Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Warped Perspective: An IWSG Post

Insecure writer’s support group is the brainchild of Ninja Captain Alex. I recommend that you go visit him at his blog, and then sign up on the linky or visit the IWSG website. Good stuff. This month's cohosts are Tina Downey, Elsie, Elizabeth Seckman, and Julie Flanders.

Today isn’t so much an insecurity as a cautionary story about perspective, and this one might frighten you.

There’s a little house not far from where I grew up. It’s a small house, quaint and set in some of the most beautiful land on earth. Every year, daffodils bloom in the yard despite no one watering it for decades. The bushes grow, bloom and go dormant. Every year, the world ticks by, but that house, that hundred-year-old house waits for something to change. In that house lives a person whose dreams have been crushed. The great wheel of publishing has destroyed her spirit. She is broken.

She is a writer.

No, that’s unfair. To be a writer, you have to write. She was a writer, and once upon a time, she wrote a novel.

Once upon a time was twenty years ago, and twenty years ago, she queried that novel. Today, she keeps a copy of that novel and the query letter on her desk. From what I could cobble together from the broken remains, she queried for a while before deciding to self publish.

Now, as many of you know, self publishing is not the vanity insanity it used to be, but she was sucked up by the biggest of them all. She was taken for a ride. She bought the biggest package, with the biggest advertising. She spent many thousands of dollars.

Twenty years later, she still has boxes and boxes of her novel with a paid-for blurb on the cover and boxes of promotional gear (bookmarks, and postcards, mostly, but hundreds of them, never seen by her target audience).

My guess is that she sold copies to her friends and family. Twenty years ago, it was hard to reach an audience. But she got hung up on that one novel. She got stuck there, and for the last twenty years she hasn’t written a thing.

I opened the book and found typos on the first page.

This woman scares me. She is like that crazy funhouse mirror for me, except I see myself in the future, not warped and lumpy in the present. I have my ideas and my dreams and my stubbornness, but she was destroyed by something she could not control: and she could never move on, surrounded by her unsold copies of a book riddled with typos.

I have, on more than one occasion, said that there is a particular novel that I have every intention of self publishing should more traditional routes not work out. This would be the red flag everyone says means that I’m not right for self publishing, that I’m just a jaded writer, too stupid to see that my work is flawed. I understand why people say that, but there’s a reason that so many people try traditional publishing before going with self publishing. It doesn’t always make for jaded crazy writers, and truthfully, if you’re on the fence between the two venues, trying to go traditional makes sense because you don’t screw up your chances at self pubbing if things don’t work out. If you self pub first, however, you can kiss traditional publishing good bye. This is just an issue of practicality, unless you let yourself become one of those jaded writers. To succeed in publishing, you must first accept the possibility of failure.

I can accept that. Hell, I should be the president of fail club.

It is completely possible that, as I’ve noted before, I’m untalented and unaware. It wouldn’t be the first time. But I think the real reason people talk about not self publishing when you’ve failed to publish traditionally is that everyone is thinking about the cautionary tale in the quiet house. One book, thousands of dollars and a handful of sales. Much of which could have been avoided if someone had just pointed out some typos.

When I say that I want to pursue traditional publishing first, it’s not an either or scenario. I think that traditional publishing has a lot to offer. I think that self publishing has a lot to offer as well (Like I’d get to design my cover!!! I know that scares some people, but I did some time as a graphic artist—paid even!). Clearly, selfpubbing didn’t offer much to writer in Quiet House. That trip into self publishing killed her dream. She couldn’t get published through a traditional publisher, didn’t do her research, and had her coffers drained. She got stuck in the moment, convinced that everyone would see her genius once her words were published.

This is a sticky situation because there are lots of self pubbed novels where the writer tried to go the traditional route, got stymied due to strength of pages (or lack thereof), and THEN had the rug yanked out when the rest of the world told them the same thing. Ouch.

Let’s be frank, I have no such delusions (I can barely manage to sustain delusions of mediocrity let alone grandeur!). People aren’t going to read my work to be wooed into the beauty and poise of my words (heh, I used the word poise like I owned it!). When the time comes, people will read my work for the explosions, the laughs, and probably the chase scenes. There might be some other bits that spark interest here or there, but I’m not holding my breath. Awards? Hell, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want them (I still blush when I get blog awards, people), but I’m old enough to know that they sent two thousand athletes to the Olympics, and they only handed out 98 medals. And by publishing standards those are really great odds.

What broke the writer who lives in the quiet house is a lack of perspective. She bought into the machine that raises hopes. They told her that her work would sell thousands of copies. They told her she’d need a small fortune just to have her fan mail read. They skewed her perspective. They built her up. They told her that her work would rival the greats. The blurb even compared her novel to great literary classics.

