Saturday, February 14, 2015

Exposing Myself on the Open Sea: Speaking as An Indie #bravewriting

I’m a little behind on posting about last week’s #bravewriting task: public speaking as an independent author. *palms sweating* But that’s because I was on a boat, a BIG boat, cruising the warm Caribbean waters for work. Yep, you read that correctly.   So why was this so scary? Well, settle in. This is the tale of a not-so-fearless five day wi fi and cell signal free tour.

Last week I bravely spoke at the Florida Romance Writers 2015 Fun in the Sun Conference. As part of the “Can You Make a Living Self-publishing Panel?”, I faced one of my fears: exposing my thoughts and experience as an indie author. Why does this scare me? Well, once upon a time I wanted to be published, long, long before the internet, actually.

Back then, if I wanted to be published—which really translated into wanting to be widely read—I had to submit myself and my works to the industry vetters. Terrified but determined, I read books, subscribed to magazines, and otherwise sought out the hows and wherefores. I even interviewed several college professors who were widely published to find out what “secrets” they knew about getting published. 

I submitted query letters to agents and publishers, wrote and wrote, but nothing happened. As I look back, I realize I wasn’t dedicated to the writing process and it showed in my works, probably even in my query letters. But not being as self-aware *cough cough* as I am now, the constant rejection wore me down and I stopped trying.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I stopped querying agents and publishers, but more importantly, I stopped trying to write the great American novel. Turns out, it was the best thing I ever did as a writer. Instead, I focused on writing what appealed to me. Most of those poems, short stories, and one-third novels have never seen the light of day. <——(cliche) 

And that’s okay. Those pieces were and are each a necessary, although sometimes brutal, section of my writing trail. Some of them poured out of me like a full body orgasm, some of them I carefully extracted from my flesh with the Exacto knife edge of self-recrimination. Some of it I dug out with the blunt edge of a spoon, then tossed like so much stinky cantaloupe pulp.

It all added up to finally, finally finishing my first novel. Which was crap. Which I’ve since burned. Then I tried again. Another flop. I saved that one, however, and it lies at the bottom of the cold deep (a drawer in the guest room), decaying under 1993 tax files and the waving tendrils of typewriter ribbons. Yes, yes. I need to clean that out…someday.

Okay, I’ve gone a long way down a side trail (sort of) to explain why speaking about self-publishing scares me, or did scare me. The reason? Because writing is who I am, a part of my personality and persona, dare I say psyche? And because somewhere in my befuddled head I retain the notion that in order to truly be an author, in order for all my hard work at my craft to mean something, someone else must validate me and my efforts. Like, say, an editor or agent. You know, someone official and licensed and all that.

Indies take a lot of abuse from traditional authors and publishers who don’t like the idea of self-publishing BECAUSE we decided not to get the official stamp of approval by an official industry vetter. Take this disparaging 2011 article written by Peter Winkler, an author, and published on Huffingtonpost.com. And I quote:

     "The names of famous authors who published themselves are often defiantly asserted by self-published writers attempting to erase the stigma attached to self-published books, the lepers of the literary world."
   
Yes, our books are the lepers of the literary world. At least, I hope his modifier isn’t dangling and he wasn’t referring to self-published authors themselves. And don’t think this article is “dated”, either. Many still hold that assertion like a badge of honor, never mind that Virginia Woolf and her husband founded the Hogarth Press that eventually published her novels. Oops! There I go, defiantly asserting names of famous authors who self-pubbed.

Apparently there’s all kinds of reasons why starting your own publishing house to publish your own books is NOT self-publishing.

Understandably, the abusers don’t see what they are saying and doing as abusive because they view self-publishing as “vanity publishing”, a term created to describe those who went ahead and printed their own books, usually because no publisher was biting. Once upon a time it was assumed if a publisher wasn’t interested, then your book was not worth publishing.

Turns out—and some will argue with me and that’s okay—that notion simply isn’t true. There are many wonderful authors and books that have become popular through self-publishing, such as Hugh Howey, the author of the WOOL series and Belle Andre, the author of the Sullivan series and many, many more books.

But the fact remains that writers have always taken a lot of abuse, criticism, and rejection from beginning—when they’re honing their craft—to the end--DEATH--and beyond the grave. So it’s either get comfortable with it or get out. Although getting out won't exempt you once you've dared to appear in public as a writer/author.

And so I come full circle back to the Fun in the Sun Conference on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas. Turns out, it was very liberating for me, this conference cruise. I stood up in front of maybe a dozen folks who came to hear what my author friend Liz Schulte and I had to say about making a living at self-publishing, albeit on wobbly legs that had nothing to do with the sway of the boat, and I talked.

All about my experience as an indie author and how to make a living at self-publishing. No one threw tomatoes, although I think someone did nod off. ;-) Folks asked lots of questions and seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say. I am, however, more positive than ever nothing I can ever say will make those who hate self-publishing, who look down their noses at indies as the lepers of the literary, change their minds about us. 

But that’s okay. I finally put it past me on this cruise. I make my living doing what I absolutely love more than anything else. I am living my dream. I am my own boss; I make 60-70% royalties on everything I publish; I get to choose which editors I work with; and while I also “get” to do all the business stuff (ugh) it also means I am ultimately in charge. Wow.

Now that’s something. 



What brave writing-related thing have you done lately?

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