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 you’re 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 fair: 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. 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. 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. 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.

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?


4 thoughts on “A Long Wait For A Little Freedom

  1. Nicely written. Curious what track you have taken in the Indy publishing world after you realized traditional wasn’t going to work.

      • Actually, I think I answered my own question last night. My first novel was a NaNoWriMo winner. And I saw yesterday that I could get a free copy of the novel through Createspace.com, so i went through that process last night and I assume that is the experience that self publishing authors go through all the time. And I assume that is how you did it as well.
        1) sign an agreement
        2) upload your book
        3) create your cover
        4) wait for the book to be approved and available.

        close to your experience?

      • Most indie authors don’t go through CreateSpace unless they’re looking to sell paper copies of their book. With ebooks killing traditional book sales, it’s no longer necessary to offer an actual physical product to make it as an author. So no, that isn’t the way I did it.

        I’ve looked into CreateSpace, and if there’s enough demand for paper copies of my book I’ll certainly look into it further, but at the moment physical copies of my work aren’t much of an interest to me.

        Self-publishing, if done right, is a long and tedious process. Mine is as follows:
        Write the novel. Edit and reedit until my eyeballs fall out of my head. Send the edited copy to a handful of beta-readers for revisions, suggestions, ect. Get those copies back and edit some more. Send THAT copy to a freelance editor. Get that one back and make corrections. Then you go through formatting for the various ereaders you’re going to publish to. And cover art–I don’t tackle that myself. I’ve seen far too many ‘awesome’ covers that are horrible. I pay for editing and proofreading at the end, and I pay for a professionally made cover. In the end, I sit at around a $700 investment per written work before it’s ever released to the public.

        It’s a lot of work, but at the end of the day you can collect up to 70% commission on your self-published titles.

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