Friday, February 20, 2015

5 Reasons I'll Be Self Publishing Ascendant

Question from my inbox:

Becky, now that Crescent Moon Press has folded, will you be trying to find another publisher to take over the Ascendant trilogy?

Several of the authors who were with CMP are now looking for other publishers to take over their now homeless titles. I'm sure many of them will be successful in cooperating with another small press, but most medium and large publishers won't pick up an already published title unless it has a very impressive resume (huge sales, awards, bestseller lists, etc) Over the past couple of years, I've learned a lot about working with a small press. My biggest personal take away is this: If you are willing to learn about self publishing (and because of technology, it is becoming easier to access this learning every day) there is almost zero advantage to teaming with a tiny publishing house unless they can do at least one of two things.

1. Distribute your title into retail stores
2. Work to successfully market your title to a large audience 

Most small presses don't do either of these (of course, there are always exceptions :-)

When you sign with a tiny house, you are handing over the control of your work. This is clearly a worthwhile trade off when working with medium to large publishers that are bringing benefits to the table (distribution, professional editing, professional interior design, professional book cover design) but if that small house produces a product that simply looks like some of the less professional self-published titles--really what's the point?

In my particular case, ASCENDANT is not a title that would interest a medium to large house. The sales are abysmal and it doesn't have any idea what a bestseller list even is. Furthermore, for those of you who don't know the history, ASCENDANT has already been submitted to all the medium and large presses back when my agent was originally trying to sell it in 2011.

I may have my faults, but I know a brick wall when I see it--I get it.
I have been learning quite a lot about self-publishing over the last few years and I think that is the next best step for me, my books, and my writing career.

Here are 5 talking points (based on my experience with CMP) about why I won't be knocking on any more small press doors.

1. The editing wasn't really editing. CMP outsourced to volunteer editors who knew even less about editing than I did at the time. Consequently, this is an area of writing that I have been studying and working hard on. To be frank, editing is not a skill that comes naturally to me. I've had to learn. Regardless of what happens in my publishing future, I want to always be growing in all my writing skills--especially editing. 

2. The Marketing consisted of putting my book on their CMP site and on their Facebook page. While I am grateful for whatever exposure that gained my title, neither source attracted an audience much beyond other CMP authors and writers who were thinking of submitting to CMP. Most small presses do not have the distribution relationships in place to get your book into the major bookselling stores. Furthermore, because many of them use Lightning Source for print copies (I still use LS for my own printing needs) the cost of producing one off POD books is too high for them to offer the typical discounts expected by many retailers. 

3. I'm just going to say it--the interior layout of ASCENDANT was terrible. Because I gave CMP control over my book, I lost the power to fix that. I am not an InDesign expert, but I can lay out the interior of a typical print book so that it looks just like a traditional print book with regards to font, spacing, and trim size.

4. When there was a BIG problem with my book (the version they initially printed was the initial draft) I had to fight hard to get it fixed. If I had control over the work, I could have taken the title down immediately and corrected the issue. Because I had to first make a case, and then fix the problem myself anyway, the process took months. (Lesson I Learned: YOU are that last stop on the quality control track. Never, ever assume that just because you are working with a publisher someone else is going to care as much as you about catching errors. Everything is easier to fix BEFORE you give your final okay so, regardless of how sick to death you are of looking at your own book--LOOK AGAIN...and again :-)

5. Since I signed with CMP, I've grown in my specific skills as well as emotionally. Looking back, I can see that one of the biggest reasons I signed with CMP was the solace of being under someone's umbrella. Because someone else said they wanted my book for their list, it gave me some much needed confidence to start believing in myself as a writer. This wasn't a bad thing--it was just a false thing. Signing with them didn't make me any better or worse of a writer. My skills rise or fall from my own efforts. Once I realized that, honestly, no one really stands with you except for the readers that enjoy your work, I began to feel that there really wasn't any benefit to working with a small press over doing it all myself. (Disclaimer: Please remember, this is based on my own personal experience working with one particular small press. Not all small presses operate this way. I've heard of some writers who have had, and continue to have, excellent working and professional relationships with their small press.)

