Friday, January 31, 2014

Letters to the Editor

After a trip to the UK which ended with a (possibly) successful trip to both the library and the local bookstore, I was feeling rather chipper about the whole indie publishing malarky.  So when I stopped by the local supermarket to pick up a Chai Tea Latte from a well known coffee shop, I was pretty excited to find a magazine about writing.  I hadn't come across anything like it in Cyprus, so I quickly snapped up my copy.

I sat down with said tea in hand and started devouring the magazine as if I was on a treasure hunt for the last piece of publishing advice ever written.  This magazine is full of helpful articles, and I have already read two excellent examples with regards to creating suspense and the plotting of a novel.  Maybe they will even make a planner out of me yet.  But what struck me most were the letters from the readers/writers.  One in particular struck a cord, and it went something like this.

Dear Editor,
I have been writing for over fifteen years now and I am frustrated at my lack of success.
My first novel was accepted by an agent.  They kept the novel for nine months and we began the editing process.  Unfortunately this novel was not picked up by a publisher and eventually the agent stopped representing me.  My second book was also picked up, this time by a different agent.  The sample chapters were requested by several publishers but after a search for a publisher lasting over a year, the agent decided that they would no longer be able to represent me.
I have since written six other books, all of which are full length novels and each of these books have been seen by both an agent and/or publisher.  Sadly, to date I have not been able to secure a deal to publish my work, although every publisher had something positive to say about my work.

Your magazine keeps me inspired and I will keep trying.
Yours faithfully......................

The first thing that struck me was the dedication that this writer has shown.  To span a period of fifteen years and eight books and still have nothing published for his/her efforts shows a level of commitment that many writers fail to achieve.  To sit down night after night and wrestle out words takes some strength mentally, especially when you have returned home from the day job, the kids are screaming and there is food to cook, and soap operas there to tempt you into laziness.  So credit where it is due and hats off to somebody who keeps trying to fulfil their dreams.  But the response from the editor was less enthralling.  It goes something like this.

Well done!  Great effort.  Keep plugging away and I am sure one day you will find a publisher!

Whilst this is indeed positive and encouraging, it fails to provide any other option for this dedicated writer.  I admit that I did not have the will to continue the search for an agent in the hope that one day a publisher would pick up my work.  After The Loss of Deference was turned down (and I have said before how it was rightly turned down because it needed a big edit prior to publication) I moved abroad, a fact I felt only made the search harder.  This is when I stumbled across self publishing, purely by chance one day when I was wondering how on earth I might still be able to follow my writing dreams.  I decided to give it a go, and it was this act of publication that spurred me on to write the rest of my books.  It is also through this process that I have learnt the value of editing, good cover design, and the valuable art of patience.  And a big part of this reason is the openness of the indie author community.

Now this writer in the above example clearly has a talent, and it would seem an endless amount of patience already.  To be picked up by agents and read by publishers on a number of occasions means there is some substance to her written work.  But there are now many options available to her in order that she might see her work in print, but nobody thought to point this out.  There are no barriers to publishing anymore, given a little bit of time and effort.  Self publishing is not a modern day replica of a vanity press, and neither should it be seen as such. 

Self publishing has launched many careers, and for the breakout stars like John Locke and Hugh Howey, there are hundreds more who are able to make a living out of their written work thanks to self publishing.  There are also the rest of us who are publishing and growing and working on their craft, and picking up the odd cheque along the way.  Being an indie author is for many a choice rather than a second option, and because the community is supportive of the 'competition' (because we all understand that another author does not equal competition) we help each other out and the word spreads, helping to connect writers with a group of readers who love what they have found.

Had I have known about the options to self publish at the very start of my journey, I admit that it is likely that I would have considered it a lesser, perhaps poorer option than getting a publisher through an agent and seeing my book on the shelves in W.H. Smith or Waterstones.  But that's because I was conditioned to believe that it was their way or the highway.  That there was only one correct way to publication, right?  Perhaps ten or fifteen years ago that was the case, and that the other options were the various faces of vanity publishing.  But publishing is a different world now, and it is a world that extends past the borders of London and NewYork. 

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