As a USA Today Bestselling, multi-award winning, independent author, I’m often asked by newer authors for advice on what path to choose in today’s publishing jungle. There is no simple “turn left” or “turn right” answer when it comes to directions on the quest for success in the writing world. Your journey is determined by you.
Let me tell you a little about my journey as an example. Writing books for a living was NOT one of my childhood dreams. I didn’t grow up daydreaming about crafting stories month after month, nor did I fantasize about living happily ever after as an entrepreneur. But here I am prepping to release my 29th book, Devil Days in Deadwood (the 11th book in my Deadwood Mystery Series).
I started writing when I grew frustrated with reading stories that didn’t end the way I liked. This frustration turned into creating new story endings, which turned into writing novels. For the next decade, I tried to break into the traditionally published world, because back then that was how the game was played. During that time, I kept working on improving my “craft” and learning all I could about marketing and promotion. I knew even back then that reaching readers on my own would be important, and I wouldn’t be able to depend solely on a publisher’s marketing department for my success. Meanwhile, I kept submitting manuscripts, following submission rules, trying to hook an editor. Eventually, I landed an agent, which added a middleman to the process, but I was still moving forward. Determination and the refusal to fail fueled my drive.
Around this time, Amazon and other ebook publishers opened the playing field. However, I still kept trying to break into the traditional publishing ranks. I was going to make this book writing a career, dang it. Finally, I had a manuscript nearly accepted at one of the big NY publishers. I worked with an amazing editor to prep the manuscript for the “final acquisitions” meeting. But when the time came to accept or reject the book, the marketing department stepped in and shut me down. I was crushed, then I got a speeding ticket, and then I got drunk—in that order. It was an eventful day.
When I sobered up, I finally accepted that traditional publishing wasn’t in the cards for the mixed genre stories that my brain liked to create. So, I shifted gears. I formed a small press with my agent. We published my books and several other books by talented authors whose writing also didn’t fit inside the “box” at other publishers. During the next few years, I learned about the business from the position of a publisher as well as an author. It was enlightening, but I couldn’t keep up the dual roles, so I left the small press and went solo with self-publishing. I took the knowledge I’d acquired and used it to build a successful “indie” author business. This is how my journey has gone … so far.
We each have our own paths to take through the publishing jungle, and no two journeys are the same. There is no wrong way or right way—there is only the way that works best for you. So, how do you choose what’s the best path? That depends on what you want out of your writing career.
Maybe you‘re interested in pursuing traditional publishing. There are many wonderful adventures along this path. You will have an editor to help you polish your manuscript, a marketing department to put some money behind your book release, some promotional help to send you out on a book tour and get your novel in front of several review publications. You might have your book sitting on the shelf at airports and in stock at brick and mortar bookstores and even in foreign markets. When you have a book signing, your publisher will be responsible for making sure you have books sitting on the table for you to sign. In short, it can be a wonderful journey with plenty of pretty flowers and vistas along the trail.
However, there are pitfalls, too, in the land of traditional publishing. You will still likely need to do a fair amount of promotion and spend a lot of time on various social networks. You will not have total control of the cover for your book (which has caused nightmares for several of my friends in the past). You will need to work almost as hard as indie authors to make sure you sell a lot of books because when your two-book or three-book contract is fulfilled, you need to be successful enough for the publisher to want to continue building your career partly at their expense. You will have to give away several slices of your copyright pie for many years, if not in perpetuity. You will wait longer to get paid and you must put your trust in someone else to lead you through the jungle—through the dark times.
Then again, maybe the self-publishing (“indie”) route seems more exciting. Choosing to go it on your own has a lot of high points and amazing views, too. You can tell the story YOU want to tell, build the “brand” you want to share with the world, and be the one in charge of what goes on your book’s cover. You can still get the same reviews, you just need to pay for them yourself. In this day and age, bookstores are willing to work with indie authors, but you’ll be in charge of setting up signings and promotion. You will get paid within sixty days of an ebook sale and thirty days of a print book sale and not have to pay a middleman (aka publisher) a large chunk of your royalties. You can experiment with marketing and ads, taking more control of your advertising. You can make your own deadlines and run your own quest, traveling the paths you choose.
But there are still spots with quicksand to skirt and some tall cliffs to scale. You need to pay for a professional editor. You also need to either learn how to format and use graphic art software, or pay for someone to help you create amazing products. All advertising and marketing costs and decisions are your responsibility. The promotion is all on your shoulders, too. You have to be willing to be a salesperson, marketing guru, accountant, social networking ace, and keep writing great stories through it all. You need to understand what your brand is, be willing to learn everything you can about marketing, be brave enough to call booksellers and distributors and set up business relationships, and act as the CEO of your career. You need to be okay with experimenting in various markets knowing you might stumble along the way or tumble down the side of a mountain.
Does all of that sound scary? Well, there is another option—you can take the hybrid author path. This means you publish some books with a traditional publisher and publish others on your own (often under a different pen name). This allows you to experience a little of both worlds, the good and the bad.
No matter which path you choose, it will be yours and yours alone. There will be times when you stare longingly at another author’s journey, wondering how you can have what they have, experience the views and excitement where they are. There will be other times when someone watches you and tries to take your same path. In the end, you have to pull out your map, take up your machete, and cut your own swath through the jungle.
Now, where did I leave my canteen?
Links to where you can find Ann online:
“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” ~William Shakespeare
Violet Parker knows better than to play with devils. They always cheat, especially when lives are at stake. Deadwood’s charming, troublemaking, and soul-sucking devils are no different, and they’re biting at her heels.
But the clock is ticking and Violet has no choice—she must risk her life to save her treasured Aunt Zoe. With any luck, she might be able to trick the devils and beat the old terrors at their own game. If not, Deadwood could end up short one Executioner.
“Executioners don’t duck, they swing.” ~Violet Parker