Why Publish “Independently?”
Some people use the term “self-published” for authors who have published works outside of traditional resources.
I don’t care for that word. Self-published. It sounds like you’ve done something nasty. “He’s been in the shower for thirty minutes, but I know he’s in there self-publishing again!”
I suppose it’s due to the way I view the publishing industry and its present dynamic. I’ve been writing now for most of my life, in one manner or another. Most of my scribblings during earlier years were short stories, various lines of poetry, and song lyrics. I didn’t begin to entertain thoughts of writing full novels until around 2005/2006.
After months of excavation, I dug up my first manuscript, Haunting Thelma Thimblewhistle, a four hundred and thirty-three-page monster of a novel that no young adult would ever take the time to read, though I didn’t realize that at the time. I knew very little of my target audience or market. Nevertheless, I began pitching for an agent with Thelma in 2008 . After a few months, I was surprised to land a contract with a small boutique agency out of Portland, Oregon. We launched into extensive rewrites and editing that changed much of what I had written. Through this process, I found that the novel had morphed into something with which I truly wasn’t satisfied. It wasn’t that the editor had transformed it into something else—it was that she didn’t have much to work with in the first place. I had written this bear of a disconnected epic with no real focus, like a rough, jagged boulder that was destined to be a small diamond one day. After a year of pitching to no avail, my agent announced she was closing shop and joining a larger agency in New York. It soon became obvious that she was considering me a lost cause, but was too nice to say it. Her reluctance to sign me to a contract under her new agency confirmed the suspicion, however. So, we parted ways.
During those months of pitching Thelma, I realized I had to develop a new method of writing, something that would allow me to create a good story, but with less of the endless side roads that tended to develop. I found I did best when I drafted a level outline that goes chapter by chapter. And I’m not talking about that good old I., II., III., A., B., C. outline either. I simply compose a short paragraph about the foundation of each chapter. Do new, uncharted chapters appear during the writing process? Absolutely. Do new characters spring to life? Of course. However, my direction remains the same regardless of the winding roads I take. At the end, I typically have a novel I feel is concise and riveting. In my mind, these characters play out as if they are on a bright, white movie screen, projected on the frontal lobe of my brain. Using this method, I discovered I not only could write, I could have a darn good time doing it! I used this process to write my next manuscript, Vickie Van Helsing, and Vickie and I had an absolute blast!
Knowing Thelma needed a complete rework, I decided to move forward with Vickie. Again, I spent months of pitching to agents to no avail. The screen went dark. I had absolutely no idea what to do next on my journey to publication. It’s my opinion that agents tend to fall into three categories:
- The BUSY Agent: This, unfortunately, had been my target agent, my golden goose. Look, publishing is a business just like any other, a company with cutbacks and erosion in workforce. I consider most of these agents superb at what they do. They just can’t get their heads above water. They have several “assistants,” who may be fledgling agents themselves, digging into the never-ending pile of queries that pour through the door. Sadly, I would estimate these agents miss approximately >45% of viable works that come into their inbox, because they simply do not have the time or resource to manage the flood. Most of these guys are SUPER-funny, witty, and probably all-around cool people. I wouldn’t hesitate to hang with any of them. They seem to genuinely care about the authors they represent, and that says more than anything else. It’s rare to find someone with whom you can connect and create that true professional relationship.
- The WHAT’S HOT Agent: These agents are much like the Busy agent, with one major difference. They go into their business quarter solely focused on riding the coattails of whatever is “hot” at that time. Glittery vampires, dystopian girls with bows, fifty shades of purple—whatever is cooking on the stove, they want the recipe. They have little time for something unique or outside of that current market focus. These guys read taglines, and if the story isn’t what’s selling, they simply hit delete. I would estimate these guys overlook a much greater ratio of viable works, maybe >65%. Not only are they busy, they are targeting the next big thing, which is never an easy task.
- The GODLY Agent: Last on the list, and for good reason. Luckily, I have never had direct engagement with these types of agents. These are agents who have possibly seen some great success with sales over the years. They have used their influence to build tall, golden podiums on which they sit, looking down upon the meager writers below with self-righteous pity and indignation. They hang around, haunting social networks, grammar-shaming those around them, poking fun at beginning authors, and making cruel jokes with little regard on how it may make someone feel—the bullies of the literary world. I used to follow countless agents on Twitter, and these guys were the absolute worst. I read my share of cruel, 140-character taunts on surviving on the “tears of writers.” What assholes. And who would want to work with that?
I realized that getting an agent was only the first step. I was having to fight tooth and nail to get someone to recognize me, so they could, in turn, get someone to recognize us. Seems a bit monotonous, right? So, in 2010 I began to research what would be involved with independent publishing. Also, I began to think about what I wanted out of my writing. For a good number of those who create—be it painting, music, writing, or any number of things—we wish to make a living at what we love to do, hoping someone will find our work valuable. I had this same dream; I do still, but there was a clear choice before me. I could either keep investing months, years even, into trying to secure another agent.
Or, I could just keep writing.
As stated, even if I landed an agent, it didn’t guarantee a six-figure book deal. How many years would I spend writing endlessly, searching for agent after agent, only to find my time wasted with nothing but pages and pages of old manuscripts scattered around my floor? Did I want to potentially share what I had written with the world, or waste countless hours in a quest for fame? At that moment, all I wanted to do was write. And so, that is exactly what I did…independently.
I published my book independently—independent of edits and cuts I did not desire, independent of limitation, independent of creative confines. I could write anything I wanted. It could be as long as I wished, or as short. I could use any font (within reason) and format every page just the way I liked. I love the process of writing a book—generating the story, envisioning the scenes, creating my own personal soundtrack of music that inspires events and plotlines, formatting the manuscript for print, constructing a wonderful book cover—these things bring me something far more valuable than money.
These things bring me joy.
Maybe one day me and my crew will be able to make Fiction Factory Incorporated a full-time career, and, if so, that will be beyond my wildest dreams. Yet, if that doesn’t come to pass, I have my characters, the worlds which I have created, and the happiness they have brought me. Maybe what we’ve created will bring you happiness, too. As an author, that means more to me than just about anything else. Oh, trust me, I spent many years wandering in a fog of desperation, hoping for the chance to be the next King, Kontz, or Rowling. And still, that could happen. But if it doesn’t, I have written three books to date. Most people don’t get around to writing even one.
This, my friend, is the question you need to ask yourself. What is your ultimate goal? What really brings you joy? Whatever your answer, remember that writing only for recognition and money isn’t writing. The day you decide to write for yourself will be the day that you will truly feel like an author. To me, that is independent publishing.
Best of luck to you…and to us!
See you in the funny papers…