Greatest Hits: A Long Wait for a Little Freedom
The following post was originally written on March 16th, 2011. That's almost eight years ago, folks, and yet incredibly, it's still pretty gosh darn relevant. When I first wrote this, I was trying not to hyperventilate about self-publishing my first novel, SEED. Y'all know SEED, right? Yeah, that book. The one that turned this nobody into a somebody (sort of).
But here's the thing, and this is an announcement I've been sitting on for a better part of a year now: I've fulfilled my contract with Simon and Schuster and...there is no new contract. (Jesus Christ, DON'T PANIC. ...sorry. I'm not yelling at you. That was just me screaming at myself.) I'll get into the reasons for our breakup in another post. I won't post about it to talk shit about anyone, mind you. I'll post about it because I believe in transparency and, let's face it, some of you are reading this blog waiting for the answer to becoming a successfully published author, right? Yeah, well, here comes a transparent slap to the face: I don't have that answer. (Slap.) Hell, I'm still trying to figure out how I've published seven novels and two novellas, have done countless interviews, had a review in the New York friggin' Times, and still feel like I'm sitting in a sinking ship. BUT WE'LL COVER THAT TOPIC LATER, DUDE. (Just me screaming at me, again. It's fine. I'm fine. Everything is fine.)
I wrote the following post about two months before self-publishing SEED, and yet a good deal of it resonates just as strongly today as it did in 2011. Please remember, this post is old. A good deal of my opinions and insights have changed. But, again, remember transparency? I'm not going to delete parts, but post it in its entirety. Because that's how it was written, and that's how it should be read.
Without further ado, here is A Long Wait for a Little Freedom.
It's difficult to let go of something you've wanted, or more precisely, thought you needed for as long as you can remember. But once you do release your grip, the sensation is nothing short of liberating.
I've been writing since I was about eleven or twelve years old. During a long and lazy New Mexico summer, my cousin Marta and I spent what seemed like our entire three-month vacation at my grandmother's house in Santa Fe. That summer, when we weren't swimming in the desert sunshine or wandering the dirt roads in that exclusive community looking for Val Kilmer's house (he was Batman back then, hence, a big deal to us little girls) we broke out a ream of lined loose-leaf paper and began to write. It started out as a game. Our story was typical pre-teen fare: a pretty girl meets a super cool guy and they're swept up in a whirlwind of giggling and flirting and yes, we dared to sneak in a kiss or two. It was a tandem story--the kind where one person writes a paragraph, then the other writes a paragraph. For a while we simply had fun trying to botch each others plans by writing ridiculous things, but the more we got into it the more serious it all became. At one point we wrote from the minute we got up to the minute we went to sleep, which was always damn late. By the end of that summer we had filled over a hundred loose-leaf pages, front and back, and I was amazed at how much we had written in such a short period of time.
Ever since that summer, I knew that writing was in my blood. I'd write a story here and there, but it was never anything serious. When I entered college, that was when I knew I wanted to take it further, that was when I decided that someday, any day, I wanted to be a published author.
In technological years, that was a hundred years ago. Back then people bought their books in bookstores... and author's weren't author's unless they had a damn good agent and a powerhouse publisher to boot.
That was then, and thank god for that.
Up until now, I've always written my stories with a sense of dread. It was a lot like composing a school assignment for an unusually cruel and unforgiving instructor. I knew that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how good I made my writing, no matter how many months it had taken me to write the first draft, let alone how long it would take me to revise my work two, three, sometimes four times, I would inevitably get that big fat 'no' in the mail. And that was only after I spent another month composing a sparkling query letter that made me look like the undiscovered genius, the diamond in the rough that everyone has overlooked. If you've never written a query letter, you can't begin to contemplate the torture that it truly is. After you've spent months if not years on your book, you're then required to justify to a faceless suit why he should bother to not read, oh no, not read, but consider reading your work. It was, in essence, forging something out of blood, sweat, and tears only to grovel at the feet of a king to please, for gods sake, at least acknowledge it's existence... please, at least tell me that what I've done is worthy, that I haven't simply wasted all that time.
Reassurance of that sort is rare. It hardly ever comes. But I was determined.
