"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dragging my feet... until I jumped

I did not want to be a self-published author.

In the old days, I saw what self-published authors produced. God love 'em, for all their good intentions, there was a sea of poorly written, badly formatted, cheaply bound dreck out there, all with hideous covers. My dear, departed uncle wrote a few books like that. He was a really good artist, but not such a good writer. I loved him, but couldn't bring myself to buy his books.

Thank you, no. I'll find a real publisher. Which I did, for FREEZER BURN. The book turned out really nice and I'll always be grateful for the experience. But for the next book, I decided I wanted to try something different.

Back when I was slogging my way through the writing of HIT OR MISSUS, I had this idea for a book of my newspaper columns. I wanted to write a kind of memoir around them and talk about how I got the job, the ideas for some of the columns, feedback from readers, etc. I'd call it WHAT WOULD ERMA DO? Referring, of course, to the great lady herself, Erma Bombeck, with whom I share a birthday.

I approached agents and publishers, who all said, "That sounds interesting. The thing is, you're not famous. Call us when you're Dave Barry."

First of all, I'm pretty sure that's identity theft. Second, I don't think my husband wants to be married to Dave.

When I had almost given up, I met up with a friend who is a prolific and very traditionally published writer. She had recently gotten the rights back to some of her titles, so she threw them onto the Kindle for consumption and was selling a lot. I mean, A LOT. Like, in a very short time, she was able to pay bills with her monthly income.

Hmm. Think-think-think. I already had a readership for my columns. My book of columns was a departure from my novel. I've already been published by a legitimate publishing house. What would it hurt to do my column book on my own?

I researched the online tools, hired an artist to do the cover, and threw WHAT WOULD ERMA DO to the masses as a paperback and an e-book.

And just like that, I was self-pubbed.

In the meantime, I finished HIT OR MISSUS and shopped it around. The entire time I was trying to find it a home, my FREEZER BURN readers were tapping me on my cyber-shoulder. "When's the next one coming out?" was their common question. Agents loved my story. They praised the pacing, the dialogue, the characters. However, it wasn't "right" for them at the moment. I knew what this meant. Agents need to sell to the big houses, and the big houses aren't buying midlist authors because they're only interested in The Blockbuster. I'm no idiot. HIT OR MISSUS is a good, solid, midlist mystery.

So, once again, I took the reins in my own hands. It was easier the second time around. I knew how to do pre-promotion work, how to format the book better, etc.

Suddenly, I wasn't just self-pubbed, I was an Indie Author.

As I prepared for the Santa Barbara Writer's Conference, I thought about how far my thinking had come and what it meant to me. There is still a lot of dreck out there, and the hope is that readers will discover the non-dreck, but in the meantime, the indie authors who want to not only succeed in the business but also raise self-publishing out of the mire and into the mainstream must push themselves constantly toward perfection. Our books must be high quality, in both content and form. We must write better than our best work, to show the world that Indie Authors are serious about their craft.

And then I thought about my life. I won't get embarrassingly personal, but I was raised in a very co-dependent home with a closet alcoholic and a family full of people who wanted to be in the middle of my brain at all times. Psychologically, people raised this way spend their lives trying REALLY HARD to appear NORMAL, which means they end up as overachievers.

After that, I worked as an engineer for years, in a field populated by a lot (not all) of men. Our employer made certain our pay was equal and harassment was treated seriously, etc. But there was an understanding about what women could do versus men: the guy sitting next to me could be an aggravating slob and they'd call him assertive. If I did it, I was a bitch.

So I've learned to work harder and smarter, just to be considered equal to those around me. Do I have to continue doing this to convince people my books are as good as the authors at Random House?

Bring it on. I'm not afraid of a little work.

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