When my book is published (because seriously, if I know one thing, I can out stubborn a mule), I know that it’s possible I’ll sell a few handfuls. Even if I make a “big publisher” it’s always possible that the book will sell so poorly that a few handfuls would be considered a generous accounting.

That’s why writers must never stop the one, fundamental thing that makes us writers: we write.

If you self pub, and your heart is broken, there are pen names. If you traditionally pub and you get dropped, well, there’s a way to recover from that too. If you’re just starting out, railing against how long it takes to hear back on a query, I got news for you: publishers take longer than agents, so get your waiting boots shined up.

There are lots of reasons to be frustrated in this journey, but there is only one way to be a writer today: write.


  1. holy shit this was an awesome post. You're awesome and posts like this make me so happy that we're friends.
    and also this: "People aren’t going to read my work to be wooed into the beauty and poise of my words (heh, I used the word poise like I owned it!). When the time comes, people will read my work for the explosions, the laughs, and probably the chase scenes. There might be some other bits that spark interest here or there, but I’m not holding my breath"

    This is what i thought about me, too. Like i have long, looooong held the belief that i was a commercial writer, nothing more. But when i got all those offers, more than one agent told me they loved how literary my writing was. And i was like, wait, what? Whachoo talking about?

    So you never know

  2. If you're reasonably young and feel that you can wait a couple of months between each agent you try, and then wait some more etc., then I suppose that's not too bad.
    When you you're an old lass like me, after one attempt you say to yourself, "Go for it now", and you get it on Amazon and take it from there. At least this way I'm "moving"!

  3. That is a scary story! Gah! But you're right in that it doesn't have to be that way. Even if things go wrong, you can keep going, keep writing. Wonderful post!

  4. Oh, my heart breaks for this lady! But I loved reading this post because it reinforces that we only truly fail if we stop trying, if we stop writing. So true about perspective... and the importance of informed perspective.

  5. That's definitely one of the scariest writing stories I've ever read. O_o But you're right. The worst part is that she stopped.

  6. A sad tale indeed. There is so much waiting around in this game and however much people warn you of that fact until you actually go through it yourself I don't think you realise how hard it can be. Whilst waiting of course your mind starts to mess with you and swings between frustration and despair and confidence that this time its going to work out and your wonderful book will be HUGE. Oh the life of a writer, keeping perspective is so important.
    I really enjoyed reading and thinking about your post today.

  7. I always love reading your posts, as you expose the heart of a matter so beautifully.

    Taking advice and growing from it might be one of the biggest lessons writers need to learn in their quest to share their stories, whether via traditional or self publication.
    (Which is of course why I struggled so much with my own IWSG issue this month!)
    Firmly on the fence of the trad vs self pub dilemma myself, I've reached the conclusion that traditional publication has much to offer in terms of learning potential and have set my course based on that right now.
    But continuing to write new stories remains the only given in my journey. :)

  8. My best lesson in publishing came from a retired writer with a huge stack of books under her belt. I had the pleasure of getting to know (AKA stalk) Dixie Browning. She wrote romance novels for big houses for most of her life and she gave me this warning...writing is big business. It's all about the numbers. More sex, less story. What started as a work of love became a job with all the stresses of sales and contracts. She warned me, if you love to write, be prepared to get your gut full of it. She retired and says she will write no more.

    I never want that. Nor do I want to be the bitter lady with an attic full of books. So many choices, so many pitfalls.

  9. My neighbor published a fiction book using a service like that. She paid them a decent amount of money to set her book up so that it was available on Amazon. Unfortunately, they get to set the prices, so the book sells for over thirty bucks. Obviously the company doesn't care whether they sell any of her books or not. They just wanted the upfront money.

  10. When I was writing twenty years ago, I briefly considered self-publishing, but there was only one way to do it - the way your neighbour did it - and I didn't have the money, or the space to hoard hundreds of books. Today there are so many different options. To self-publish my short story collection cost me $50 and a lunch for Kyra Lennon who designed my cover!

    Most importantly, you should do what you think is right for you and your book!

  11. Ah, woman. You do weave a good yarn. Self-pub is a mystery. And being an author is definitely not about making a quick buck, a writer is in it for the long haul and writes lots of stuff that won't get published or even read by others. Doing the research and listening to others helps, but in the end, the decision is up to the writer - I support you, and will help in any way!!

  12. It's true. You can get stuck on that single title--not matter what your aspirations may be. If you look at the history though, I don't think there's a single account of someone taking the world by storm with only one book--and it being their first book. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to write. =)

    1. Hey, I was popping by to see if you had an A to Z badge up. Guess you're not playing this year?

  13. This was one of the most eye-opening blogs I've read today – not because the ones I've already read weren't good, but because this one is over the top in exceptional. I'm glad I happened by your blog and joined as follower. I'm looking forward to your future posts.


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