Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Paths To Publishing: Enjoy the Process!

I can't remember when I didn't want to be an author. I've collected writing craft books and subscribed intermittently to Writer's Digest over the years, found it all fascinating, but never wrote seriously until my retirement because it seemed to me that as a new author, the cards were stacked against me from the beginning. Yeah, maybe if I worked really, really hard and wrote a masterpiece, I might be able to get it published. But it was still a bit like winning the lottery, and I had to make a living. No matter what they tell you, you can't always make your dreams come true.

But when making a living wasn't necessary anymore and I had to find something to do with the rest of my life, my writing dream popped up immediately. As far as I knew, not much had changed over the years, except that I'd heard people were self-publishing ebooks, and I found it encouraging that there were other options besides breaking into the New York echelons. I was under no illusions that my writing was anywhere near publication quality at the time, but at least when I did have something ready to publish, my hopes would not be pinned only on the unlikely chance of being discovered by some kindly New York editor.

At that time—a mere two years ago or so—self-published authors were still seen by some as sort of “cheating.” “Real” writers kept working on their craft, writing and polishing, entering contests, submitting to editors and agents, and hoping that someday they would be good enough to be noticed by New York. The writers I knew had all been working for years—as many as twelve, in one case—and had accumulated piles of rejections. When I brought up self-publishing as an option, the idea was shot down immediately. “I want to build a career” was one of the objections. Apparently, the only way to build a career was through New York.

This hardly seemed fair to me. There must be thousands and thousands of writers who have been writing in vain because New York didn't see fit to put their stamp on these authors' work. Even if you have written the best shape shifter romance out there, if New York decided that shape shifters were out, they'd never buy yours. And the problem with trends is that by the time you have something to offer, New York has decided to move on to another one, and you're stuck. Again.

The truth is, even if New York were to give you your big chance, it might not work out quite the way you expected. Well over a decade ago, I discovered a wonderful new author, Jean Ross Ewing. Her historical romances were emotional powerhouses. She obviously spent a great deal of time writing them, because there weren't many. But I subscribed to her email list and eagerly awaited the next one.

Then the email came to say that her publisher had persuaded her to change her name to Julia Ross, hoping that this new "brand" would sell better. Humiliating, but at least they weren't just giving up on her. I read all of her Julia Ross books and liked them, but they weren't the same. I think they must have persuaded her to change some things about her writing as well. But I remained a faithful fan. Until the email came that she was taking time off from writing. That was many years ago, and I haven't seen any books by her since. I don't know exactly what happened, but it appears that for Jean Ross Ewing and Julia Ross, writing really, really good books wasn't enough. Her New York dream died.

Let me clarify that I have nothing against authors who choose to publish through New York. It's fabulous that they managed to get through the door, and I hope their New York dreams come true. But the best part is…they have choices that Jean Ross Ewing did not. I know quite a few traditionally-published authors who built up a following and then switched to self-publishing, where they can control pretty much every aspect of their work. It's not for everyone. But it's a choice that more and more authors are making, and I applaud them for it.

There are also other choices—smaller publishers, and those who publish only digitally. These don't necessarily make a big splash, but they are out there looking for new content, and may be a good way to get started. It seems like authors these days don't commit themselves 100% to one publisher; they may have several, and be self-publishing on the side. I personally think such hybrid publishing is the way to go these days. But the best part is that authors no longer have to be dependent on New York; there are many, many paths to a successful writing career.

Bitter Battles

I've read—skimmed—some of the blog battles between proponents of traditional and indie publishing, and here are my thoughts:
  • The publishing world has been turned around on its axis in only a few short years. It doesn't surprise me at all that so many authors have bitter memories of their past dealings with New York. Doesn't everyone like to see Goliath fall to David's slingshot? Especially if they've rejected you repeatedly, or dropped you, or keep you tied to contracts that you want out of. Ah yes, who wouldn't want to “show them” by becoming the next Sylvia Day? I'm afraid there's no way for the traditional publishers to win this one. They'd be better off not opening Pandora's Box in the first place. Karma, you know.

  • One thing I learned in the research course I had to take for my M.Ed was that every study is flawed. Yes, even those created by statistics and research professors who know all the formulas. For our tests in that class, we had to spend four hours finding the flaws in studies published by scholarly journals. Just because it sounds good on the surface and there are tables and numbers doesn't mean the conclusion is valid. Interesting, perhaps, but I'm convinced there isn't one study that isn't fatally flawed, and if you spend hours and hours analyzing them, you'll find 'em. But no, I'm not going to do that because, well, I have better things to do with my time.

