make me want to sell all of my modern devices and go live in a forest somewhere, a forest without electricity. For one, I can’t get into my Yahoo! mail, because my password changed (!) and my attempts to recover are futile. Even when I got into the mail, 90% of it was junk, and I’d spend an hour or so deleting the junk. Somehow, the Yahoo! loop mail now gets transferred to my regular email account. How that happens, please do not ask me. I’m woefully terrible on the computer.

The main topic for the PROs this week was sales, going indie, and more sales. Small house vs. Big House vs. indie, self-pub vs. helped self-pub, etc. The upside of this rather depressing exchange is that selling 100 books is actually not a bad thing (I mention this because that’s just about what I’ve sold). Many, many authors sell that or less. Many, many PRO authors.

I’ve said before that I just don’t get into sales. I have a product, but I’m not going to push it. My lackadaisical attitude probably stems from the fact that when I want to buy something, I despise getting “sold.” Not to decry salesmen (although the used car salesmen are rather slimy-I can say that because there are some in my family) many of whom are great people, but that’s just not me. I’m similarly that way with my jewelry. If people are interested, cool, if not, cool too. In this world, there is art for everyone. I won’t be offended if you don’t like mine.

I might mention VIRTUALLY YOURS every once in a while (currently ranked 519,148 HA!), but I don’t spam my Facebook or Twitter feed with impassioned pleas to buy. I don’t have a “real” author web site, although someday I might, when there is more than one book available. Perhaps if I begged, or invested in blog tours, or passed out freebies, or stood on my head, I could sell more than 100 books.

But…I do not use my creative side to make money (obviously). Being in the business of making money rather sucks. You have to push, sell (a little bit), cut corners, stay within budget, and worry, worry, worry. Oh, we need to make money, and I do it in my day job, but it’s not what I live to do. I’m an artist; I live to create.

Coincidentally, I’m taking another Savvy Author class, this one on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She looks at writing as what it is: art.

Unlike a job, though, being an artist requires a certain amount of freedom. You must free yourself from all sorts of conflicts (anger, shame) inside yourself. This makes perfect sense to me, and is how I generally look at living, as though it’s a spiritual journey. A person full of fear, loathing, angst, and doubt cannot possibly make the best art. Of course, trying and trying again, perfecting the art, as well as the artist, is the whole point.

And this week, I was also directed by Book Baby to this post by Michael Larsen of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the Larsen Pomada Literary Agency. Creating Your Literary Ecosystem-I liked it! The ten “P’s” of writing. I was so impressed, I printed it out to keep near my computer when I write.

You see, I might never be a best-selling author, but I will truly be the best artist I can be.

🙂