Recently I reviewed Dee Ready's Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats & Their Humans , a book that rather surprised me for reasons that you can read about in that review post. Today I've invited Dee as my guest to tell about her experiences with publication.
Self-Publishing Vs. the Traditional Route
I’m sitting here at the computer grateful that Lee has asked me to guest post and yet unsure exactly where this posting is going to start or end up. That is the way with many writers. We simply have a wee idea and we sit down before the monitor and see where the mustard seed takes us.
The first idea that comes to me today is that we all write differently. Let’s take Elizabeth George. She’s a world famous mystery writer whose books have sold millions of copies. In Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life she explained her method. Her way is so foreign to me that I could never begin to use it.
Because before she begins to write she has everything planned out. She knows exactly where she’ll begin and where she’ll end. And she knows every detour along the way. She knows exactly who her characters are. They hold no surprises for her because she’s written pages detailing them. She knows her setting, her plot, and her denouement as well. She is a meticulous planner.
That has worked brilliantly for her. It’s just not the way I work. Most of the time I don’t know what I think until after I start to write. Slowly my characters reveal themselves, as does the setting. That’s what happened with A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. I sat down at the computer and felt as if Dulcy channeled the story through me.
That happened also for Dulcy’s companion book: Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats and Their Humans. It has also happened for the three novels for which I’ve completed rough drafts. With those novels, I’ve simply sat and let the words and the worlds come. They have revealed themselves to me.
For me, that’s one of the great joys of writing—discovering the characters in my mind and their thoughts. Letting myself go with the flow. For me, writing is like prayer. It centers and focuses me. I am never more present to the moment, I never live more in the moment, than when I’m writing. So I take joy in the act whether or not I’m published.
Let’s talk about getting published in today’s world.
We all know that we can write—with a plan like Elizabeth George or by following the flow as I did with Dulcy’s book—and never get published. Today’s publishing world seems, to me, to be in disarray. Many editors and agents seem to want the next Elizabeth George mystery or the next Frank McCourt memoir or the next Amanda Hocking paranormal romance.
Who’s Amanda Hocking? She’s the woman who discovered the profits that can be found in self-publishing. Within two years, she made over $2 million with several young adult urban fantasy and paranormal romances. Amazon tells us “she is widely considered the exemplar of self-publishing success in the digital age.”
How was she able to sell so many books independently? That’s the question all self-published writers ask.
She didn’t start out a phenomenon. In many ways, she was like all of us committed to writing. That is, she loved to write; she wrote several books; and she met a brick wall, unable to find an editor or agent who’d publish her work. So she began a blog. On it, she wrote about writing from her Minnesota home. She also promoted her self-published e-books and trade paperbacks.
Her books sold. And sold. And sold some more. After she made that $2 million, several New York publishers engaged in a bidding war for her next four books. This year, St. Martin’s Press is publishing her most recent book.
How do we do the same? How do we find an editor/agent or self-publish and have broad sales?
First perhaps, we need to read the type of book we want to write. We need to note how writers we admire write that genre. We need to study writing styles. I mean STUDY. Note sentence construction. Dialogue. Transition. The arc of suspense. Plotting.
Second, we need to be writing a genre that many people want to read. Since 1996, when Angela’s Ashes was published, memoirs have been extremely popular. But in the fifteen years since 1996, countless memoirs have been published. No longer are editors/agents interested in the memories of rape, incest, alcoholism, abuse, poverty. They no longer want horror stories of growing up. And many readers on longer want to read them.
What the public and the editors/agents of traditional publishing want is something new. Fresh. Original. A fresh take on an old story. Or a new setting. Or world event. Without those qualities and without an exceptional writing style, I think that getting a memoir published traditionally is going to be very hard in the future. And if it’s self-published, the readership will also probably remain small.
Third, if we self-publish, we need a blog that many, many, many—I say MANY—readers follow because how else can we market and publicize our books? How do we reach the large reading audience out there? How do we let people know there is a book?
Fourth, we must be willing to move away from the blog and the computer and do some marketing in the wider world for our self-published book. We must try to get readings and signings in bookstores. If our book is for young readers we might arrange to visit classrooms and talk about writing.
One fellow blogger—Melissa Ann Goodwin—has self-published the young adult novel The Christmas Village. On her blog she often recounts the most recent school she’s visited. (Click here for her blog and look at the left side for the upcoming classes she’s visiting.)
As I see the world of publishing today, if we are to have stupendous sales, we need to write books that are popular at the time. And right now books about vampires and werewolves (paranormals) are. So Hocking was in the right place at the right now with the right story.
All of us who want to get published—and who would like to make a little money doing so—and who would like to reach a large audience with our writing—must decide how we can do this realistically. The truth, as I see it, is that unless we are writing something that fits the trends and the temper of the time, our self-published book probably won’t sell a lot of copies or make a lot of money. More importantly to writers who want to be read, the self-published book won’t reach many readers. So our thoughts and characters won’t touch the lives of a large audience.
So what to do? What to do?
The truth is that I wish I knew. Finding an editor or an agent is more or less impossible today. The one really good thing is that most of them will accept e-mail queries and so we no longer have to wait so long to hear from them.
Believe me, back in 1990 when I was trying to get someone interested in A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story, I had to wait months to hear back from editors by “snail mail.” And yet finally, in April 1991, I did hear from a senior editor at Crown Publishing in New York and got a contract.
So today, with an eye to being published, I think we must look for agents and editors to publish us and at the same time consider self-publishing and what it entails. For myself, I’ve decided to devote seven months—from July through December—to finding an editor or agent for my third cat book, which is a young adult fantasy. I’m going to send out only e-queries so as to save money and to cut down on time.
If by January 2013, I’ve experienced no success, I will self publish and hope for the best. That is, I will try to find ways to not only self-publish but also self-publicize my three cat books and any novels I ultimately publish. I will try for signings and readings at places where readers of these books might congregate. I will look for “a hook” to see if I can get newspapers, magazines, and radio talk shows interested in these books. But I know that unless I do something the books will languish on Amazon, selling one or two copies now and then.
So it’s up to me—to do the writing, the publishing, and the promoting. But as Edna St. Vincent Millay said, “but, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends” I so hope that in the next six months I can find an agent or editor because at seventy-six I don’t look forward to expanding the energy that self-publishing calls for!
Now some questions for you:
What success have you had with self-publishing? With traditional publishing? With finding and agent or an editor? How have you marketed your self-published books? Has that worked well for you? Do you enjoy the writing so much that the getting published matters little?