Self-publishing was a choice, not a sentence...
Hi everyone! So the topic of this blog came to me notably because of some reactions I've received since publishing Chymaera's Overture. Here's the thing, friends who've known me for a while, know how long my writing journey has taken. I've been writing since I was a kid, and it was always a preoccupation I was devoted to. So when I told people that I was self-publishing, I received looks that were um, let's say, sympathetic.
"So, how many publishers rejected it?"
"Is it tough to get, you know - published for real?"
Oh, and don't let me forget!
"Well, it's a start! Maybe you can get a buzz going, and a publisher will pick you up!"
Sadly, it has come to my realization that self-publishing is the red-headed stepchild of publishing. (It's a legit saying peeps - I apologize to any gingers in blended families that are offended.) The funny thing is, it shouldn't be. While it may shock folks, I did not submit, nor did I ever consider submitting Chymaera's Overture to any literary agents or any publishing companies that accept unagented submissions. I respect the world of traditional publishing, but right now, it just isn't for me, or my writing.
I don't really think most people understand how publishing works, let me explain a few things. All manner of art on offer to the public is a business, and agents are marketers. Lots of folks like to complain that they see too many similar books come out of publishing houses (much like Hollywood studios) and it is a valid complaint to an extent. The reality is, it costs a grip of money to publish and promote a book and publishers like to hedge their bets by printing what they believe will do well in the market based on what has or is already doing well. Why do you think they market books by saying, "If you liked Hunger Games, then you'll love _________!" "Like Twilight, with a twist!" So when you send a query letter to an agent, they are looking for signs that your book is similar enough to a bestseller to be profitable and different enough to not be out-and-out plagiarism.
That said, the further out your book is from what is "hot" or "on-trend," or what is forecast to be hot a year from now, the less engaging your novel will be to an agent. If someone writes genre fiction, like I do, agents are not looking for future literary prize winners or evocative prose or anything your creative writing instructor blathered on to you about. Yes, they don't want a horribly written story that has to be reworked and edited into red oblivion. But what they are looking for is a story that will move, not emotions, off the shelves! One that will fit into promotion schemes that already exist and been proven to work. They need to be able to take your manuscript and tell an editor, "Take a look, you need someone to fill out your ____ section, and this is it. Think __, think __, think __. That is the caliber of writing and success I'm talking about." Some agents will take you on even if you aren't quite there, and they might offer to represent you, provided you make changes to your manuscript that they are sure the industry wants. No biggie, change the POV. Turn it into a YA novel. Add a romance angle that isn't there.
At the end of the day, if you want to be carried in brick and mortar stores and dream about being a NYT bestseller, you need an agent and a traditional publisher. You should listen to whatever they say, they will make your book more marketable, more appealing to wider audiences.
But, at the end of my day, I didn't want that. Don't get me wrong, financial success is incredible, and I would love for my Shadowed Ways series to become well known and enjoyed. Of course, it would only work for me if it remains the story I intended it to be. I wrote Chymaera's Overture because a part of me is still an awkward, nerdy teen who used fantasy books to escape a life that was painful and confusing to me. I loved the worlds I found, even if I never saw myself inside of them. I wrote my book for that version of myself and everyone else that might have felt similar. I didn't make it YA, even though that is the hot market, because I didn't read YA in high school, and some of the adventures planned wouldn't work. My novels have a shifting POV because even though I've been told big publishing hates it, Chymaera and Kai have different, and equally important stories to tell. And while I do have a romance angle, it isn't simple, or easily remedied, much like life.
I wanted to write a novel about a messy, complicated character who is neither saint nor sinner, and thoroughly fucks up even when it seems like she has everything she needs to succeed. She's rash, she might have an anger problem, and she's no one's idea of a proper heroine. Frankly, my book is as weird as I am, and that is more than OK.
Sometimes you have to be an outsider to make the weird stuff and try new things. I see self-publishing as being like indie films. Some of the best (and worst) movies I've seen have been indie productions. It's the people with shoestring budgets and no expectations who do what they want and explore different ways of being creative.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting self-publishing is better than traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is a fantastic business. It is just something different. There are rules in place that they abide by most of the time because it works for them. I understand and appreciate that. I just wanted to write a book that happened to not fit within those parameters. And I didn't want anyone telling me to change it in a way I didn't believe would improve it. So I didn't.
Basically, don't assume that self-publishers live in the land of rejects. Most of the self-published authors I know are folks devoted to doing the best they can for their works and their readers. They might be a bit stubborn or hard-headed, a tad controlling when it comes to their craft. But at the end of the day, the books with their names on them are their creations. Heart and soul on the page, should they care less?
Tell me, are you a rule breaker or a rule follower? Are there parts of your life where you differ? What matters more in terms of work, personal satisfaction, or financial success? Answer in the comments and see you next time!