Two weeks ago I came THIS close (yes, I’m holding my fingers VERY close together) THIS close, to submitting The Blood of Whisperers to a big US agent. I consider it to be the low point of my year. Lower than every gaff on social media that has made me cringe and vow to do better. Lower than the pain of crowdfunding. Lower than the day I screamed at my girls and threatened to throw their toys in the bin.
I started this journey at the beginning of 2013, making the final decision that I would publish my own books. Before then I was much like every other aspiring author, writing synopsisisisis (never could finish typing that word) and query letters and making lists of who to send work to and when. But the lack of control kept leading me back to considering the self-publisher route. I knew that as a traditional author I would have no say whatsoever over my cover, my blurb, my title, and would be expected to fix and change anything inside the book my appointed editor told me to.
That sucked. Yes there are awful covers, terrible blurbs and shudder-worthy books out there that have been produced by authors. Not many authors are also designers or artists and sometimes you have to wonder where their discerning genes have gone begging. I like to think I’m not like that. I like to think I have made it through this process with my objectivity intact. I like to think that I can see what will best suit and sell my book better than someone who has never read it.
And yet despite all this, despite the fact that I produced The Blood of Whisperers with every level of professionalism I possibly could. Despite having reviewers and readers alike inform me that there was no difference between the quality of my book and that of a major publisher, I still had doubts. I watched other debut authors rise to stratospheric heights of popularity because their traditional publishers had the engines with which to launch them, and I knew the bitter gnawing of jealousy. That could have been me. Instead here I am struggling against the damn stigma, knowing it will be a long and slow journey when all I want is for people to read what I write. Money has never factored into it for me. I would write obsessively for the rest of my life even if I never got paid for it, although obviously getting paid for it would mean I could spend MORE time writing.
But I digress.
There I was, sitting at my computer with my newly completed and edited synopsis and a fancy-ass query letter and … I think I made it pretty clear last post how I feel about my editor… well I have one more thing to thank her for. “Are you sure you need an agent?” she asks me via chat. “Give it to any publisher and they will pick it up in a heartbeat” She’d had little enthusiasm for my decision to go traditional, but we have become good friends and she would support any decision I made… but this last question made me start thinking again. Before we met, her opinion of self-publisher had been much like that of the general population, but she had read and loved my work, she had watched me fight for the right to be recognised for doing the damn thing right, for publishing professionally, and now I was giving up.
(More bad language coming up)
And so now I have dug myself out of the depressing hole I had sunk into, so pained by the stigma that I came THIS DAMN CLOSE to giving up my dream, I can say fuck it. THIS is what I want to do. I want to write what I want to write, not what will make a big company the most money. I want to be able to choose my covers, my artists, my TEAM. I have one and I love them all and their enthusiasm for my dream is almost as great as my own. I don’t want to sell my work or my rights or my control, and I damn well don’t want anyone to stand between me and my readers. There is just me, sitting here writing, and you sitting there reading (or standing, or lying down as the case may be. Hell, maybe you read while hopping, but that’s your choice!)
I am, in the words of the great and powerful Chuck Wendig, an AUTHOR-PUBLISHER and I am proud of it. YES, that means I fall into a category with a lot of SHIT. YES, that means the power of the marketing engine will never be behind me. YES, that means I will never be able to be a member of the SFWA and therefore will never have a chance at the popularity contest fantasy awards that I would LOVE to win (so I’m flawed! Who isn’t :D) But this is the path I have chosen and if I have to fight this battle through a sea of stigma I will do it, and be happy to do it so long as there are people who want to read my books.
There will be tears. There will be other authors who will look down on me like I am the shit on their shoes. There will be days when I will wish I had given in and stopped fighting for recognition without the stamp of Big Five approval. But on those days I will grit my teeth and keep fighting because I’m worth it. I’m worth an uphill battle along shit creek.
One day my girls will be proud of me.
I love you
I do, I really do. My editor is a truly amazing woman who does everything she can to ensure that when you pick up one of my books, you don’t only pick up a book as grammatically correct and lacking in spelling errors as it is humanly possible to make them, but also that they come to you finished to the highest standard of which I am capable.
Yes, she pushes me hard. She sends back comments that just say: ‘You can do better’, and she makes me (think whip in hand) write them again and again until they are right – until they really are the best I can do. I love that I am pushed to always improve. To do my best. To work hard. It’s like having my own personal trainer. “Another set, you can do it, one, two, three…”.
So now you get the picture, so why am I going on about it?