So is it scary to self-publish my books? Hell yes! But I finally realize that publishing is scary no matter how you go about it. When all is said and done, it's my name on the book regardless of how it got there. I'm the one that takes the heat if a reader finds fault. And I will. But if I'm accepting responsibility for the entire package, I will now be calling all the shots.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

When You No Longer Care Who's Watching--The Freedom to Say What You Want

For a while, I've been afraid of blogging. I'll come back to why in a moment, but first, a moment of self reflection.

Over this past week, I've noticed a subtle shift in my thoughts and emotions with regards to communicating in a public space. Suddenly there are ideas for blog posts, and topics for debate, and questions, so many questions circulating through my brain. Topics I would have shied away from in the past now have me thinking, "Yeah, I'd like to write about that."

Overall I'd say I'm feeling a wee bit bolder.


A couple of months ago, I deleted a particular blog post from my archive. It wasn't an earth quaking post created in hopes of shaking traditional publishing off its high horse and onto its delicate knees, it was a simple post, from two years ago, about my summer.

And it was a post that had a high rate of incoming traffic from New York.

This is the place where we pull back the curtain and take a peek at Becky's sometimes paranoid mind. 

This post was titled something like: Why you should be forcing yourself to write, and it detailed all the many ways I had been wasting precious time that summer not writing and being as productive as I possibly could. It was one of my more popular posts, probably because so many other writers could relate, and thus, it popped up pretty high on the results page if someone, say from New York, happened to Google: Rebecca Taylor Writer.

Here was my paranoia: What if all those New York hits were actually editors checking me out. AND, what if that blog post, that makes me sound like I lie around a pool all day watching Netflix and drinking wine, was my only shot at nailing that precious first impression and I was basically screwing myself by trying to be flip and funny while referencing some of my many, highly human flaws?

Basically my fear was this, what if editors were reading that post and then deciding, "Ugh, I'm not going to be able to count on her to produce on a deadline because, look, she says right here, on her own blog, she procrastinated. No thanks--Reject." **see below

Paranoid much Becky? Maybe.

Because here's the thing, editors and agents DO check you out online if they're interested in working with you. And if you have anything, ANYTHING, up that makes you seem like you might be even potentially flaky, chances are they're not going to want to take a chance on you. Especially if they were on the fence about your work to begin with!

So, being afraid I was making a hugely wrong impression by trying to be honest and funny and relatable--I took the post down. Because, at the time, I wanted to be a traditionally published author more than I wanted to be myself.

Yes--I know it's sad.  

The result of all that muddy, worried thinking was that I became hugely terrified of blogging about almost anything. What would THEY think should THEY come looking? What opinions about me would they form? How could I strike the perfect balance of professional, hard working, and reliable? Maybe I should post something positive about one of the big YA pros? What hasn't yet been said about John Green? Should I be deferential? More book reviews? Interviews with other authors? What would let an editor know without a doubt that I'm IN IT?

What about a picture of me in a gray Calvin Klein skirt suit sitting in a cubicle with my hands glued to a keyboard? 


I pressured myself so much I didn't end up blogging about anything, which I rationalized as being okay because everyone reads Tumblr now and I sort of hate Tumblr and thus I have already lost this social media race anyway and blah, blah, blah.

The truth is, I quite enjoy blogging--when I give myself permission to say whatever I feel like saying.

So the unexpected side effect of getting off the Yellow Bricked Road of Sadness, is that I feel bolder. Suddenly, I'm not at all worried about someone looking over my shoulder and making a snap judgement about who I am as a writer, a person, or a potential "stabled author" because of thoughts and opinions I decided to share. Because I'm no longer trying to get there, I don't care about how my opinions may or may not be impacting my admission into the Land of Publishing Oz.

