So Far . . .

Last week I declared my reluctant independence from traditional publishing, which,, to be honest, was a little like saying, “You can’t fire me; I quit!” In the meanwhile, I’ve been reflecting on that decision and have stumbled upon several revelations that I’m sure were long ago discovered by those who have made the switch before me. First off, I’ve realized the majority of my reluctance was driven by ego, an adherence to tradition, and a prejudice driven home by legacy publishers and its authors including myself. I’d not only accepted but had deeply inculcated the notion that independent publishing was merely an exercise in vanity and that no other model was acceptable. In truth, the more egregious act of vanity is to suggest that the old paradigm is the only acceptable one and those who find alternative methods are somehow inferior. Whether it has been arrived at through a self-serving reassessment driven by necessity or it is the result of research and recent experiences, I now see the ignorance and outdated nature of my earlier thinking.

This is not to say, however, that the traditional model does not have it’s advantages or that it hasn’t been good to me or other authors. I will be forever grateful to the opportunity and dream fulfillment I was afforded through that model. And as I venture out on my own, I know I will miss many of its offerings. Primarily, I miss the prestige of being with a big New York publisher, but there are several additional, practical benefits I must learn to do without. I’ll miss the professionalism and talent of publishing house editors. Their skills and attention to detail truly shape, fine tune, and provide the finishing touches to their books. Now, I must be my own editor with the assistance of other author friends, but what I gain is complete ownership of my novels’ success or failure. I obviously will miss the guaranteed advance money; now, I must earn my keep entirely on my own and on the basis of sales alone. However, the amount of advance money being parceled out to non-A-listers continues to diminish, and the royalty rate is much higher in independent publishing. Either way, this is a minor concern for me. I really don’t stand to or intend to make much money from my writing. Mostly, I will miss the distribution power of a Big Six publisher. Their ability to place books in bookstores and libraries is extensive and nearly impossible to match; however, the presence of brick-and-mortar bookstores is all but disappearing as an increasing number of readers purchase their reading materials from online bookstores. This is an audience I can reach as effectively as if I were still with a large publisher. A hard reality is that only well-established and high-earning authors can rely on publishers for extensive promotion. The rest of us must rely upon our own wiles to market our books even when under the aegis of a large publisher, so that has not changed.

The greatest gain of this endeavor is freedom. I no longer have to kowtow to the wants of agents and editors, who understandably limit much of their energy to finding and promoting those books that reek of potentially blockbuster sales. Now, because the risk is entirely mine, I can pursue the projects and write the books that I want to write and allow a free and democratic meritocracy determine the value of my work with the purchases or lack of purchases by the reading public. I can live with that. Ultimately, I’d love to work with traditional publishers in the future and pursue a course of hybrid publishing, but if that doesn’t happen, I will not be forced to the sidelines. I can still get in the game.

 

Independence Day

After much deliberation in which I weighed the pros and cons of such a move, this weekend I chose an independent publisher to partner with in the publication of my second novel. Neither the choice to leave the nest of traditional publishing nor the choice of a new publisher was easy. The former was actually not really a choice at all but what I was left with. As I noted in a previous blog, for two years I tried without success to present my original publisher with a novel to its satisfaction, and in the last year, I’ve ardently tried to find an agent to represent my current novel. I failed in both endeavors. The latter decision, as to which publisher to go with, was much more difficult. In this period of flux in the publishing world, there are many disreputable companies looking to take advantage of frustrated authors with stars in their eyes. Thankfully, in my case, I have experience in and an understanding of the process.

The good news is that I’m finally able to move forward with a back catalog of three completed novels that I plan to release over the next two to three years. I’m content to let my readers decide as to the worthiness of each. Should I have stayed within the traditional model, I would currently be returning to the drawing board and looking at a minimum of another three year span before I could write another novel, gain representation, woo a publisher, and bring the book to market. I just don’t have the energy, time, or patience for that. I know now, better than ever, how fortunate I was to crack the code of traditional publishing with SO SHELLY, and I’ll always have that satisfaction. However, whatever the new code is, it is lost on me. I don’t seem to write the kind of books agents and publishers are looking for today, meaning “big concept” novels and series. The word among my friends in the business is that the more literary novels, as I like to think I write, are being closed out in favor of more commercial projects. Many of which, at least in my opinion, are derivative and trendy.

What does all this mean? It means that I will soon be sharing a release date for my next novel, most likely, this spring. I can only hope that there will be a receptive audience waiting.

