Novel publication by a royalty-paying publisher is a major milestone, and feels a hundred times better than self-publishing. It means a lot that Double Dragon Publishing has acknowledged my potential. I’ve also enjoyed learning much more about this entire process than I think I could have with just self-publishing.
However, this isn’t the old print era where you got an advance against royalties and a marketing department selling your work. A lot of your attention and writing time is immediately diverted to Internet and otherwise marketing, to tooting your own horn, to setting yourself up on website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and whatever the next big thing is, to constantly being on the prowl for new marketing venues. Now this isn’t a bad thing, as explaining what you’re about can be clarifying–and may result in sales! It’s all new experience for growth. However, the realization soon sets in that you’re quite on your own. And there are times when you must choose between working on the newest novel or spending a great deal of time and energy describing your published work to a nebulous audience which in all likelihood isn’t even aware of your presence.
The main pitfall of such marketing efforts is to lose energy and get disheartened. But there can’t be any desperation about this process. You’re just putting out some seeds here and there; some may indeed grow down the line. Keep returning to your own work and the real reasons you write.
I suspect many of us have secretly wished at one time or another that it would be nice if “all those other writers” just quit in disgust so as to leave more room for me. But that’s pretty irrational. Even if the market is crowded, with levels of talent varying from zilch to near-infinite, there’s no way I’m diminished in any sense. I still have my voice, regardless if anyone ever hears it. We’re all riding the waves of a seemingly infinite ocean together, and we’re not that alone, because we can each identify with the other’s dilemma. In actuality: the more writers, the merrier. Consider that somewhere out on that ocean of writers there are some you will definitely learn something from.
It’s also galling that while a welcome recognition has been granted by your publisher, you’re back to square one when you start trying to shop your novel to reviewers. It engenders the same futile feeling as being unpublished and trying to interest a publisher in your novel manuscript, but a little worse, in that you sense reviewers don’t really have much skin in the game and are much more cavalier about what they’re doing. A publisher takes a chance on you, follows up with you, works with you; the reviewer doesn’t have to. If you catch a reviewer on a cranky day, you might well get an extremely negative review. The reviewer moves on to the next project; the brief association is ended. And there does seem to be a vast potential for abuse of this process, specifically, if you wind up paying for reviews. Which would be akin to vanity publishing.
Artists in all genres may get a break in one field but wish to expand: a character actor who’s played bit comic parts for fifteen years may want to play lead in a drama; a mystery writer may want to publish mainstream fiction. In my case I have some literary fiction that I’m still trying to get published; my Jack Commer science fiction series is not all I ever want to do! The option of self-publishing ameliorates this somewhat, but I’ve begun to think of that as a last resort. You still have all the same marketing problems but without the name recognition of a royalty-paying publisher. And that’s important when you’re marketing your work; it literally means that a business is taking a chance on you, and that you’re not the only person in the world who thinks highly of your writing.
This post was sparked by the following dream:
A lady editor, morphed from Jackie Kennedy, at a dinner party. Dark dining room of the estate, deep night, many people there, everyone is quite well-to-do. I don’t mention at first that I’m a writer, but it comes out, and the editor is bemused by what I have to say about having discovered how trying it is to fix errors in manuscripts. As she and her young bodyguard assistant depart across the lawn towards the dark pool, I try to get her some Martian Marauders and Jack Commer postcards, but the cards I find in my file cabinet, as well as my bio, are all askew, misprinted, or the wrong subject. I run after her, trying to give her updated postcards; it’s quite apparent that what started as a cordial exchange has turned into me hustling a publisher, marketing myself at her. She angrily accuses me of just that–but I feel I’m not entirely at fault here, that our initial friendly mood of mutual interest in our profession somehow got corrupted just by us talking about it. I angrily tell her that I realize I’m just on a low rung of the publishing world, but that this is okay and honorable in itself.
Copyright 2014 by Michael D. Smith