The Changing Shape of Dreams

A lot has changed in publishing in the last six years.

Six years ago, when I was busy working away on my novel (the same novel I’m still working on to this day, no thanks to a six-year writing hiatus), I dreamed of someday being a published author.

This dream had a distinguishing look and feel and smell, as the most vivid dreams often do:

It looked like a hardcover book on a bookstore shelf.

It felt like thick, fibrous paper with ragged-cut edges.

It had that new-book smell; it sounded like my mother bragging to all her friends that her daughter’s book new book was destined to be a bestseller.

It tasted of sweet success.

The steps I had to follow to realize this dream constantly knocked around in my head like the chorus of a song: query, agent, revision, submission, contract, revision, revision, revision, release.

This, of course, was assuming I’d actually made it past steps one and four.  It was an assumption I was all too happy to make, for if I didn’t, the dream would be dead before it even fully began.  This was the only path to publication.

Then, everything changed….

A new road opened up.

Carefree highway

With the increased ease of production, access to, and legitimacy of self-published books, I’ve been granted an unprecedented opportunity to change the shape of a dream I’ve carried with me since I was about eight years old.

Initially, I resisted doing so.  I clung to the vision of traditional publication, for it was familiar, and conventional, and just seemed to make good sense.

It was comfortable.

But a couple weeks ago, while closing in on my WIP’s most recent milestone of page 250, for the first time ever, I actually entertained the thought of self-publishing.  Of doing so right off the bat, rather than as Plan B if I couldn’t get and agent or publisher interested in my work.

I’m still entertaining the thought.

This, even though, aside from the time-honoured prestige associated with traditional publishing (which I’d be lying if I said wasn’t at least a partial motivator), I consider the sluggish pace of traditional publishing a better match for the speed at which I write.

There’s something inherently exciting about to prospect of producing exactly the type of book I want via self-publishing.  I’m not necessarily referring to plot-related creative differences with agents and publishers, here – I’m firmly of the opinion that any form of collaboration with truly committed parties would only make my book stronger.

Rather, I’m talking things like…

  • The format of the book (e.g. cover art, inline illustrations or associated multimedia if I happen to want it),
  • The price of the book (maybe I want to give it away for free.  I recently learned about the profitable history of “loss leaders”, and I can’t say I totally disagree with point #2 of writer Ksenia Anske’s argument in favour of free),
  • The book’s genre (there’s definitely something to be said about not having to force a story into a categorical straightjacket), and
  • The length of the book (because a big part of why I write slowly is because I write long).

Not to mention, as a slow writer, the thought of being bound to a traditional publishing contract to produce X more books on any type of schedule (even a sluggish one), fills me with unholy dread.

Knowledge is power

But it’s worth noting that the industry blogs I used to read six years ago were (by necessity) exclusively on subjects like perfecting one’s query letter, making pitches, adhering to the conventions of one’s genre, and formatting one’s manuscript.

Now I also read about the all the different types of editors and what each can do for one’s manuscript, the elements of effective cover design, and especially about marketing/promotion.

This latter consideration – regardless of which patch I ultimately choose to pursue – will be indispensible to me in getting the word out about me and my writing.  Once upon a time, traditionally-published authors didn’t have to concern themselves quite so much with doing their own marketing.

Times have changed.

The days of writers being able to “just write” seem to be a thing of the past.  Whatever path I choose to follow, the amount of marketing I’ll have to do will not be a deciding factor.

——————–

Question: Published writers: Why did you choose the publication path you did?  Unpublished writers: What path do you envision yourself pursuing, and why?

(Image source #1 and #2)

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17 thoughts on “The Changing Shape of Dreams

  1. Good post. I’m considering self publishing my book, but I’m not absolutely certain. I love the control that self publishing gives you, but it is a huge investment, especially if you want to do it well.
    A small press could be the way to go, but then I always think, could I do this on my own and what are they doing that I couldn’t do myself?
    There are so many things you need to think about, but, in the end, I think i’ll go down the self publishing road, at least at the beginning.

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    • Hi Cassandra, thanks for the comment. You bring up a good point with small presses; I forgot about them. I tend to hear good things about them – that they often offer a lot of individualized attention that can be invaluable in helping launch a writer’s career. It truly is empowering to have so many publication options available to modern writers.

