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


One year later, 11/11

Today is the first anniversary of the release date of my debut, Or Not to Be.

This year has been not quite what I expected. More than I ever expected.

I learned that I have NO marketing skills. I can give my book away, but it’s hard to ask for money. This story sells without my help. I’ve done all I can, just by spending nine years writing it.

This year, I revised my next book, Infinity Line. I paid an editor and a proofreader to help, shined it up like a new penny, and sent it out on the terrifying query train. Now I’m just doing the slow-motion backstroke with my swimmies on while I wait for responses. If you’ve got any extra luck lining your pockets, send it my way.

I’m working on the next, next book, tentatively titled Advice to the Novice Kidnapper. I tried to outline it. Tried to make the characters follow my lead. They laughed at me and took off. I tried to write it as a thriller, but it morphed into YA with a male voice—a coming-of-age story like none I’ve ever encountered.

Once again, I’ve found this to be true: writing a novel is as intriguing as reading one. It’s a journey with twists and turns. As the writer, I must buy the gas and I get to work the pedals, but I’m not allowed to touch the steering wheel. What a ride!

Back to the star of this party.

Eleven months after publication of Or Not to Be, I read the story of Anna and Eddie again. I sat strapped to the aisle seat on a plane to Colorado, on my way to see my beautiful grandbabies. Beside me sat a college student who had forgotten her book and didn’t want to do her crossword puzzle. She watched me write an organic chemistry exam, and then watched me read my own book, not knowing I was the author. We talked about her fiancée, how smart he is, and how funny he’d think it was that she sat beside a chemistry professor. Then, she asked about the book I was reading. After giving her a brief overview, I asked if she’d like to trade—she could read my book and I’d do her crossword puzzle. She took the offer. She read the pages rapidly. When the plane landed, she gave my baby back and said she’d have to buy it. I couldn’t concentrate on my crossword puzzle with my book being read right beside me.

To celebrate the return of Anna’s deathday on 11/11, the Kindle version of Or Not to Be is free again for a couple days. Go to HERE to get yours.

And, please, tell a friend.

chisel-and-chainsaw time

Two days ago I took apart the first 70 pages of my work-in-progress.

It is laying in half-sewn, half-taped, unglued tatters all around me, and I am in my glory.

My beta readers and editors have been at it in the night like a pack of vultures. They each took their bites. They shined their glaring lights on the stupid, the ridiculous, the unfinished. My horrified darlings squinted back. They ducked their guilty heads. But they were found. (Mmwwuhaaahaaahaaa!)

Now it’s my turn again, this time with tools like my chainsaw and chisel.

I hack.

I hone.

I sit for hours, thinking.

I smack myself in the forehead. Why couldn’t my eyes see all of this?

I wrote this book for myself. (I always write my stories for myself.) This revision is the one–it’ll make the story ready to share. My readers will read it, all the way through. They won’t toss it at the wall. Sure, they’ll be angry and annoyed–but the story will do that, not bad writing. They’ll be compelled to continue until they laugh and cry. They’ll wish it wouldn’t end. (Oh, this writer’s fantasy world sure is sparkly.)

Back to work.

Visionary Fiction? Perhaps.

Thousands of people now hold copies of my debut Or Not to Be. Thousands.

Some have even read it.

A few have reviewed it.

For those special readers who’ve completed the journey to the end of Or Not to Be, I have a question: Based on this definition, did you consider my story to fit the classification of visionary fiction?

It’s a genre I’ve never investigated, so I certainly didn’t set out to make my debut novel be anything as cool as visionary. But I think, just maybe, it might be visionary, besides being sad and funny and all those other things my readers have shared here.

Comments, concerns, other reactions? I welcome them all.