The past twelve months have marked a year of firsts and a year of growth. Let’s begin with the firsts.
Hello, independent publishing
In March I decided to self-publish a chapbook of previously published and premiere shorts called The Lookout and Other Stories. Many of my friends from grad school had become independent publishers, and the more I investigated the arena, the more I wanted to try it out for myself. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, but I’m also cautious. So this book was going to be a trial run.
I deliberated for about a month before making the leap, and I credit two e-books that really convinced me:
- Be the Monkey: A Conversation About the New World of Publishing Between Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath. Eisler turned down a $500,000 deal from St. Martin’s Press to go independent, and Konrath is one of the early authors who found success releasing his backlist on Amazon. Their dialogue discusses the current business model of traditional publishing houses, their inefficiencies, and why the two think authors should strike out on their own.
- Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish, and Why You Should. The title explains it all, but I was drawn to this book because the name of its author, David Gaughran, kept popping up around the indie water cooler. I soon learned that Gaughran went indie from the beginning, and I wanted to hear his perspective. The book turned out to be well researched and quite informative on the nuts and bolts.
My decision ultimately came down to two words: “Why not?”
Within a week, the idea snowballed into the founding of my own publishing imprint, King’s Men Press. If I was going to do this, I was going to do this right. Soon enough, readers began finding the book and emailing me to say how much they enjoyed the stories. This confirmed my hunch.
The Last Night
My first novel had been sitting in a digital drawer for three years after failing to obtain an agent. Keep in mind that three years earlier was 2009, the height of the Great Recession, when publishers (and most businesses for that matter) were only looking for sure bets. Multiple agents told me they liked the story but had no idea how to market the book.
Well, I didn’t write The Last Night to fit a marketing plan. I wrote it because I had a good story that needed to be told.
I always knew the subject matter was risky. It’s about two best friends: one wants to kill himself, the other bargains for a week to change his mind. The high-concept usually elicited a great response from people, but a few were unsure whether the suicidal aspect would be depressing. (It’s not.) Granted, I don’t storm the bookstore for novels on suicide either. But the instant the story came to me, I knew I was onto something big. It has character. It has plot. It has drive.
After the success of The Lookout, I was convinced that releasing this particular novel was the right move. Legacy publishers want to see a quick return on their investment. This is totally understandable. As an author-publisher, however, I had the added luxury of time. If I didn’t see blockbuster sales in the first 90 days, I didn’t have to scrap the title in order to make room for something new on the shelves. I have the longview that traditional businesses either don’t want or can’t afford.
The response has been positive. The only hitch in others’ enthusiasm goes like this:
THE OLD WAY
What do you do?
I’m a writer.
Really?! Where have you been published?
In a few small journals. They’re hard to find, but it’s a good start.
THE NEW WAY
What do you do?
I’m a writer. I just published my first novel.
Really?! Who published it?
I did. I created a publishing imprint because it was the best business move for this particular book.
It would be great to tell them exactly what they want to hear:
Where have you been published?
The New Yorker.
Who published your novel?
AWESOME. You exactly matched my preconceived notion of what an author should be.
But the easy answer is not always the best one. I’ve twice subscribed to the New Yorker, and I’ve twice canceled it prematurely. My writing is just not the best fit there. It would actually be nice to say that Random House or Doubleday released my book. But I know that, in the long run, I will find a much greater result because I kept the publishing rights to this title. I believe in the story. I believe it’s different from everything I’ve read. And I’m glad I made the choice I did.
Let me take a moment to assure you that my response to being turned down for publication by traditional avenues is not one of bitterness or compensation. If you couldn’t tell, I can be one sarcastic individual; yet I don’t spit venom. My career plans are moving forward nicely, and while I’m not on the same train I initially boarded, I’m on track nonetheless.
A year of growth
Let’s break it down…
May saw the publication of The Lookout.
August heralded in my 200th blog post, which is pretty much a letter of gratitude to you wonderful people for letting me do what I love. It took me three years of off-and-on blogging to write 100 posts and just over a year to reach another 100.
In September I launched my first Goodreads giveaway that resulted in 661 entries to win a copy of The Last Night before its November release.
Finally, in December, I rested. And I liked it.
No proper review would be complete without a follow-up on last year’s proclamations. There are two things I said I’d do in 2012 that I did not:
- I would complete my second novel.
- I would “not choose between fiction and screenwriting. I intend to tag team this story by drafting the novel and the script at the same time. If I don’t feel like working on one, I’ll work on the other. […] I’m eager to see how my approach will simultaneously influence both projects.”
Let’s tackle #2 first.
That was an absurd idea. The influence was detrimental to my progress because it was like trying to build a house while designing it at the same time. I abandoned that strategy after a month. In the end, I chose fiction.
As for #1, there are multiple reasons this didn’t come to pass. The story has become more complicated than I originally conceived, which has required various backtracking expeditions. This occurred during the drafting of Night as well; so I’m not overly concerned. It’s just taking longer than I’d hoped.
Also, apparently, self-publishing two books in one year takes a lot of time. I read/edited Night four times in October alone. My other author-publisher friends have communicated similar time constraints, so it’s no surprise that I’ve had less time for the new book—especially since I hadn’t anticipated this additional undertaking during last year’s review.
The above explanation is just informational, not offered as an excuse. Just know that this book will get done.
In the end, I still feel as though I’ve come out ahead. I’ve found new readers with two books that were not on the market before. This is 2012’s legacy, and I can’t feel bad about that.
The year ahead
Ah, yes. Prediction time.
Rather, let’s not call it prophecy. Let’s identify it by it’s proper name: a commitment.
In 2013 I will finish the next book. I will write more frequently, even if other important pursuits divide my time. I will update you on its progress as well as on other projects I have in the works. I’m also getting married in 2013, so I’m pretty sure this is going to be a good year for several reasons.