  • I have no horse in this race. I've never submitted to a New York publisher, but if one were to offer me a decent contract, I would seriously consider signing it. There are still advantages to being published traditionally, but not enough that I have to feel like a failure if that door remains closed. If it seems as though I am grinning gleefully to see New York getting hit, it's only because I'm so happy to be living in a day and age when they can't control my writing career! For those who wish the clock would turn back since the old days were better, um, maybe they were for a fortunate few. But how many thousands of others worked for years and finally gave up, like Jean Ross Ewing? These days, if you give up your dream, it's because you have lingering feelings of bitterness about not being one of the fortunate few, and/or you resent having to work harder to get there. Or you still feel the sting of the “indie” label and don't like your work having to share “shelf space” with the loads of crap out there. Well, I'm here to tell you that success doesn't come easily to most people—you have to drag yourself out of the mud to get your feet on the first rung of the ladder. And if your head is always in the clouds, you're likely to fall off before you get there.

  •  Cotillion Christmas Celebrations
    One day at a time. Enjoy this day. True writers have a compulsion to write, so do it. Do some of the other stuff too, if you can. I've found that I enjoy blogging and social media and designing promo. I especially love hearing from readers who love my stories! I don't have a crystal ball and I have no idea whether becoming a best-selling author is in the cards for me, but for now, I'm having a blast down here on the bottom rung. A few years ago, having a story in print was like an impossible dream. And here I have one—albeit in an anthology—only two years after making the decision to write seriously.
The past tends to seem better than it actually was, until you take off the rose-colored glasses and start seeing the harsh reality. But you can't go back there anyway, so why waste time mourning over it? Nobody knows the future, and that seems to me to be a waste of time too. All you really have is the present. And it's full of opportunities, if you have the courage to take advantage of them.

Susana's Releases

She's a country lady. He's a London swell. They have nothing in common. Or have they?

A wounded soldier and the girl next door find peace and love amidst a backdrop of rural Christmas traditions. 


About Susana

A former teacher, Susana is finally living her dream of being a full-time writer. She loves all genres of romance, but historical—Regency in particular—is her favorite. There’s just something about dashing heroes and spunky heroines waltzing in ballrooms and driving through Hyde Park that appeals to her imagination.

In real life, Susana is a lifelong resident of northwest Ohio, although she has lived in Ecuador and studied in Spain, France and Mexico. More recently, she was able to travel around the UK and visit many of the places she’s read about for years, and it was awesome! She is a member of the Maumee Valley, Central Florida and Beau Monde chapters of Romance Writers of America.

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Susana’s Parlour (Regency Blog) • Susana’s Morning Room (Romance Blog)


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Susana.

Indeed there are many, many ways to succeed at publishing. The industry is evolving every day.

carmens007 said...

Thank you Susana for sharing this with us all!
The success of our writing doesn't depend on the way we publish. It depends on what we offer the reader, the quality of our work.
Best luck with your writing!

Kayelle Allen said...

We sound a lot alike, Susana. I think your conclusions are right on. I remember when I had to explain what an ebook was. No one knew what I was talking about. Now all you have to say is "Kindle" and everyone gets it. The publishing world is changing fast, and those who refuse to accept it will be left behind. It's scary, exciting, and about damn time. :)

Linda Andrews said...

Finishing a book is a success in and of itself. Congrats to you on both your books. I have 4 small presses that publish my work as well as my self-pubbed stuff. It is exciting and scary.

jean hart stewart said...

Really hard to keep up with the publishing world. I started fifteen years ago and it's entirely different now. Luckily I'm well settled with EC as I'm too timid to self-pub.

Fiona McGier said...

Jean, wow, 15 years? My kids were still young back then. Now they're grown-up/in college and I've been published for 5 years, with 3 small publishers. Still not making enough to make it worth cashing the royalties checks usually, but hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?

Melissa Keir said...

Your post reminded me of Marilyn Campbell. She wrote these wonderful shifter series, futuristic books. In the back of one book the blurb and release date was there for the next book...then bam... nothing happened. She disappeared off the face of the earth. I have always wondered what happened.

I'd rather be published than sitting on the shelf again.

Martha O'Sullivan said...

You made some great points. And my road to publication was rutted with every one of them! In the five years between starting seriously writing and getting published, the publishing industry did a 360. Thanks fir your insight.