About three years ago, my first novel came out.
No, wait. That’s not right. Let’s try…
About three years ago, I released my first novel.
Each sentence is nine words long. The end result — readers can buy my story — is the same. But the implied process was very different.
Back then, I told a writerly friend I expected it’d take five or so years for the trade-versus-indie bluster to fade. If one knows the industry solely from popular online discussions, that estimate sounds wildly optimistic. If one talks to writers who’ve taken the time to understand their evolving options, it’s not so far off. As mentioned here, the “versus” is a sickly beast many have already left behind.
With that in mind, and in light of the reprised conversation on Fantasy Faction, I thought I’d revisit a post from 2012 explaining why I chose to return to SF writing as an indie author rather than resume riding the query-go-round, and see how well my reasoning held up.
Let’s start with Control:
I’ve heard and read far too many stories of authors’ careers derailed because others held all the control. If I’m going to fail, I’d rather it be my fault.
This still holds true, even though control comes with more non-writing work. But success in any profession comes with work not connected to the primary occupation. I love teaching martial arts. In order to do so, I must also do the paperwork involved in tracking student progress, track payments, maintain a clean dojo, have sometimes-uncomfortable conversations with parents, and even wash and press my own uniforms. I don’t like any of those tasks. A couple of them I pay others to do for me. But since doing them well has a direct influence on my success as an instructor, I want to have a direct say in how they’re done.
The same is true of my writing.
Next up is Measures of Success:
My first goal is to cover my out-of-pocket expenses (which are pretty danged low). My second goal is to “earn out” an average advance–I’m going with $7500, though I’ve been told that’s high for a first-timer nowadays–within eighteen months. My third goal is to sell as many books as I’d need to sell under a trade contract to earn out that same advance.
The first goal was quickly accomplished. The second goal… Well, if I had a lousy contract that stipulated basket accounting, I’d have hit that goal with the two novels and handful of shorter works currently available. 😉
On the other hand, I’ve done almost zippo for marketing while at the same time slowing my anticipated publication schedule. Remember above when I mentioned I’d prefer everything be my fault? Well, there ya go — fault in action! Once Breath of Stone is launched, and the next installment in the series well underway, I’ll look at an actual marketing push so the sales of many novels, rather than just one, will (hopefully!) benefit.
On the third hand, other measures of success have entered the scope of my plans. Nice reviews from respected voices. New professional connections. Upcoming work with SFWA’s Self-Publishing Committee. The opportunity to reach out and teach.
Next up is Ego:
However, I don’t think the ego is any larger than when I was submitting to publishers. In both cases, I operated under the belief that what I wrote was worth someone else’s time and money. With self-publishing, I’m simply making that appeal directly to the reader rather than an agent or editor.
Yep, I still have one — battered on one side and over-inflated on the other, no doubt. What I underestimated in 2012 was just how damned exhausting it would be to read and hear so much negativity masquerading as expert opinion. Over and over and over. It took a couple years to really get under my skin, and my long fuse shortened considerably last summer, triggering more than a couple flash-bang responses I regret and a couple more reasoned answers I’m pleased with. These days, I still believe deploying the occasional flame-thrower is productive, but it must be done with both reason and reasoning.
And truly, I’m doing my best to channel that energy into educating new and new-to-indie writers. There is too much misinformation out there from sources that ought to be “safe” places for advice.
Lastly, there’s the point I addressed first in that 2012 post. It’s the point that has proven to be the most important to me. The Issue of Time:
My last wait time on an exclusive, requested submission was well over two years. At this time, I’m unwilling to practice that sort of patience. Some will decide my unwillingness means I’m weak and impatient and rude.
What I didn’t go into at the time was the reason for my unwillingness, so here it is:
In early 2011, my husband was diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer. He died four months later.
And the issue of time became even more critical when, in early 2013, I lost my dearest friend of over twenty years to cancer.
The time that passed between the passing of two of those most influential people in my adult life was less than the time it took that editor to evaluate the novel he’d requested and deliver a clipped verbal rejection at a convention party after ignoring any other attempt at correspondence.
Life is short and unpredictable. I have stories to tell and readers who like those stories. Certainly there are reasons the industry moves as slowly as it does. Certainly there are reasons I don’t want to participate in it.
And there’s another side to the issue of time. As an indie author in control of my publication schedule, I can allocate my time as is best for my family and my health. My readers have been incredibly kind in their understanding responses to the news Breath of Stone will be delayed, and I so appreciate them for it. It drives me to give them the best story I can in return. My readership may yet be small, but the mutual respect is irreplaceable.
So I suppose the question at the end of all this is, “Would you do it the same way again?”
Oh, there are things I’d do differently, of course. But would I still self-publish? Would I again opt against submitting to an interested editor? Would I again put my professional reputation out there, even though I know some of my writerly acquaintances still think I’m silly for doing so?
Yes. In a heartbeat. And I intend to do an even better job of it going forward.