Most of you who have read this blog for a while know that I had my reasons to publish independently, free from both the constraints and the support of a large or small press. I’ve outlined them before, so I don’t feel the need to expound too much more on that. But as I approach the publication of the fourth and final Elemental Mysteries book, A Fall of Water, new reasons for doing this my own way have become clear to me.
I’m not usually one to pound the indie-drum. There are lots of people with a much bigger audience who do that very well. For me, it was always a personal decision, and one that I recommend to many, but not all. It’s a huge amount of work at times, and I truly don’t think it’s for everyone. That said, as I come to the completion of my first series, I realize that I could not have written the books that I did for the Elemental Mysteries without self-publishing.
I’ve never submitted anything to an agent or publisher, but I read enough, and know enough traditionally published writers, to know that there are some expectations for first time novelists. A first book shouldn’t be too long. It should fit into a well-defined genre. It should be able to stand on it’s own. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but they are the guidelines you hear repeated over and over.
Now, for established writers with a good audience, these rules can be bent. Even first time writers can tweak them, but you’re going to have a much harder time convincing an agent or a publisher to take a chance on you. And when I think about the book I wrote in A Hidden Fire, I realize that I broke a lot of those “rules.”
It’s long. It’s not a stand-alone. In fact, by the time I had written the first third of the novel, a larger story arc had wound itself into my brain. I knew that I wanted to write, not one book, but four. (Who writes four? Honestly, it’s a plotting nightmare.) Four books that would each have their own individual arc, but would tie into a much larger mystery that could not be solved by one book alone.
That’s what you might call ‘a hard sell’ for a completely unknown writer.
There is no clear happy ending in A Hidden Fire. The book laid the foundation for a much larger mythology and introduced characters. The second book expanded on that world in a very calculated way. The third expanded more and simultaneously pulled the rug out from under readers’ expectations. The final book? Well, you’ll just have to wait until June 5th to really find out.
And that’s not a series that everyone wants to read. In fact, more than one reader has blown off the series when they found out that things aren’t resolved neatly in the first book. But that was fine. It was still the book I wanted to write.
Knowing that I would self-publish gave me the freedom to write the books as I wanted to, without fear that the series wouldn’t be picked up or might be abandoned mid-storyline. I knew I wasn’t going to leave any readers hanging. I knew that the four-part series was mine to publish as I saw fit.
And knowing that let me set in place layers that I couldn’t have written in, otherwise. There are threads in book one that only get tied up at the very end of book four. Relationships that grow and change slowly. A world that is revealed bit by bit, and motives that readers only get hints of until the very, very end.
Because that’s the way I wanted to write it.
With self-publishing a viable reality, it was the way I could write it.
So, here we are. When you think about all the reasons to self-publish, do think about profits and percentages. Absolutely. (This is a job, after all, and you should be paid for your work.) Think about quality control. Think about your rights as an author.
But also think about the creative reasons for doing things this way. What stories can you tell that might not be considered “marketable” otherwise? What risks can you take with a character or a plot line that publishers might shy away from? Self-publishing gives you the freedom to stretch yourself as a writer. It lets you place more faith in your readers than most publishers are willing to give. Most importantly, it lets you tell, without interference, the story that you want to tell.
It’s your story. It’s your career. It’s your audience.
So write what you want.