Monday, January 21, 2013

The best of time, the worst of times

As a great author once said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..."

That's how I view the upheaval taking place in the publishing world: the best and the worst of times. The worst--or scariest--part for me is trying to find my audience as an indie-published author, trying to make a successful go of it without the backing of an established publishing house. While my first two novels were published by a publishing house, next to nothing was put into promoting my novels. So, honestly, not a lot has changed in that regard, except that I've learned that an author has to do the lion's share of promoting her work no matter who publishes her books. Now that it's all on my shoulders, I want--need--to make the best choices from the get-go. Which social media should I concentrate on, and which can I ignore (because we can't realistically and adequately do them all)? How do I get word of mouth working in my favor? Where will my very limited dollars most advantageously be spent? The best part, though, is that with so many well-known authors going independent, the stigma of self-publishing is rapidly dying.

What about you? What's the best and worst for you regarding the enormous changes in the industry?

The best for me is the independence. Even the modest pressure put on me to write more novels per year didn't feel good. "Can you write more than one novel a year?" they asked. "No." In fact, I wanted to take longer with my books to do a better job, to write a more significant story, one that--could it be?--engaged people emotionally. The worst part for me is the independence, mostly for the reasons you stated but also because I loved the people at my publishing houses. Being independent is a little lonely at times.

I'm living in that half-world of self publishing and commercial publishing. After several years of attempting to market a nonfiction I've written (The Hinge of Your History: The Phases of Faith ), in spite of the fact that it was endorsed by Philip Yancey, my agent Janet Grant could not find a commercial home for it. So we agreed that I could self-publish it; and in spite of the fact that the sales are supported mainly by my speaking engagements (people buy it like hotcakes when I speak on the subject), it has done well.

On the other hand, Howard/Simon&Schuster is publishing my new co-written nonfiction in a couple of months, Discovering the City of Sodom. Very controversial book. And my agent has proposals for two new novels in the hands of editors.

So why do I feel in a half-world? Yet another book, which I consider the best book I've ever written, can't find a commercial home. This book is the book, I believe, I was born to write. And of course there's no guarantee (in fact the odds are against it) that either of the books being read by editors will be published.

I know that many of our Novel Matters readers are aspiring to be published. I just want you to know that I truly feel your pain and disappointment when a project into which you have put heart and soul can't get a wider audience. I do understand why Sharon and Patti have decided to go the route of self-publishing. It's truly a confusing time; one in which my only secure guide is prayer.

I think, above all, you need to go with your strengths and what feels the most natural to you. Whether you have the type of personality that makes for great radio and TV interviews or lean toward speaking to book clubs and teaching workshops, include both. Try to strengthen your weaker areas and lean heavily on what makes you shine. With the changes in publishing, it's even more important to have a well-rounded marketing plan.  I know some self-published authors who are being extremely creative on Facebook with events and with paid promotions.  I think it will get easier to market rather than harder. This could be an exciting time!

I'm in a strange, transitional place, here. Some big things finally seem to be resolving in my life, and I couldn't be happier or more surprised at the resolutions. God has shown a tender attention to detail that seriously blows my mind - details I had too little hope to consider. This is one of those rare moments of epiphany for me, a series of events that change my perspective forever. I can't wait to see what story will come out the tips of my fingers - and I think I may finally be ready to begin. But I can't stress out about it. In fact, I feel much less prone to stress than I did just a few months ago.

What will I do with the story once it's written? I'm not sure, but  I do feel that whatever happens, it will be fine. Really.

Did someone drop a pill in my coffee?

Just kidding.

How does a writer (or anyone for that matter) make the best choices? Patience is a huge factor. It's easy to be in a hurry when it comes to wanting our work in the marketplace being hungrily consumed by happy readers (we hope), but rushing leads to mistakes--sometimes big ones--and mistakes mean precious time taken up repairing and then making up for lost time. I think I rushed a manuscript last year because I felt I "should" have been finished by now--you know that feeling?--and that ended up costing me in the long run. My Carpe Annum in 2013 is trusting myself more and asking myself, "Am I enjoying this? Do I feel I'm being led, or pushed?" My husband is brilliant, and he tells me, "God leads. If you're feeling pushed from behind you need to rethink what you're doing." I won't be pushed from behind this year. I'm going to lean into my instinct, my moxie, my path. Where will it take me? That's the other thing. I've given up on caring where I end up. I'm here for the ride.


Latayne C Scott said...

Debbie, I'm intrigued. Tell us more about how you think it may be getting easier to market our books!

Lisa Lickel said...

The scary part of being independent is that you can only blame yourself when things go wrong. I'm also published by recognized publishers and indies, and just tried my own short story release online, and I got gray hairs equally with each experience. But its good to grow and move outside our little comfort zones.

Patti Hill said...

Lisa: Yes!!! Taking total responsibility for a piece of art that could possible travel around the world is terrifying, hopefully in a roller-coaster-plunge sort of way.

Samantha Bennett said...

Ah, I love this discussion! I went the indie route last December, and my-oh-my have I had highs and lows with it. I'm a recovering perfectionist so it was hard for me to travel down a completely new path, feeling super inadequate a lot of the time. God has to keep reminding me that I've never done this before. I'm going to make mistakes, but I can learn from them and make different choices next time. Thanks to each of you for answering so honestly and openly!

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Latayne, I meant that marketing has always ultimately been the responsibility of the writer since the publisher has a limited budget and so many books to publicize. Now we have these social marketing opportunities that weren't available to us when we first published and things are changing so fast that something new and exciting is bound to come along in the future. Just wishin' and hopin' I guess :)

Cherry Odelberg said...

Thanks for sharing everybody. Yep, that about sums it up; especially the Dickens of a time, I mean, the best of times and the worst of times - always has been.

Cherry Odelberg said...

And by the way (BTW), it is such a creative thing you guys do here on Novel Matters; pooling your resources and encouraging the masses while marketing your masterpieces.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Cherry, thank you for your great endorsement. That's exactly our goal. We always appreciate your input to the conversation.

Jennifer Major said...

ell said, Cherry! This blog is a wellspring of brains and I love coming here. I've been pondering these thoughts since you all posted them.
I'm hoping to see more books from a wider cross section of Christian fiction writers tackling issues that are more sensitive and broadening our horizons about the world we live in.