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.

With Real Life to Contend With, How Can You NOT Write?

Once, two, maybe three years ago, I suffered from a case of Lack of Writing. I refuse to call the inability to string a series coherent sentences outlining character and plot ‘writer’s block’ – I wasn’t blocked as much as I was overwhelmed/tired/bored/busy/juggling/severely ADD. After several weeks (or maybe months) of N-O-T-H-I-N-G – not a chapter, not a paragraph, not a word, I emailed my ED, throwing him an SOS. I couldn’t believe I was without WORDS. Nice guy, he offered an online intervention, but since I haven’t been able to sign into my Yahoo! account since 2009, getting to the messenger for my wake up call was daunting.

He probably could have called me to jump start my flat-lined ambition, but he didn’t have to. While in the middle of figuring a way around Yahoo! (lowly step-brother of that demon-child Google), something happened. Something epic.

I began to write.

There was no “ah-ha” moment, no light bulb over my head. No dynamiting the log jam, or self-abuse. Somehow, some way, without prompts or nudging,  somewhere in the puzzle of getting hooked up, I wrote.

I must admit that I do love a good writing prompt. I have a whole book of them I can turn to in case of brain freeze. A writing competition is a great tool for getting the juices flowing, especially if you get a friend or two involved. But sometimes LIFE is more than enough impetus to write. Even if it threatens to bury you. (Especially if it threatens to bury you.)

The past few months have found me in that lazy/overwhelmed/tired/bored mode. Sometimes it’s  hard to get excited. Sometimes your creative energy is sucked out of you. Many times there’s no TIME. Writing, as all my  creative pursuits, is an indulgent luxury. (I hope it always is.) Many pressing tasks stand between me and my computer and three hours of peace and quiet. I’ve taken to notebooks and writing quickies when I have a minute to spare.

This is my life the last few months: business, people quitting, friends and family contending with illness or other challenges, drama and more drama, money (or lack of), a crumbling house, the police and jail (don’t ask) – with all this Real Life to contend with, how can I NOT write? The only things I haven’t experienced in the last few months would be dragons, murder (although someone did threaten my husband’s life), and vampires, but there’s always tomorrow.

Today my temporary Lack of Writing has officially ended. I’ve been writing like a fool ever since.

Look out, world.

A Finely Written Book is Like a Finely Constructed…Meatloaf?

Egads! Two posts in two days?

October, it’s fall, harvest-time, when the temperatures struggle to reach a respectable 70 degrees, and what do I think of? FOOD. Comfort food.

(No, I’m not blog hopping from here to here. Although I’ve been amazingly busy outside as well as in.)

After I think of fall comfort food, like Yankee pot roast, four-alarm chili, and chicken noodle soup, my mind naturally drifts off to thoughts of NaNoWriMo and how I must get off my lazy behind and plot out VY2. November 1 is not that far away; in fact, it’s closer than you think.

With all of the bounty of my back yard begging to be dug up, picked, and/or cleared away, today I woke up with a wildly urgent craving for meatloaf. It could be the result of having put the last of my tomatoes into the crock pot last night for a slow stewing. I awoke this morning to a house reeking of tomatoes and garlic. And thus the longing for meatloaf at 7 a.m.

Meatloaf, you say?

Contrary to popular belief, meatloaf is not a peasant food. A good meatloaf has texture, from the blend of roughly chopped carrots, bell peppers, and onions (all of which come from my backyard), and flavor, from the careful melding of delicate herbs and spices. The optimum meat mixture should be coarsely ground and gingerly mixed, not smashed into the consistency of gruel. It doesn’t have to be ground beef, but can be ground veal, pork, turkey, buffalo, or a combination of any of the above.

My culinary meanderings got me to thinking: a finely written book is much like a finely constructed meatloaf. I could serve myself well to think of writing in the same terms.

When writing, I tend to take my main characters and pummel them into literary glop, turn them inside out and upside down in an effort to have the reader see what I see.  This is unnecessary. As I have said elsewhere, I am the Queen of the Back Story. I really shouldn’t smash down my meat, but instead lightly interweave it with the other ingredients. After all, a good story leaves out a little, a certain je ne sais quois that keeps the reader hooked and compels them to keep reading until the big reveal.

Likewise, meatloaf isn’t just meat. A phenomenal, gourmet meatloaf tastes good because of the other ingredients. Are they fresh and crisp? Are they unusual or the same-old same-old? Something as minor as the choice of breadcrumbs, for example, can alter the flavor. Italian, croutons, sourdough – all of it can change the basic recipe.

I’ve gone from a one-person story and a single timeline to the realization that it takes all of the elements with their own story to make the larger vision work. Each element has to be unsurpassed, perfect.

Mmm…I’m hungry.

After my quick trip to the market, I’ll attempt to put my meatloaf making skills to work in my writing.