Last week Lisa L. Day asked about writing and publishing, and I’ve had a great time exploring her question. Another quote attributed to Stephen King answers in part that very query: What makes you think I have a choice?
Supposedly during an interview, King was asked why he writes horror; his response was perfect, but doesn’t just cover genres. It encompasses this whole gig, from the initial specks of plot to books for download or sale at online retailers or brick and mortar shops. I note the web first; that’s where all my books are available. Indie publishing takes place mostly via online stores, unless a writer gets their novel into a shop, which I did with my first book, published by a small press. Seeing a stack of Drop The Gauntlet was quite a thrill. But it’s nothing compared to clicking on Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, or Smashwords. Not only because I published those novels myself, but for their growing numbers. I am firmly committed to indie, or self-publishing. However, I eschew the term self-publishing; it’s a misnomer if ever there was one.
Initially I never considered indie publishing, but by the time Drop The Gauntlet was published, indies had cracked open the door. Having placed in the semi-finals of the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) gave me food for thought, but I didn’t query that novel, September Story. Instead I wrote like there was no tomorrow, doing the same for much of 2010, testing the agency waters that autumn with The War On Emily Dickinson. I had a few nibbles, but no firm bites. Undaunted, I queried another novel, then queried September Story. Rejection is good for toughening the skin, goodness knows a writer needs a sturdy outer shell. As I queried, I kept writing and revising, pondering what I wanted for my books. Was it the usual manner of publication, or something different?
My head was firmly turned toward indie publishing by a great writer who is also a good friend; in late 2010, Julie K. Rose independently published her 2009 semi-final-placing ABNA entry The Pilgrim Glass. I was so pleased for her, and that concrete notion so close to home gave me a jolt. At the time, I was forty-four years old, with a plethora of novels written. Being prolific lends itself to an indie career, but that was just one aspect. My age was another, in that even once an agent is acquired, traditional publishing is a slow process. I signed the contract for Drop The Gauntlet in the summer of 2007; the novel was released in January 2009. With indie publishing, I would set the pace.
Once I made the decision, it was a matter of choosing a distributor, as I wasn’t going to tackle that aspect myself. I picked Smashwords for ebooks, and Lulu for print, and am relatively pleased with those companies. But the real work was prepping the initial manuscript; The War On Emily Dickinson is a non-linear account of the AIDS epidemic, a book very close to my heart. Perhaps by choosing that manuscript, I set the tone for my career, love, mercy, and equality my main themes. In addition to revising, the first half of 2011 was spent designing a cover, formatting the print version, then the ebook. I’m not actually the techie sort, but in using Word exclusively, I had little trouble with the Smashwords Style Guide. Preparing Emily Dickinson for Lulu was much more time-consuming.
Meanwhile there were synopses to write, tags to consider, a price. I didn’t start out offering my books for free, but by autumn, my aims had already altered. I write because I have no choice; how does one put a price on a gift? From Alvin’s Farm onwards, my books carried no cost, Emily Dickinson and A Slider, Tumbling also made complementary. (I had published A Right Turn At Jesus as a free book, after Emily Dickinson was released.) While formatting ebooks is relatively painless, formatting for print is more work, and I have to give a shout-out to the ever talented Julie K. Rose, who has not only designed the covers for my last five novels, but also formatted September Story for Lulu; it’s a gorgeous book inside and out, all her doing. Julie, I owe you more than just a shout; big props, and hugs, for opening this indie door in the first place.
That’s the basic nuts and bolts. But underneath the distribution and revisions lies why forgo the accepted manner of publishing books? My age and output played a large part, but equally important was the message I wished to convey, and how that wasn’t easily shoved into a marketable box. Just yesterday I came across the same sentiment in an interview Dianne Gray gave to Zen Scribbles; Dianne put it succinctly when she said: I am an unconventional writer and am always looking for something ‘different’ to write about. I guess this is why I stopped using publishing houses who wanted to hone me into something I’m not. We’re all individuals and I don’t really believe in ‘mainstream’.
I smiled when I read that, because not only did it help me out with this post, but I’m not the only one to feel this way. Now, not every publisher wants to mine the next It genre, plenty of open-minded and wide-hearted small presses out there. But here’s where age and verbosity kicks in, as well as some common sense. I have something to say, and indie publishing is a platform with which to say it. I can format novels, and while I’m not that talented with covers, I know some great folks who are. I have terrific crit partners, a very supportive family, and the technology exists. Ten years ago ebooks weren’t part of the landscape. Now they are here to stay.
Part of my going indie was also examining my pride; what good were all these stories if I kept them shut away simply because no agent wanted them? I started reading Howards End last week, a fantastic story. The Schlegels are art and literary-minded Britons, although Mr. Schlegel has family in Germany, with whom he sometimes spars. In the middle of one such discussion, Mr. Schlegel notes: It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile, and that a million square miles is almost the same as heaven. That is not imagination. No, it kills it.
I read that out loud to my husband, laughing that Mr. Schlegel could be referring to 2013 America, not 1910 Germany. Then I more deeply considered how that applies to my books; I am not seeking a massive audience, heck, just a few hearty souls willing to brave my stories’ high-angst threshold. Those folks are out there, and my books entertain, but only because I had the chutzpah to publish them.
I am pleased for however a writer chooses to publish. But for what I wish to accomplish, independent publishing fits the bill. I want to leave some, but certainly not all, of my novels for my descendants. In the meantime, I’m over the moon for anyone else who takes a fancy to my sometimes tearjerking tales, heavy on the melodrama, also teeming with compassion and love. No two authors have the same goals or write the same books. Indie publishing allows for a variety of stories to be disseminated in myriad formats. I stick to ebooks, for they are easier to format. I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck about deadlines; I write from my heart, and can cross into sci-fi, family saga, or literary fiction with nary a raised eyebrow. That freedom is priceless; as long as the internet lives, so do my novels.
Independent publishing isn’t new, writers have been printing their own books for ages. But the rise of ebooks has turned a page (ha ha) in the scheme; it comes down to what an individual wants from and for their work, and the only one who can determine that is the writer. Novels are still paragraphs and scenes and chapters collected into a cohesive whole. But for me, independence is crucial, also exhilarating. I wouldn’t do this any other way.