For my graduating thesis I wrote my first full-length novel. I sent out handfuls of letters to agents, most of them in New York City, and a few months after graduating from college the rejections began to pour in. Since then, I've composed many a query. I've sent hundreds of letters stuffed with pre-stamped self-addressed envelopes so that agents from all across the country could send me roughly cut scraps of paper with 'no, sorry' printed on them. They weren't even original scraps. They were photocopies of photocopies... all gritty and faded, as if to add insult to injury. The rejections never really got to me. I just shrugged them off and kept going, which is exactly what I was was trained to do. I say trained because if you read anything about publishing, the golden rule is never give up. I wonder about that sometimes. Determination is one thing, but banging your head against a sealed door... is that determination, or is that just stupidity?
That door is still sealed, by the way. It's sealed tighter than ever. The economy has reeked havoc on the publishing industry. I got to learn that first hand as well. A big shot NYC agency romanced me for a time in 2010, dangling a carrot in front of my nose, but in the end I got what I knew was coming... the 'no'. I was excited to have gotten as far as I had. It was thrilling to think that someone with some pull in the industry had seen something in my work to give it that much time. But again, it got me a lot of nothing. And that's okay. I told myself that maybe it was for the better, maybe if I had finally gotten a yes I'd have been stuck writing vampire books for the rest of my life (that novel happened to be vampire themed, and god only knows we need more of those).
Once upon a time, during one of my disheartened phases, I 'gave up' on writing. I blamed it on an article I had come across that offered a dose of realism when it came to being published. The numbers were bleak. First, you were offered an advance--typically paltry, but that didn't much matter since you would owe the publisher the money if you didn't make your advance back in sales. (Hi. Current Me jumping in here to say that this isn't true of advances. I'm sure I did read this somewhere, but that's not how advances work. Just felt the need to clear that up. Okay. Sorry. Shhh. Continue.) Then there were the laughable royalties; they were something like 17% of all total profits, and that was before your agent took a cut. All in all, if you weren't the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, you could kiss your dreams of actually making a living off of writing goodbye. And for the most part, that still stands. So that ever-predictable 'no' saved me from a lot of hard work for very little pay. Maybe it saved me from being pigeon-holed as 'one of those vampire authors' when, after the fact, I came to realize that vampires aren't as fun as people make them out to be. Or maybe I would have struck it rich. Who knows? Not me, and I'm okay with that.
The traditional publishing community is getting nervous. New tech is taking over old school. Less than five years ago, the concept of self-publishing was laughable. It was a fools errand, something only the inflated ego dared to venture into. Self-publishing was a game of buying your own book and trying to sell it to your parents and your friends. Now, self-publishing is putting in the work it takes to write a great novel, putting it up on a website like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and instantly having your work accessible to millions. Millions. And on top of that, you can get up to 70% of your total profit in royalties. (Hi. Me again. Just a reminder that this was written in 2011. These numbers might be totally off at this point. Okay. Okay...) 70% compared to 17% after begging an agent to sign you on, after selling your soul to a publisher so that they could run a limited pressing of your book only to call it a failure and pull the plug. (...okay, yes, I know I said I'd leave you alone to read. But we're treading into some territory that makes me a little wiggly, here. I feel like the Old Me is being a bit harsh, and suffice it to say, the Old Me didn't really know what she was talking about because she had never worked with an agent or publisher before. Anyway, this is all for another post. I just wanted to pop my hand up once more to say, "hey, hold on, this isn't exactly accurate". Get it? Of course you do.) The traditional market is getting nervous because writers like me are starting to come out of the coma we've been tricked into--one by one we're starting to see the traditional industry for the soul-crushing villain it is. Sure, some indy authors eventually get signed on with big time agents and end up with million dollar book deals, but lets face it... that's rare, and for the majority of us, that isn't going to happen. But that's okay too, because now it doesn't have to. (Another post, another day.)
So I've gone from the kid who wrote day and night on loose-leaf notebook paper to a girl who wanted nothing more than to get a book deal with the likes of Scribner or Random House, to the girl who, quite frankly, is happy her efforts never quite panned out. Because all that waiting had resulted in total freedom--freedom to write what I want, freedom to publish it if I want, and the ability to do it all without 'the man's' approval. And really, who likes that guy anyway?