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  2. The main thing I want from a traditional publisher is marketing resources. That’s not a good enough reason, is it?

    If I ever finish my novel, I’ll probably query it, just to see what happens, but I’m pretty confident that I know what will happen: About 75 rejections and two or three requests for partials that end up rejected. I’ve been there twice already. I’m not sure what the formula is for bagging an agent, but I think it has more to do with their perceived ease of selling the manuscript to a publisher than to the quality of the writing.

    In the meantime, I’m going to test the self-pub waters with my short story collection. It’s low risk, since 5 of the 6 stories already existed on my hard drive when I thought of it. It also makes sense, since these stories are never going to get picked up by anyone due to their length and genre-blending. Plus, why fling these stories all over the world when I can make it easy for people to find them all in one place?

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    • That’s not a good enough reason, is it?

      Not being published myself, I can’t say for sure, but this is what I’ve heard and read from some people who are traditionally published – that unless a publisher believes a writer is the Next Big Thing, s/he isn’t going to be getting much in the way or marketing, or necessarily even advice on how to market oneself. Not every trad published authors report this, but it definitely seems to be the case for some.

      Right now, I’m thinking I’ll end up querying my novel as well just to see what happens – so I can earn my own 75 rejections (brutal, btw) and satisfy that nostalgic sense of my long-held publication dream. Then maybe the real fun will begin.

      I look forward to seeing your self-published short stories. I think it’s a good idea, and that the process of self-publishing something is a good experience for all writers to go through.

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  3. I was traditionally published, Janna and it has it’s ups and downs, but self-publishing has more ups than downs. For one thing, you see more money when you self-publish because the publisher doesn’t take a huge cut of it. You can also write at your own pace which is ideal for me because I can go for months without writing a word. I’m a big fan of self-publishing because I can also be stubborn and don’t like people telling me what I can and can’t do. Best of luck with the novel 😀

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    • You can also write at your own pace…

      You know, Dianne, I never really thought about it that way. I’ve been so freaked out by self-published authors who release multiple books a year, I’ve lost sight of the fact that they’ve chosen to do so – that they’re not in any way obligated to, and that not every self-pubbed author is as prolific as that. Because that’s the beauty of self-publishing: you’re not “obligated” to anyone in what and when you produce. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

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  4. I’ve self-published three simply because I didn’t have the patience to work the traditional route. It’s expensive though and I won’t do it again. Having had some encouraging noises from industry people about my WIP I’ll probably hang in and pitch that one like crazy once it’s written. If it fails then I’ll just throw it up as an ebook and start again I guess.
    As a hobby writer it’s good to be able to choose the avenue you wish.

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    • At this point, I definitely do consider myself a “hobby writer” (funny – the idea of writing full-time is never something I’ve aspired to, for all that I plan to be writing for the rest of my life).

      I think that if one strictly goes the ebook route, self-publishing can be less expensive (you printed physical copies of your book, if memory serves), but as I said in the post, I’m not fully committed to one path or the other at this point. I’ve still got a fair bit of writing (and revising) to do yet!

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  5. I was simply too impatient to wait for a traditional publisher to accept my work. I’d spent three years hawking my novel to different publishers and agents only to be met with suggestions like “change it into a romance book” or “these are adult characters in a YA book, that’s not going to work” (now that there’s a genre called New Adult which is all about adult characters in a YA book I feel gratified). Fortunately the whole Amanda Hocking thing happened and I didn’t have to think twice about self-publishing.

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    • Hi Sonya, thanks for commenting. I would hate to be told by an agent or publisher to change my book into something else. Of course, I get that there are marketability concerns that need to be addressed, but the line between filling a market niche and staying true to one’s artistic vision is a fine one indeed.

      It’s definitely exciting that pioneers like Amanda Hocking and John Locke blazed a trail for self-publishing to gain the respectability that it now has. The more options writers have for getting their work out there, the better.

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  6. I like Roy’s ‘hobby writer’ title…it fits most of us here.
    Knowing that you have worked for a long time on this, if you choose to self-publish…pay the money for professional help when you are finished.
    Editing, proofreading and cover art…take it from me, nothing can kill a story’s chances of a possible sale like a bad photo-shopped cover!

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