Because with the release of The Gods of Vice just around the corner, it occurs to me that my editor, and editors in general, don’t get enough credit for the work they do. When I was working on the front matter (copyright, dedication page etc.) for The Gods of Vice, my editor asked me, rather shyly for her, whether it would be ok to put her name on the copyright page credits (with the artist and the typesetter…). I immediately said yes, and wondered why it hadn’t been there on The Blood of Whisperers. It hadn’t been there, because in copying the traditional publishing industry standard, the people who work on each book are pretty much invisible. Authors name, publishing house. That’s it. Sometimes they mention the artist, the typesetter and rarely the printer, but the editor is never there. The publishing house is the editor.
Editors are important. I talk about it a lot. If you want to be the best writer you can be, then you need one. If you plan on publishing anything at all, then you need one. If you’re a writer and you don’t have one, then go get one!Go and take the single most important step toward publication (whether indie or traditional) that you can possibly take. They are easy to find, but like with everything, you can get good editors and bad editors, expensive editors, and cheap editors, and the editor that is good for me might not work well with you. I know some other great editors, but I couldn’t work as well with them as I do with mine. (Look at that ownership… she’s mine, I tell you *hiss* back off!) Don’t be satisfied with the first one you find unless they are ‘the one’ .. yes, it is as hard as finding a life partner.
Do you have an editor you couldn’t live without? If you do, appreciate them. Love them, because they are almost as important to a book as the author. I sure as hell couldn’t do this without you, Amanda 🙂
Allow me to introduce you to Malice. If you have read The Blood of Whisperers, then you have met him before, if not then I think the word ‘manipulative’ describes him pretty well. But delving deeper into the story with the release of The Gods of Vice on the horizon, it is time to find out if there is more to Malice than meets the eye.
The Gods of Vice – Out December 31st
He’s also a bit pretty, in a ‘fuck off’ kind of way…
If it’s self-published – it’s crap.
If it’s self-published, it was only because the author couldn’t get the attention of the big boys in publishing.
Self-publishers are desperate, annoying spammers who produce shonky products and expect us to pay them for it.
They are ruining the industry.
These are some of the assumptions I frequently come across, whether these words are spoken out loud, inferred or written, as in this venomous post in which the writer informs us that self-publishers are ruining literature. But while self-publishers earn his “everlasting ire”, hybrid authors have his respect. Why? Because they have passed through the holy gates of a publishing house, any publishing house, and been given the big tick of approval.
No one has ever said these things to my face, but almost daily I am treated to the assumption that what I really want is to be noticed by a big publisher, that all my dreams will come true the day a publishing company nods their approval at my efforts.
Why? Why does my worth as an author have to be determined by anyone other than my readers?
I understand the idea. I get the concept that, because a writer/book has passed under the eye of a publisher, it is more likely to be worth reading, and it is true. Just as it is true that just because a book is traditionally published, doesn’t mean it’s good or worth your time to read. The only way you can tell if something is worth you time is to read the blurb, read the first page, and decide for yourself if this is a book for you. It would be a very rare person whose first action is to look at the publishers logo on the spine and read the copyright page. (I do, I admit, because you can tell a lot about how much ‘risk’ a publisher, be they independent or traditional, has put into the book – more on this another day).
And yet although people know this is true, the stigma continues to exist. It exists because there are more self-publishers doing it wrong than right and doing it wrong loudly. It exists because the whole industry is on the defensive, and every successful self-publisher and hybrid author is cutting out the big publishers who have been such a staple of the industry for so long they don’t want to die. It exists because people allow it to exist, because they generalise, assume, and say they will only read a book vetted by a company more interested in the economic potential of a book than its merit.
Why don’t we start saying that we will only read good books, regardless of where they came from? Why don’t we start giving the self-publishers who do it right more credit for doing the job of a whole company on their own?
Why don’t we read for love?
Why don’t we write for love?
Why don’t we say screw the stigma?
Hurrah! The crowdfunding is over and we were successful. We reached the goal with minutes to spare, proving my point that people can’t get enough drama. I can. I’m not that keen on drama in my real, actual life, so I can’t say I particularly enjoyed that part of the ride.
But now that it is over and I have had some time to recover and to think about the whole experience, I have a few things I want to share.
1) Crowdfunding is the strangest experience I have ever had.
Full of ups and downs and twists and turns as one day it looks as though you are going to make it and the next that you’re way off your target. Traffic stats mean bugger all. Number of supporters means bugger all. You look at that total and you see the time ticking down and that is all that matters.
2) Crowdfunding is an exercise in popularity.
Throughout this month I have been saying that, should I survive the experience, I would never crowdfund again, but I can imagine that for those to whom it comes easily it must be exciting to see your project running away with popularity. But that sort of excitement is rarely generated by a worthy or even an exciting project – but rather by famous names and already established fan bases. If JK Rowling were to crowdfund there would be no end of people queuing up to get her next book (although possibly questioning why a woman that rich needs to crowdfund at all) while for those of us still growing our fan bases it is a difficult and wearing task. No one knows who you are and no one cares.
