This is a hard blog post to write.
Years ago, when I was about 17, I decided that I was going to follow my original dream of becoming an author – or at least a part-time author while I pursued the ever-elusive “career”. There weren’t many “careers” for girls like me, who hate long office hours, databases, spreadsheets and, worst of all, people. I didn’t want to play bullshit-bingo all my life with someone who took their middle-management job far too seriously.
And it wasn’t until about March of this year that I discovered I didn’t have to. It took months to build up trust with the company and get my invoices up to graduate wages, but all that hard work was worth it. So the career thing looks like it won’t be so bad after all.
The writing was always going to be a problem. I desperately wanted to be traditionally published. My first published story – and a few after – was some wannabe-horror tripe that was picked up by a small press who have since gone right out of business. Later, I wrote “romance” (eerr…actually begins with an E) under a pen-name and sold my first story for £50. A while later, I sold another to Harper Collins for £75.
By that point, though, I’d spent three years getting my degree (an arts degree, of course) which I achieved highly in, but I still hadn’t got that publishing deal.
“Why not ME?” I thought. “There are women my age selling books. What’s up with that?”
Unfortunately, it took a long time to realise that the recession had put a LOT of companies in the red. Or is it in the black? Red? Black? Oh, I don’t know. I told you I was crap with spreadsheety stuff. They were firmly up shit creek, anyway, so the good old days of Stephen King getting hundreds of dollars for short stories, and the days when publishers built-up writers over the course of years, finally pooffed out all together. Today, you have to be an instant best-seller, and if you’re not, you’ll never get another book deal unless you’re very, very lucky.
To discover this was devastating. It took a lot of wishful thinking and a ton of rejections to realise that none of this was my fault. My novels are fine. They aren’t crap. The quality of a concept or the writing itself matters less and less in today’s world, and unless you’re already famous, you need to have SOMETHING to pull out the hat to make yourself a desirable writer for publishers.
I don’t know what some of these people do; I really don’t. I don’t know what gets them the golden ticket. But I do know that their rights are restricted more than they were in the good old days, the advances small if not non-existent, and that feeling of a freshly printed novel in their hands wiped away by “ebook-first”. Sales, too, aren’t always guaranteed. Many massive publishing companies – appearing successful – have been bought out.
So even for those brilliant Charlie Buckets, the golden ticket wasn’t a promise. It was just a chance, and if you don’t make it, then your golden ticket won’t even get you a Snickers at the vending machine.
Self-publishing, for a long time, was considered vanity-press – the last attempts of the failures and the terrible writers and the arrogant sods who think everyone should understand their genius. Some people today still think that, because even when ebooks became big, it took a long time for authors to see it as a viable option.
But then they did. We saw people like Jackie Collins deciding to self-publish. We saw people making great, steady sales of their work. We saw people become millionaires. We saw people getting picked up by great publishing houses for good deals like the old days.
We’re still seeing that. Even weirder, people are reading self-published work. They aren’t just assuming that the stories must be terrible. Why? Because things have changed.
I used to think very, very negatively about self-publishing. I vowed never to let myself make that “last attempt of the failure”, and I was always terrified that one day, I would. Except I’m not terrified any more.
If the only benefit of getting a publishing deal, today – assuming you’re publishing Joe Bloggs’ debut – is a thorough editing, a pretty cover and…that’s it, then what do self-publishers have to lose?
“You lose first publishing rights. It becomes a re-print that no agent or publisher will touch,’ says the Literary Agent.
Well, they would say that. Self-publishers cut out the middle man. But the fact remains that self-published authors who make great sales are probably around the same ratio as traditionally-published people who make great sales. JUST because you get a “book deal” doesn’t mean you’re going to sell well.
And as we’ve seen with both smaller presses and the big 5, that BIG BREAK won’t stop them from kicking you to the curb when their funds run out, or your book sells poorly. Some of those authors will get better deals; some will use the platform to further themselves. Many will go traditional AND self-publish. Most will just go back to being “un-published”.
Un-published, after all that?
Back in the day, authors always sold badly. They were unknown. It took time to build them up. Today, it appears, there is no time. It’s make or break, as they say.
So it’s taken a lot of thought, and a lot of observation, to realise that nothing is crystal clear any more, and as much as people insist that you must “choose your path”, there still is no straight path. It doesn’t exist. However much the “experts” protests, we, the writers, are in the driving seat. We are allowed to go exploring. Why wait at the bus stop for a bus that went out of service yonks ago?
Many, many traditionally published authors are weighing up their options today. Many of them like to do both the traditional thing and the self-publishing thing. Why shouldn’t they? It’s their work. Writers needn’t be so f-ing grateful all the time. We’re not slaves.
What’s interesting, too, is that the writing industry is the only creative industry where it’s still frowned upon to go it alone. How much sense does that make?! Do musicians wait for the big break with their guitars locked in their bedrooms, or do they get out there, do some gigs, hand out flyers, and publish their own tapes?
What about artists? Do they only give their art to family and friends, or do they get on Facebook and Deviantart, hand out flyers, and show the world their art? Do they hide away or do they start selling? In fact, I think artists accepted indie writers way before most writers did. Self-publishing is a platform for artists too. “Indie” is no longer a dirty word for writers.
How else would anybody see what you can do?
Writers have always had to let their novels die on their hard drives, because if the BIG DEAL doesn’t come, then they’re worse than pond scum. Well, I think we all know that things are different now. Self-publishing is a viable option.
I think it was Amanda Hocking that changed my mind. NOT her sales – I’m aware that was a phenomenon, and I think she is too. But she did say something about the guy from Blink182 – she posted a video of it – and how their band started out. His advice was to never wait for the magic hand to come down, pluck you out, and make it all happen for you.
You have to show people what you can do. A handful of agents glancing over your cover letter just won’t cut it.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve thought over it long and hard, and I am no longer going to do the self-pitying thing. I won’t do it. I won’t spend my life pining over the magic hand.
That doesn’t mean I don’t still like traditional publishing. That doesn’t mean I don’t want an agent. I’m still waiting for my turn. But that turn will never come unless I get my work out there. At the end of the day, I’d rather people were reading my work – even if only a couple ever pick up my books – than let them die on the hard drive.
The negative-thinking-pitfall is not one I’ll go tumbling into again. It’s unproductive and it only damages me. Do I deserve to be damaged? No.
Getting my work out there will at least showcase what I can do. Maybe it’ll get me that agent on day, or that traditional deal. I sincerely hope so. I’m just not pining any more. I am awarding myself some respect. If people can do start-up magazines and artists can showcase their art, and musicians can busk and sell their CDs and do their gigs, then writers can show off their books. Simple as.
I am an artist like any other, and I’m going to make my little corner of the world shine.
So, folks – watch this space. I have one ebook just about ready to go, and the other three to follow. My plan is to get them all up at once, because multiple books, I believe – from my research – makes people take a second glance.
I’ll be documenting my journey here and explaining my various reasons for doing this, or that, or the other.
I’ll be doing it my way after all. Yippee!