I Can’t Make You Love Me

If I had to list my all-time favorite songs, the devastating “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” written by Michael Reid and Allen Shamblin and most popularly performed by Bonnie Raitt, would be near the top of my list. Ironically, it also goes a long way in capturing the status of my relationship with the world of traditional publishing. As I revealed in my most recent post, I’ve tried for the past three years and through three novels to re-win the love of both editors and agents only to face repeated rejection. How long does one stay in a relationship that just isn’t working? How long do I as a writer stay faithful to a publishing model to which I will forever be grateful for making my dreams come true but that no longer has interest in me and may very well be on the verge of extinction anyway? I don’t know the answers to those questions. But when I heard Bon Iver’s version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” today on Pandora, I experienced an epiphany: I need to move on or this one-sided, dysfunctional relationship is going to plant seeds of bitterness in my soul that will suck the life right out of me. Therefore, this post marks the beginning of a new phase in my life. For better or worse, I am re-taking control of my writing career. I am joining the ever-growing number of independently-published authors.

Without question, many of the great friends I’ve made in the traditional world of publishing will view this break-up as my failure, and maybe they are right. I don’t know. Like the friends of divorced spouses, I hope they don’t feel the need to choose between me and their own loyalty to New York publishers. What I know for sure is that, like everyone else, my limited number of days is fast shrinking, and if I want to share my writing with even my small corner of the world, I can’t afford to waste another minute hoping I can convince an agent to love my novels enough so that she can turn around and try to convince an editor to do the same. I also must accept that they may not love me for good reason. Perhaps, my writing isn’t good enough, my stories engrossing enough, or my themes relevant enough, and this foray is merely an exercise in vanity. However, with whatever objectivity I can muster, I sincerely believe in the quality of the work, and If I don’t believe in myself, who will? At this point, I’m willing to let whatever readership I can reach decide. I can live with that rejection. Like many spurned lovers, I never thought this would happen to me. This path is not the one I ever imagined walking, but it’s what I’m left with, and I’m determined to make the best of it. I hope some of my readers will walk it with me.

Speaking of those who read and enjoyed So Shelly and may be interested in my next novel, I will inform you soon as to its content and to when and where it will be available.

So Where Are You Now?

So Shelly Recap

So Shelly was released on February 11, 2011. By comparison with the majority of debut novels, Shelly was a success. It met with solid reviews, sold reasonably well, had its publishing  rights purchased in two foreign markets, and earned for me appearances at several book events with nationally-renowned bestselling authors, and won me recognition as one of the “Top 10 YA Novelists of 2011” among other honors.

So Where’ve You Been?

Although Shelly was a success based on typical first-novel standards, she was not a financial success for my publisher – far from it. In publishing terms, she failed to “earn out.” In fact, she didn’t come close to justifying the generous advance I’d received. All of which greatly raised the stakes for any potential follow-up novel. Although I presented my editor/publisher with two potential second novels, she/they rejected them both, which was certainly their right and decisions I respect. Both my publisher and editor were never anything but fair and professional in our relationships. Art is a subjective field. There is rarely unanimous consent regarding the aesthetic quality of artistic expression. For example, I’ve tried all my life to appreciate Jimi Hendrix but still find his playing noisome, yet I could listen to Hanson’s music all day – yes, that Hanson. I hated The Blindside, yet loved The Program. Harry Potter series? Keep it. But I love J.K. Rowling’s Casual Vacancy; although, I’ve yet to meet one other person who read it and liked it. My point is that it is impossible for anyone to predict with anything approaching certainty how a novel or any work of art will be received. In my editor/publisher’s case, they determined that the novels I presented to them after Shelly would not be adequate sellers to justify a further investment in me, which, by the way is totally cool. There is a ruthless business component to the publishing of art that cannot be ignored. Their rejection, however, should not be interpreted as an aesthetic judgment rather as an economic one.

To add insult to the injury of being dumped by my publisher, within weeks of that news, my agent decided to leave the business and pursue other opportunities in the publishing field. I was left an orphan. In the world of traditional publishing, an author without an agent is voiceless and invisible.  It was a double blow that left me temporarily bowed but ultimately unbroken. Not long after, I began work on a third novel since Shelly.

So Where are You Now?

Literally, I am where I am most often found if not in front of a classroom (or television). I am behind my laptop. Professionally, I am at a crossroads. My current novel is in the hands of several agents who have expressed keen interest in representing the project. Should any of them offer me representation, I’ll probably accept and continue to work within the traditional publishing paradigm. However, should they all decline – which is a very likely outcome in today’s ever-tightening market – I am determined to seek out alternative routes to publication. I have three novels to share and to allow readers to determine for themselves the value or lack thereof my stories.