Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Second Blood, Fear and Indie Publishing

I still remember that phone call. The first literary agent to call me back and tell me they were interested in representing me. I was thirty-two years old, and after three novels and a decade of hard work trying to make it, I was finally on the cusp. I'm not ashamed to say that I spent the next hour on my balcony in tears, so grateful to be validated after all those years of getting up early or going home early or staying up late to write.

Writing is such a solitary profession that when someone, especially someone representing The Industry, calls you and tells you that you're good enough, well, that's the response you get. Buckets. Disorientation. That feeling like your diving off the cliff into an unknown paradise. It's magical and joyous and terrifying all at once.

Six months later, the agent stopped calling me. Just... stopped. No messages. No explanation. Suddenly I wasn't good enough. It was falling in love with that perfect person, having them tell you how much they love you, and watch them pack up their bags six months later without ever telling you why.

I was, to put it mildly, shattered. I had no experience in the publishing world, no understanding of whether that was a common or unusual, and it took me years to get back on track. In 2008, when I started writing Second Blood, I was determined not to skim, not to cut corners. I would write as long as it took to produce my very best work. Hadn't it taken Patrick Rothfuss ten years to write The Name of the Wind? And what about Chad Harbach?

But over the past six years, the publishing world has changed. Dramatically. Independent Publishing, what was once called Vanity Publishing, now accounts for nearly 30-40% of all book sales, depending on which stats you use. And with the ability to publish your own work AND retain the rights to it completely AND to do it with minimal cost convinced me that after years of hoping for another phone call, I've decided to publish Second Blood myself.

Why Do It Yourself

1. Hugh Howey and JA Konrath are the experts here. Go to their website and just start reading to get a basic feel for the changes in the industry, and the horror stories that abound with mid-list writers whose books are taken off the shelf and never seen again. All that work, and you'll never see another penny from it.

2. I'm going to have to do the marketing and publicity myself, anyway. Unless my book was auctioned for 6 digits, I'd be doing the exact same thing. I'll take my chances, thanks.

3. It's a waste of time. Traditional publishing, assuming I don't know someone, wants me to spend months writing query letters and summaries (which I have), and then wait months to see if another agent will like the work, and if they, in turn, can find an editor who likes the work, and so on. I'd rather just write, thanks, because I'm still going to have to do all that marketing and publicity myself.

4. I'm not a literary writer. While I appreciate and enjoy writers like Jeffrey Eugenides and Donna Tartt, I don't live there. Give me Robert B. Parker, Jim Butcher or Robert Jordan any day. I've always been more interested in great stories and great ideas than great prose. I'm not saying they have to be exclusive, but a good fantasy novel is more enjoyable for me than even great literary fiction like Half-Blood Blues.

5. This isn't a short term plan. If you publish independently, you can't produce one work in six years. You're not spending time brushing the same sculpture over and over, but exploring new ideas and new characters, which is a LOT more fun. I have three books in the well, and am nearly done the first draft of The Last Angel, which I started less than a month ago. How? Three thousand words a day and the knowledge that it will come out, even if only a couple of people read it.

6. Inequality. Twenty years ago a trade paperback sold for about $20 here in Canada. They still sell for that price, and its MUCH cheaper to publish a book in the digital age. You can talk about inflation, I suppose, or increased salaries, but the writer's cut, the one who created the work, is the same. A novelist will make about $1 per book. A writer has no guarantees, no salary, and no benefits. So why are they still getting the shaft? Yes, a publishing company incorporates risk, but that doesn't balance the scales. Not when I can have my book printed on demand by Amazon for about $3 per book. Listen, if I were to sell enough copies myself that one of the big five wanted to offer me a six digit contract, I might take it, like Anthony Ryan, authour of Blood Song (very good book) did. And I'm not bad mouthing people who publish traditionally, especially my friends who write so brilliantly and are capable of winning literary awards. Hell, you SHOULD publish traditionally.

7. I'm as scared as I've ever been. Releasing something without getting "Industry Approval" scares the crap out of me. And I LOVE IT! Listen, if nothing you're pursuing scares you, or causes your stomach to dance, than you need to find what does and go after it. Just do it! The world doesn't care if you're happy or not, but people will notice when you find your passion and invest all you have into it. They'll get excited, too! Not just for you, but for themselves, because so much of life can be daily drudgery, the same old routine. Be alive, and let others find some uplift in what you're doing.

My wife tells me that she hasn't seen me this excited in a long time. I'm writing so much that I'm typing this blog with one hand. (The other is sore.) Whatever gifts you have, whatever gets you going, pursue that! DO it! It's nearly impossible to live a Kind Life when we feel like life is nothing but the same old crap. Don't fall into that trap. You can do it.

I've had these moments lately, where I imagine releasing Second Blood and about 15 people buy it. And then nothing. Six years of hard work and it's met with a collective 'meh.' You know what though, that's okay. I have other books coming, I'm having a hell of time writing them, and in the morning, I'm excited about what the day will bring. That's the real juice, my friends. And at the end of the day, if tomorrow sounds like a good idea, you're doing something right.

-Steve