The other path to publication

Read this if you wrote a book.

After the first draft (which took multiple passes of adding layers on layers, printing, reordering chapters, ideas coming at you in the car, on the train, in the shower, at work, at dinner, on a run) was completed and sat in a drawer for a month or two like bread dough rising in a covered bowl, you revised it.

You rewrote the whole thing (more than once).

Shared it with a group.

Revised it again. Shared it with more writers. Revised it again.

Hired a professional editor. Revised it again.

How long did that take? I’m estimating ~2 years.

If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want milk to go with it. If a writer spends 2 years crafting an incredible story (one that she didn’t know existed in her heart or mind until it spilled onto the page), she’ll want readers to go with it. Writers want to share with readers who love stories and characters and getting wrapped up in a really good one…those are the humans we writers seek.

Which kind of writer are you? Do you want to quit your job and become a bestselling author, or do you have an inexplicable need to share your story with readers? Either way, you must publish your book. It’s time to make a decision. Will you publish it yourself? Or will you (attempt to) publish it the traditional way?

One huge factor to consider is timing. Here are some estimates for each process.

Traditional publishing requires

1. Writing, revising and polishing a query letter (2-4 weeks)

2. Writing, revising, and polishing a plot synopsis (2-4 weeks)

3. Researching and reading and finding agents (1-3 months)

4. Submission of query letters in batches (2-24 months)

5. Receiving rejections (minutes that feel like weeks in hell–they stepped on your baby’s neck–side effects may include insomnia and eye twitching)

6. Receiving requests for partial and full manuscripts (hope like rainbow bubbles)

7. Receiving rejections (popped bubbles get soap in your eye, but you won’t cry)

8. Receiving Revise and Resubmit requests (sour hope, but only the fringe of the rug is left so grab it quickly)

9. Waiting, waiting. . . waiting (oh. my. god. the interminable waiting)

[All of the above can take about 2 years and you MUST have incredibly thick skin and perseverance.]

If the two years result in signing with an agent, the following is likely to occur:

10. Revisions with agent (1+ year)

11. Submissions to editors at publishing companies (0.5-1 year)

If the revisions and submissions result in a publishing contract, the following has to happen:

12. Revisions with editor, cover design, marketing, book tours, wait wait wait (Estimated range from 0.5-3 years–agents/editors/famous authors? feel free to correct me here)

Overall, from the moment you conceived the idea for your story to the day your first reader plucks it from the pile to read will be ~4.5 years (if the first agent loves the story, submits right away, and the first editor picks it up and does only line edits) to ~9 years (more likely).

NINE years?! All of that work and effort and waiting and hoping and work and work and work and it could take NINE years?

Take a step back and think about this. It is not logical for writers to voluntarily put themselves through this slow process (designed before the digital era) and somehow do it with grace, patience, and no typos, always bowing and grinning to those with the power to rip the rug out from under us, when the rug wouldn’t even be there if we didn’t write the book in the first place. Is the process outdated, battered, slow. . . perhaps backwards?

Think about this too: why do you want to publish anyway? For the writing career or to share your art? (Your craft!) To share your gift of twining words into stories for others to read and feel and know your characters who came out of your brain in a process that is so incredible that you can’t even adequately describe it despite your gift with words? Is that you? Are you an artist? A storyteller? Do you write because you MUST and you cannot stop? Then, maybe the agonizing process of traditional publishing is not for you.

Don’t feel bad. You can still get your story to your readers.

Independent publishing is a wee bit faster than traditional publishing (divide by 3?). Where traditional publishing can take up to NINE years to complete, independent publishing skips almost ALL of the steps above and might take ~3 (THREE!) years from conception, through revisions and all editing, to publication.

Nine years vs THREE years. Think of all the stories you could write in the six years you’ll save. But before you leap to the other side of the fence, be sure to consider reality like this:

You’ll likely not be a bestselling author. Ever.

You’ll likely not be branded (so you can remain yourself–whew!) or forced to write your next novel based on someone else’s idea of what will sell. You may remain a writer of stories that sometimes suddenly appear in your mind, and compel you to bring them to life.

You’ll just be a writer and your work will be out there for readers to choose to read. Or not. But if you don’t put it out there, nobody will read it but you. Consider this option to share your craft with the world–it will let you get back to work writing your next book.

You’re a writer. Be a writer.


a puddle of spilled thoughts about writing and time (with no pictures of pies)

When you sing or paint or dance or write, you express yourself from a well of creative feeling. To live, you need oxygen (still free), water (clean, must purchase), and food (still locked up, need a source of money (aka job)).

If you rely on your creativity for the money required to buy the stuff needed to live, you must consider what will sell. You need a brand. Marketing. A fixed and clear genre so some publisher or producer can fit your art into a predetermined slot. This economics of art may surely influence the art you share, but I hope this reality does not stop you from producing the art of you heart–for your own soul.

