Yes, it’s a bit early, but the holidays are only getting more hectic, so I thought I’d post this anyway. This is kind of an epic blog post, but my last one, Ten Things I Learned About Indie Publishing in 2011, still gets a lot of views, so hopefully, some of this will resonate with you guys.
1. It’s still worth it.
Remember those predictions that the e-book market was flooded? Riiiiiight. I do, too! Here’s the thing about the e-book market: Nobody knows anything. Not really. This is all changing so fast, no one can predict what the publishing landscape is going to look like in five months, never mind five years.
Keep doing your thing. Keep writing and know that yes, it’s still worth it. Writers are still publishing with more creative and personal freedom than ever before, and they’re being paid. This year, I went from someone who hoped that writing would be part of my income in five years to writing being my income half way through the year. Am I the norm? NO, I absolutely am not, so all my advice about publishing and slowing build your audience still applies.
Lesson from 2012: Personally, professionally, creatively, independent publishing is still worth it.
2. Know your individual goals.
Because writers have more options than ever before, it’s important to know what you want out of writing. Do you want to publish the book you’ve been working on for years and see it available and hey, maybe sell a few copies? That’s an admirable personal goal. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Do you want to make a career as a writer of short stories? That’s possible, too. Do you want to see your book in bookstores and go to signings? All these are different goals within the publishing world. All these are possible, but you need to take different steps and accept different sacrifices to get there.
It’s entirely possible that, if you want to see your book in Barnes & Noble, going a more traditional route may be the right way for you. I’ll tell you right now, in the long term, I don’t think you’ll make as much money as if you self-published, but that may not be your goal and there’s nothing wrong with that. Know what you want. Accept that, most of the time, you don’t get everything, and then make your decisions based on what is best for you.
Lesson from 2012: Having options rocks.
I’m not going to cite specific examples, but I know more than one writer who has hit it big with self-publishing, published traditionally, and has plans to go back to self-publishing. Why? I’ve said it so many times you’re probably going to bang your head against the wall, but here goes: They want to publish what they want, when they want, and they want full creative control.
See, even when you get a really good traditional deal, you are still giving up rights to that publishing house over your work. Is that worth it to you? It could be! I’m not making any judgements. I’m not even ruling out NEVER signing a traditional deal myself in the future. I might really enjoy the experience. I’m just saying, there are drawbacks, too. Even for authors with a lot of clout, if you’ve started out in self-pub, with all the power in your hands, you may find it very hard to give that up.
Lesson from 2012: There are still a LOT of reasons to do it yourself that have nothing to do with money.
4. It can be overwhelming.
I’m not going to whine about success. That’s obnoxious. But, I will say that it can be very overwhelming. The more attention my books have garnished, the less I find I want to talk about them (especially with family and friends). I’ve drawn back from a lot of social media out of sheer survival and time constraints. It’s often harder to find time to actually write once you’ve built a small body of work, particularly if that work is garnering attention. It helps to have people in your corner for many of those things.
This year, I signed with a literary agent (Hi, Jane! et al.) and I can honestly say, for me, it was a good decision. See, there are a lot of options available in this new publishing world, some of which, I don’t want to deal with on my own. Could I negotiate translations, foreign contracts, audio editions, media stuff, etc. on my own or with a good attorney? I’m sure I could. I’m a fairly intelligent person with many personal resources. But I don’t want to; I’d rather go on the field trip with my kid.
Lesson from 2012: Just because you CAN do it on your own, doesn’t mean you have to.
5. Keep writing.
Substitute ‘writing’ for ‘swimming’ and you have my professional philosophy in a nutshell.
Lesson from 2012: Just keep writing. (Singing is optional.)
5. Neil Gaiman is my personal cheerleader (whether he intended that or not)
I’ve mentioned it many, many times, but if you haven’t watched Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to the University of the Arts, please watch the whole thing. I’ve watched it countless times and it has become the place I go when I need a wiser, helpful voice to remind me that others have faced the same challenges I do. This is just a snippet of his speech that artist Sally Franckowiak illustrated with kinetic typography for a class. (It’s very cool!)
