Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Decisions, decisions, decisions - Part 1

What are the steps are to becoming an Independent author? Plenty of people have asked me that, and about the reasons behind my decision to self publish my mystery novel. They've been curious, too, why I chose to go the e-book route. If I have a good book, one people will want to read, why not suck it up and pursue the traditional route to becoming a published author?

The fact is, I DID begin on the traditional path. I wrote my book, lucked out connecting with a wonderful critique partner, then rewrote it, and took the first steps to acquiring an agent. I had no idea what I was doing, but hey, lots of people had trampled down that path and (I soon discovered) were willing to impart the knowledge they'd gained to people like me. I joined a writing group, Sisters in Crime, the Puget Sound Chapter, and then the Guppies Chapter. I immersed myself in learning my craft and the process of getting published.

This was a smart move. And if I had to do it over again, I'd do exactly the same thing. The knowledge and skills I've gained surpass any value I could ever put on them. The support and friendships I've made continue to be my rocks. Also, along the way I stirred the interest of agents and publishers, some of whom generously shared their wisdom.

The thing I didn't get was offers of representation. I did get offers of publication from some small publishers, but they usually came with a caveat I was uncomfortable with; change the point of view to third person, change the story to be a suspense novel instead of a cozy mystery—that sort of thing.

At about the same time there were rumblings of change in the industry. Friends who had agents weren't getting sales to publishers, other friends who were mid-list authors were dropped by their publishers, other friends who captured the attention of editors at publishing houses ended up being rejected because the marketing departments didn't know how to promote their work. Still others who were continuing to be published were finding they were suddenly dividing their time between promotion, marketing and writing—and having no clue how to do it or if they were being successful. Many of them worried constantly about their publisher not renewing their contracts.

As much as I wanted to get my book into the hands of readers, life after publishing didn't seem all that great. Was the thrill of holding a copy of one's book in one's own hands really worth it?

Then, with the economy forcing the issue of money (or lack of it) close to home I was forced to take a very practical look at what I was trying to do. Despite the rising price of books, it seemed to me authors' work was not being fairly compensated—particularly since most of them had to hold down another job or depend on the financial support of family members just to sell their books.

I started taking note of rebel J.A. Konrath. I was intrigued in the same way one is intrigued by watching someone pursuing and activity that might end in tragedy. However, he seemed to be doing pretty well. Surely he was an anomaly. But once my curiosity was stirred, I couldn't help looking around. Other authors were putting their own work out on their own.

They were self publishing. A major no-no. Instant disrespect. The mark of someone who didn't have a clue and didn't have the guts to go through the cleansing fires of the traditional route. And yet, a good number of these people had been published through traditional channels and were now publishing their out of print books, or early efforts that hadn't found a home, as e-books.

I watched, I read, I listened. Opinions weren't hard to come by. By spring 2010 you couldn't turn on your computer without reading something about it.

At the same time the publishing industry was groaning at a decibel level I usually associate with a wounded animal. It was impossible to ignore. Major changes were taking place. The routes I had at first chosen to take to get my work published were getting narrower and narrower. Those who were getting through seemed to be dropping into a hole, and I started hearing about how "lucky" we unpublished authors were to still have creative control over our work and joy in our lives. Now, I've never had any illusions of becoming a millionaire author. Mid-list was my target. It seemed comfortable. But now what had seemed a happy place appeared sinister. I wasn't so sure anymore that I wanted to go where my fate could be ripped so completely out of my hands.

It was time for some very serious soul and goal searching. No matter what route I chose, I was going to lose something. Now the questions became; what was it that I wanted, and what was I willing to give up to get it?

Next week: Part 2


  1. Very thoughtful post. You've said all the things that I've felt and thought. I think we've both made smart decisions.

  2. Thanks Edie! It's a cross-roads for each and everyone of us, and all of us will have to make a decision on how to proceed at some point. The industry has changed.

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  4. Susan: You are taking an interesting voyage. I believe that self-publishing will find its niche (and already is) just as publishing houses in their heyday found their niche; just as new genres find their niche in the market. It is not something to fear but to be embraced. Every author must do what's right for him and not allow the naysayers and fear mongers to put him (or her)in that tight little box. I will be one of your first purchasers come February!

  5. Thank you, Donnell! I couldn't agree more--the changes taking place have great potential for doing the industry a good turn. It's scary, because it's new, but exciting for the opportunities.

  6. I think the important thing is to get your work out there and build an audience. If you distribute ARCs of your book and gather reviews from writers and reviewers you respect, this will help sales and spread your name in the book world. And as your independently published work garners success, the publishing industry will go through its transition -- perhaps your paths will meet again and you will then be able to negotiate from a place of power rather than as an "untried" author. You're got what it takes, Susan - go for it!

  7. Susan,

    Excellent post! You've nailed the dilemmas facing most writers today. The publishing industry is in the midst of a major transition, not unlike what has already happened to the music and film industries. In addition, the recession is adding stress to a business model that has always run on thin profit margins. These two trends are causing publishers to restrict their acquisitions and focus only on their bestselling authors, which is a real disservice to the reader. And didn't we all get into this business to serve our readers? I know I did.

    Fortunately, as authors we now have an alternative means of ensuring that our stories reach our readers, self-publishing. It's an exciting frontier, and folks like Joe Konrath are a testament to its legitimacy. And I admit it--I'm becoming a complete "Indy" junkie, hunting for those wonderful stories that are now being self-published, the ones I know I never would have found through traditional publishing channels, that I can download in minutes and start reading.

    Best of luck! Come February, I will be watching for your first mystery...


  8. Thank you, Joyce, Susan & PJ! There are a lot of Indy authors out there and some truly excellent books. I've been seeking them out myself!

  9. Susan, you give me goosebumps. I'm so glad I ran into you this last year and I can't wait to buy your book. I'm determined that Santa is going to give me a Kindle this year, if I have to put the money in his hand and point him toward the website. :)

    You're going to do well! And I'm going to help sell your book to everyone I know who loves horses--or even just likes them a little.

    I can't wait to read part 2!

    Ann Charles

  10. LOL! Thanks, Ann! I consider myself fortunate to have run into you, too! And, I appreciate all your support. This is quite an adventure!

  11. Ack! I'm late with this, Susan. Sorry, we're moving again.

    At the risk of repeating myself, writers need to break out of the mind-set that says there is only one "right" path, one "right" way of doing things. Regardless of whether traditional publishing is in its death throes (as we keep hearing), we're stifling ourselves by not recognizing the alternatives. As a reader of mid-list and literary fiction, it terrifies me to think of a market where only bestsellers see publication. I hope and pray it never gets to that.

    With all the alternatives open today, why would we allow publishers to determine what we read? To me it feels like book banning via acquiescence. There is often more than one road to a single destination. I admire your courage in choosing the path less traveled

  12. You said it well. My first book was published traditionally, but this time the long wait, even if I found an agent, wasn't practical, so I self-published. There are all kinds of reasons for doing it yourself. Of course some books are poorly done, but there are no guarantees no matter who publishes it. I congratulate you and look forward to your book.