3) Crowdfunding makes you question EVERYTHING.
Every morning when I got up I would check my traffic stats, curious to see how many new hits I had in the last 24 hours. Then I would wait to see how many of them would turn into actual pledges. The percentage is small. If you read any stats about crowdfunding it is always small, but you start to wonder if there is something actually wrong with the project. Are people laughing? Are they unconvinced that your project is worth even a single dollar? Have you offended people? And then, when someone does pledge, you question some more. Why did they choose that reward instead of another? Why hasn’t anyone picked this other reward? Are the pledging what they can afford? Or what they think I am worth? And then when it is someone you know it gets even harder, because you can answer some of those questions. See –
4) Crowdfunding makes you judge your friends and your family.
This, I think, was the hardest part of the whole experience for me, and the one that I didn’t expect. When I would receive a pledge from someone I knew I would of course be excited, every pledge was exciting, but when you see that $ amount on the screen you cannot help but set it beside everything you know about that person. How long have you known them? Are they well off? Have they a genuine interest in the project or are they supporting you because, hey, it’s you? Every pledge is a pledge and that is the way you need to think about it, being grateful for each whether they were $1 or $100. But we can’t help human nature. We can’t help but judge, yes JUDGE the people who just helped to support your dream, based on the amount they just typed into their computer.
5) Crowdfunding reminds you about the worth of personal integrity.
Ok, that sounds like a mouthful, but I’m serious. Personal integrity is something everyone should strive to achieve. If you say you are going to do something, do it, don’t make excuses. If you aren’t sure you can, or will, don’t say it. Yes, I had people tell me they were going to pledge, this much, that much, tonight, tomorrow, next week, and here am I, hoping, hanging out to see if we are going to make the target, and by the end – nothing. And you KNOW, they didn’t forget. It’s a terrible thing to realise about people, but we want to look good, so we say what we don’t mean. You want to look good? PERSONAL INTEGRITY. Only say it if you mean it.
In short – crowdfunding is not for the faint of heart. You have to go out and pimp yourself, and there is nothing, NOTHING worse than asking people for money. Some people are naturals at making you want to part with your cash for nothing, but I am not one of them. I would much rather have a book to sell, and even then, I would prefer it sold itself. I’m not pushy, which is why I don’t think it’s an exercise I will ever put myself through again. Of course I might change my mind. If time can make us forget the agony of childbirth, it can make me forget the anguish of crowdfunding too.
Making up book titles is both the best and the worst part of book production. When you hit on one that works, that not only sounds good but also works for your book and isn’t already taken, there is no better feeling. But, as happens all too often, it just isn’t quite right.
Here is a sample page from my notebook from the attempt to find titles for all three books of The Vengeance Trilogy.
There are many more pages where this came from. This was one of the last brainstorming pages. Earlier pages were all words and there were many false starts and many many bad ideas.
There is something magical about a title. It is likely to be the first thing any prospective reader knows about your book. “Hey, have you read BLAH?” … Think it isn’t important how it sounds? Think again. Say your title. Say it in a million funny voices if you have to, anything to see if there is a problem with the way it sounds. One of my early working titles for this story in its very early stages was The Errant Pawn … bad idea. It looks ok in print, but when you say it out loud it inevitably causes a bout of sniggering.
Titles have to capture interest, yes, but they also have to signal to a reader what genre the work is in. Various ideas that showed up in my notebook sounded like the wrong genre. “The God Within Us All” sounded too spiritual. “Dig Two Graves” sounded like a crime novel. If you pick up a book called something like: “The King of Sparta’s Daughter” chances are you’re going to be reading an ancient greek romance as opposed to a blood-thirsty adventure, although either way there is likely to be a whole load of sweaty spartan warriors, because some things transcend genre.
And as if there wasn’t enough to deal with, titles also have to steer clear of cliche and coming across as too generic. In fact, really good titles are very hard to come by. Two of my absolute favourites are “Heaven’s Net is Wide” by Lian Hearn, which has emotional connotations as well as giving you the impression lots of characters are going to die, and “Red Seas Under Red Skies” by Scott Lynch, which is just beautiful. The first book in his Gentleman Bastard Sequence, “The Lies of Locke Lamora” is also a great title, the alliteration really makes it work.
Perhaps there is a good reason why titles don’t usually fall to the author. But for those authors who have to do such things for themselves, the moment you get it right, when you wake up with the name on your lips, when it comes to you while you’re dashing about trying to get two little kids in the car, it is magical. Absolutely magical. It might yet turn out there was a better title, but when you see some of the bad titles that come out on the shelves I think it is safe to say that is true of every book ever written.