Lesson from 2012: “Make good art.”
7. You really do end up just as nervous about your seventh book as your first.
I wish I could say that this changes, and maybe when you’ve reached a certain point it does. I haven’t reached that point yet. I’ll be publishing my seventh full-length novel the beginning of next year and… yep, still nervous about it. Still nervous about getting the story right, doing the characters justice, satisfying my readers, becoming a better writer. Still nervous about all of it!
Lesson from 2012: Be nervous. Publish anyway.
8. “Begin as you mean to go on.”
It’s kind of hard to make changes in the middle of things. Sure, you may never have THOUGHT you’d garnish attention for your literary fiction when your biggest claim to fame thus far has been “The Vamp Vixen’s Sexylicious Book Blog” but there you go. Life is unexpected. Perhaps, though, when the New York Times prints that brilliant book review, you’d like to have a different website to direct them to.
Rock on with your Vamp Vixen self, new writer! But know your audience. And while it may seem arrogant or presumptuous to start a blog that’s all about “Jane Smith, Contemporary Fantasy Writer” when you haven’t published your book yet, if you’re serious, you’ll eventually get there. And then, you might want the more professional looking site. (But, by all means, keep the Vamp Vixen sexiness for your friends and blog readers, ‘cause that’s fun, too.)
Lesson from 2012: Be professional even before you are a professional.
9. Don’t look back.
Do you like my first book? I do! Mostly. I can also tell you every clumsy transition, every overused modifier, every redundant phrase. Trust me, people-who-leave-negative-reviews-about-the-word-smirk, I KNOW THEM ALL. I acknowledge them. But I have other things to write.
You will forever be your own worst critic. I can almost guarantee it. And you know what? Your first book won’t be perfect. Your tenth book won’t be perfect. And if you start to dwell on that, you’ll never keep writing (Remember Dory?) you’ll edit your work to death and become stuck in The Rut To End All Ruts.
Don’t do it. Let it go. Focus on writing better with each new book. Know that your first book will not be your only one, and know that many of the things that drive you up the wall are not going to be important to readers. Yes, if there are typos, feel free to fix them. But don’t publish a book, then obsess about re-editing it, especially if you’ve had it professionally edited before.
Lesson from 2012: It’s not your only book. Keep moving forward.
At the end of the day, we’re paid (hopefully) entertainers. Readers lend us their imaginations for a few hours, a few days. We get to fill their minds with the stories that fill our heads and hope they enjoy them, too. When you write a book, you join a vast and diverse collection of people who can proudly call themselves the storytellers.
We’ve always existed. Though our methods may have changed, the purpose hasn’t. We’re artists and musicians. Writers and illustrators. We use our craft to tell truth in different ways and for different reasons, but we’re all seeking the same thing. We all seek a connection with our audience that reveals something true.
Does this make you proud? It should. But does it make you humble?
In the vast span of things, I am a very small part of all this. There are brilliant writers who have come before me. More will come after me. I’m a baby in this craft. I still have so much to learn.
And I would be typing into the airwaves if it weren’t for my readers. I write stories because I love it. It feeds me creatively. In a very real way, it has been my lifesaver in an extremely tough year. But without readers offering me their imaginations, my stories only live in my own mind. Never forget this. We are only who we are because others listen or read or observe what we create. Do not forget your audience.
Lesson from 2012: You can be proud and humble at the same time.
So that’s it. I’m not going to give advice for 2013. I don’t know what’s going to happen! (I’m fairly sure the whole Mayan thing isn’t going to occur, but other than that, I’m clueless.) I can only offer the lessons I’ve already learned and hope that they’re helpful to some of you guys going forward. Have a great holiday season, wherever you are, creatively, personally, geographically. Find something beautiful and true to celebrate. Enjoy family and friends. And, like Neil says, Make good art.
Thanks for reading, Elizabeth