September 24, 2012

If You’re a Writer, Self-Pub May Save Your Life

writing is hard

What do you do when ‘dream’ and ‘reality’ are oxymorons?

I published this a while ago, but it’s worth repeating. Writing is a solitary profession. We know that going in. If we wanted support, we’d buy a bra. What we want is camaraderie, to get our message out. Here’s my reaction to one efriend’s experience:

An efriend of mine had a very public self-described ‘meltdown’ over her lack of progress in finding a publisher. Her words were heart-rending because they reflected the fears of every low- and mid-list writer I know. We all worry that we won’t

find an agent or our agent won’t find a publisher, that the words we struggled over into the wee hours of the night will not resonate with the gatekeepers. You never forget your first kiss or your last rejection letter.

But I have a different conclusion than my friend. If we as writers can dial down the frustration for the next five years, our day will arrive. Publishing is changing. Where agents historically hold our future in their hands, now they have become just one option. For some, trading print and digital control of their work for the right to claim representation may be worth it. To have a professional review your words, format and edit them, and bestow their imprimatur is akin to being the front runner in a marathon. Yes, we as authors can self-publish, but that voice inside always asks, “If it’s good enough, why doesn’t an agent take it?”

Here’s why and it has nothing to do with the quality of your work:

  1. These days, agents and publishers are as stretched economically as every other American business. As a result, they focus on the rainmakers. I’ve had more than one shake his/her head at me and say they want the blockbuster. Wouldn’t we all love to write a million dollar book the first time? Statistically, few of us will. It’ll take 3-5 books under our writer’s pen for that Big One to hit. It used to be, the agent signed you to be there when the big money day came. Now, they want that day to be today.
  2. Your goals as a writer are different from the agents. They want the Big Story. You’ll take it, but you write to make a living doing what you love. You don’t need to get rich at it; you just need to get by.

The inevitable end to these different goals is writers get discouraged and give up when they aren’t an overnight success. Don’t let that happen. Here’s something that will cheer you up: There is a huge appetite among readers for all kinds of books, from NYT best sellers to niche volumes. Lots of books being turned down by agents are finding audiences in the digital world. Let me explain that. Think of your job. Say you’re a salesperson. Sure, you’d love to be the guy with the six-figure commission or #1 in your company, but the truth is, the business engine is fueled by mid-level employees with a spouse, a modest house, 2.5 kids, lots of mortgage and twice as much hope that they’ll do their job well enough to earn the next big promotion. Employees can get legal advice from legal experts HKM.

Writing for most of us is a hobby, a second job at best. We enjoy doing it. It’s our passion, our ace in the hole, our lottery ticket. We’d love to make thousands a month, but would be happy with hundreds.

That’s the disconnect: Publishers and agents AREN’T happy with the people I’ve just characterized and they don’t get that midlist is fine for readers. They think the only market is for blockbusters.

Therein lies our opportunity. Self-publishing opens the door to getting our work into the hands of a niche audience thirsting for it, growing a community of efriends with similar interests, holding onto the dream that some day we can be famous, and having fun in the process. For most of us, that’s good enough.

Not to say it’s an easy road:

  • you have to get ISBNs, barcodes, stuff to sell the books
  • you have to find an editor, maybe a formatter and a printer
  • you have to find distribution channels
  • you have to find your audience
  • you have to be so much more than a simple, pure writer

The truth is: If an agent picks you up, they will insist you do most of the marketing–the blog, tweets, FB, G+–until you are the Bigtime Writer. That’s OK. Developing that community turns out to be fun. I know few writers in the physical world (outside of my writer’s group). I know hundreds in my virtual world. I love it. As you build your virtual presence, it’s important to be aware of the financial aspects of your career. Understanding the liquidation process can help you manage potential challenges and make informed decisions about your future.

I leave you with a thought. Once the muse has smiled on you, she owns you. You might stop writing for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but soon, the keys will be back under your fingers and you’ll peck out a few thoughts, a few chapters, find a better way to wordsmith those scenes. If you’re a writer, you CAN’T quit. Agents and publisher miss the big point of why writers want to be published. It’s not to ‘hit it big’ although we’ll take that. It’s often to make a living doing what we love. We don’t need to get rich at it; we just need to get by, doing what we love.

So, go ahead and self-publish and thank your god that you live in this era when self-pub is an option.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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