I love to think, so I am a chemist. I love to feel my heart and pulse slow back down while my temperature drops to normal, so I run. I love to sing, so I do so when I’m alone and with a group of harmonizing voices one night each week. I love to laugh, so I search for funny things. I love to imagine, so I read. I love to create so I sew, and crochet, and design, and bake, and reupholster furniture. I love to create, so I write.

My writing began in 2005, when I had the summer off from teaching and wanted to do an experiment–to investigate what it took to write a book. I wrote 1500 words every day sitting on the rug in my bedroom with the door closed. No phone. No internet. No people. Just me and the old computer on the rug. After reaching the daily word quota, I printed the pages and added them to the growing stack. At the end, I read it all, wrapped it in a bow, and stored it in a box. Experiment complete. Time well spent. Now I knew how to do it.

But something happened about halfway through. I became addicted to the story, like a reader. I wanted to know how it all ended (and I did not). I fell in love with my characters. I realized a critical plot point and had to revise the first 100 pages. I thought about the story all the time. I became a writer.

Lucky for me, I have a paying day job, so my novels do not have to fit on a specific shelf at the bookstore. Unlucky for me, my novels don’t fit in any prescribed slot, so they are not marketable by traditional publishers. But somehow I have found readers and have not shaken my addiction to creating.

That notion of spending your time is apt. Once spent, there is no refund, no mulligan, no do-over. The time is gone. A day is gone. A week, a year, a decade is gone. Time, the currency of a life, must be carefully budgeted on a prioritized list of needs and people and tasks. Time spent creating can touch the future.

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos


Hours in the future appear longer than they are

Hours in the future appear longer than they are

When I manage my time, instead of just drifting on it with my swimmies and nose plug on, it is a controllable dimension.

Every morning I make a TO DO list. (By ‘every’ I mean all of the mornings since about 1988. By my quick calculation, I’ve made almost 10,000 lists. Apparently before 1988, I either didn’t have to do anything, or else I still had a working short term memory.)


Weekends do not escape my lists. Actually, on weekends my list snuggles up to (and wrestles with) my DH’s list.

I prioritize my lists with

A = must be done today,

B = should be done today but can wait, and

C = if a time warp sucks me in and I finish all the As and Bs, then the Cs will be tackled.

And when there’s a D, I flip to the next week and put it on a new list (because my mind is like a sieve; loose thoughts that happen by must be captured and stored).

And here’s another layer of geek: The As and Bs get numbers to indicate their importance relative to their cousins. Beside each item, I estimate how long it’ll take. Somedays, I do all the quick As early in the morning so I feel like I got something done.

The world likes to touch my list. When something unexpected is dumped on me (daily?), I nod, try to smile, and put it on the bottom of the list before I carefully consider (for about six spare seconds) what can be bumped. Often, nothing can be bumped. Grading and planning for lectures can never be bumped. (Time isn’t flexible in my teaching schedule.) My students depend on me for those things. My primary purpose is to teach. ALL the other stuff comes next.

As each daily list tumbles like a domino onto the next day, I’ve learned to let it go (a little) because I know my friend Friday has my back. She’s catching the roll-down-the-hill stuff and won’t let me see the weekend until the pile is shoveled. (If I let the pile widen into my weekend, we might as well delete the meaning (and intent and relief) of the word weekend.)

As our years fly by, we look back, aware of time wasted and the imbalance of time left. Some make a bucket list (that will never be done without the help of daily planning). For the young, the future appears infinite beside their little past. All of that future time looks as big as a weekend on a Monday. But there must be some physics to this, perhaps a Doppler Effect Corollary for time: the closer you get to it, the more the future shrinks.

Too much time

My productivity plummets when time has a family reunion. When he brings in reinforcements, I feel the ripple of a time warp.

When my personal TO DO list must be composed with Sharpie on an infinity of toilet paper and trails behind me, stuck to my shoe, annoying me wherever I go, I chop away at it relentlessly, day and night, just to be rid of it.

But when t i m e expands, like it did this week with three snow days and a power outage, I had time on my hands and in my lap and wrapped around my shoulders. I knocked a bunch of major items off my list, but slowly, and now I look at the meager rest of my list and smirk. You can’t hurt me. I’ve got this.

And I ignore it.

All day yesterday, I acted like a normal person on a weekend, instead of my normal mode of human-with-more-than-one-job-on-a-treadmill-that-will-swallow-me-whole-if-I-don’t-keep-moving. I went out to lunch with Mike. I read under a blanket on the couch. I watched multiple uninterrupted hours of the Olympics, yelling at the skeleton dude who fell off his perch and skating alongside the blondie ponytail and her toothless dad. I ate three meals, all different, all with a beverage, all with a napkin, all with time nodding approval at my side.

I’m just a teeny bit afraid of time’s evil cousin, Monday, who will likely pummel me senseless very soon. But in the hug of the cushion of time called Sunday, I remain bubble-wrapped and smug.