It's like Dorthy has stepped off the path, yanked a monkey out of the air, and decided to ride the winged beast all the way back to Kansas on her own. After all, as all storytellers know, Dorthy never really needed to get to Oz in the first place, she already had everything she ever needed, right there at home.

**To be clear, I'm not implying the reason I was never able to publish with a traditional publisher had anything much to do with my blog--the reasons have much more to do with my work, timing, the market, and personal tastes than my social media presence. (or lack thereof)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Things Change--Why I Said Goodbye to My Agent

How to measure a problem

A few days ago, I said goodbye to my agent.

You might be wondering, "Why?!"

I'll get to that, but first I would like to say that it wasn't a decision I made lightly, or impulsively. I have been considering the move for the last six months and, after consulting with some of my close writer peeps, finally came to a conclusive decision.

I wrote her a professional letter explaining my reasoning and wished her only the best.

Because I DO, truly and sincerely, only wish her the very best.

There are lots of articles and blogs out there that give sound advice on some of the more obvious reasons why you should call it quits with your agent. I won't rehash but they basically boil down to the fact that you are in a terrible professional relationship with someone who is either a crook, an idiot, or is just plain lazy--GET OUT NOW.

That story is not my story.

I signed with my agent in 2010, it was with my second book and two years after starting my search. She was a newish agent just building her list but she had been in the business for awhile and she was attached to a very reputable agency. She is smart, well read, passionate about books and authors, and connected to editors at big and medium houses that considered and responded to her submissions.

What else could a new writer ask for? I mean, really?

Because not only was she all those things, she also responded in a timely manner to my inquiries, provided editorial feedback, educated me about the publishing business/process, and tried to cheer me through some of the more challenging moments of rejection.

She was by all counts a wonderful agent for me.

So really...what is my problem, what the hell was I thinking letting her go?

Years ago, when I was just starting my graduate program, I had a kind and wise professor who aptly described the definition of "A Problem." He said, a problem, any problem, is the difference between an expectation and current circumstances. The greater the difference between the expectation and the current circumstance, the bigger the problem. 

There are two ways to solve or reduce a problem. Either:
  • Increase your circumstances to get closer to your expectation 
  • Lower your expectation
Now I know the knee jerk response that feels the most right, especially given the current NEVER EVER EVER GIVE UP movement, is to of course--rise up! "Who lowers expectations?! Quitters, that's who lowers expectations!" you might be thinking.  "And I'm NO QUITTER!"

And here, I will nod my head. You are not a quitter. Neither am I. But I also think that, sometimes, the right move is to lower an expectation depending on how much heartache the size of your problem is creating.

Now everyone is different. And how we perceive and respond to problems is different. And my particular problem, framed by my perception of it, has been causing me some significant heartache for quite some time now.

For me, my agent was intimately tied into my great publishing expectations and, to be quite frank, the distance between my expectation and my current circumstances is a problem big enough to make me very sad.

Very, very sad.

Having said that (and also not being a quitter!) I felt it was necessary to make some adjustments. I simply do not have the time to be sad! :-) Not only did I lower my expectation of being traditionally published by a medium to ginormous publishing house, I completely eradicated it. And thus, I did not need a lingering relationship with my agent to remind me of that old, and painful, wish.

So what now?

Now, it's like some huge weight has been lifted off my back. My books will not be published by a house large enough to allow them to fight for space in B&N.

And, I'm okay with that. (Almost :-)

I will continue to write. Study writing. Teach writing. Blog about writing.
I will publish my books for my small audience and enjoy the fact that I get to do that.
I will accept this parcel of desire entwined with some measure of talent as my own to do with what I will, when I have the time, and to the degree that it continues to deliver me happiness instead of tears.

I will embrace being in charge of my own ship, alone, and remember to be thankful that my hands are on the wheel.