Sunday, January 31, 2016

The "Right" Way To Publish A Book--The Stars in the Sky and a Man Named Mordecai

     Since the day I gave in to the writing bug I've been very much stuck on the idea of traditional publishing, i.e. finding an agent and getting in with a big publisher.

     Why?

     Honestly, I'm not sure.

     I guess I just had it in my head that it was the best way, though I now know that is not true. There is no best way to publish a book. The world of publishing is changing, and I truly think it's a great thing. There are so many options out there for writer's today, and none of those options are necessarily right or wrong.

      The "right" way to publish depends on the writer, the book they've written, the current market, what's trending, the position of the stars and the planets, and whether or not at the time an agent or publisher is reading your submission that somewhere in the world a cross dresser named Mordecai is currently dancing in the kitchen with a broomstick to the Divinyls song "I Touch Myself." Unfortunately, one cannot know for certain if a path is the right one until after they choose to take it. But, I suppose that is true about every aspect of life.

     To reiterate my point that there is no right or wrong path in publishing I'm going to share some thoughts imparted to me by literary agent Sara Megibow of KT Literary. Sara lives in my state, so I've had the pleasure of meeting her twice. Once at a conference in November of 2014. I pitched my vampire novel (which at the time I thought was complete) to her. I am very shy and was ridiculously nervous. She is friendly, nice, and funny and instantly put me at ease and even got excited about my book. Yay! I sent her some sample chapters, but she later rejected my novel. However her rejection led me to realize that the book needed some revisions. Six months later I queried her again for the same novel (not all agents accept re-submissions. Before doing this it is a good idea to check their website to make sure of it.) She again requested sample chapters. Yay! Unfortunately, she politely rejected them again. I've since looked at my revisions and had a friend give it a good thorough shake-down (thanks Elly) and realized that it was far beyond ready. And I'm of course embarrassed that I sent it to roughly 30 agents and about 5 small publishers, and subjected Sara to it twice. But, after checking out many writer's blogs, I know I'm not alone. While I do wish that I'd been able to see that my story wasn't ready, I learned a lot from the experience and don't regret it. I'm currently rewriting my vampire novel (I might've mentioned this once or twice). When it's complete I think I will focus on small/niche publishing houses rather than searching for an agent. That is because I believe it is the best route for this particular story, not because I'm forever done with searching for agents. Absolutely not.

     I met Sara again (though did not speak with her personally) at a presentation she gave in the summer of 2015 for the Northern Colorado Writers. This was a two hour talk about agents and what they do and don't do. Many people wonder why agents do not give feedback. The answer: it's not their job. They receive thousands of submissions and actually have very little time to read those submissions. If they gave everyone feedback, they would never have time to sell books to big publishers, work on dealing with rights, and all that other business-y stuff that doesn't sound nearly as fun as reading submissions. Sara's presentation focused mainly on the process of getting an agent and what one will do for you. She did however touch upon self-publishing and small publishing houses (many of these don't require agented submissions). She mentioned several times that none of these routes is right or wrong. She didn't even seem to be biased towards traditional publishing.
 
     So, I take this as truth. Every writer needs to find the right path for themselves. I'm even going to take this further and say that it's not even about the right path for every writer, but the write path for a particular book. Now that I have three books (all with beginnings, middles, and ends--though none fully polished) I realize the truth of this. I think there is a different "right" path for each of my novels. Like I mentioned above, I think a small publishing house is the right path for my vampire novel, though if that doesn't work out I will probably eventually consider self-publishing. For my yet un-named mystery novel that I wrote for NaNo, I think it might be (so far, anyway) my best bet at the traditional route.

     For my YA paranormal fantasy, Caribou Canyon, I've recently begun to think even further outside the three "main" routes of publishing. Caribou Canyon has three main characters, which in and of itself is a lot, but there are also a lot of important peripheral characters. As I was writing it, I wound up falling in love with just about every one of these peripheral characters. Needless to say, the story got away from me. Waaaaay away from. The handful of people who've read it are probably laughing, because you guys know just what an understatement that is.

     The polished first draft is 250k words, and that's with the ending summarized, so it would probably be closer to 270k. And most of that is actual story. Some of it could be trimmed down, and some of it is over explaining, but for the most part, it's all usable story. What happened was I got caught up in the drama of all these characters who I loved so much.

     To sum up, the main plot is about a small town with a ghost problem and a conspiracy. This was supposed to be the main focus of the story, with the drama of the three main characters only coming up every now and then. Well, that's not what happened. I loved the characters so much that the exact opposite happened. I even went off on the drama of the peripheral characters.

     I've discussed many different solutions with my writer's group. The most obvious is to cut out most of the drama and zero back in on the ghost/conspiracy angle. If I want to keep my original vision of a stand-alone YA paranormal (and I really do want a stand-alone, because my vampire novel will be a trilogy and I don't want too many series' going at one time) this is what I should do. But I'm loving the characters and the drama of their lives. I'm really proud of what I've done with this story, and it's only a first draft. I think I've brought up some important issues and would actually like to expand upon them rather than trim them down. Can I do that in one normal length book? I've told my friends I can, but the truth is I'm probably being delusional.

     Another solution is to give up on the stand-alone idea and make it a series. I'm not completely opposed to this idea, but it still isn't exactly where I'd like to go with the story. Part of the reason is because as far as the ghost/conspiracy aspect goes, I really can't think of how to split this into separate books with distinct arcs.

     I've recently begun to think of another solution, one I can't take credit for. My friend Branden suggested that I publish it on a serial site. He explained that he thought it would fit really well in the serial format due to the many characters, their individual story lines, and the way I go off on chapter-long tangents that don't have a thing to do with the main plot.

     Confession:

     I (at times) tend to be a stubborn person. Because I've been stuck on the idea of traditional publishing for so long, and also stuck on the idea of Caribou Canyon being a stand-alone novel I pretty much let Branden talk while I sat there thinking "no way am I even considering serializing this story" (Sorry, Branden. It's nothing personal. Sometimes I get stubborn and can't see further than a foot in front of me).

     Well, I've started to have second thoughts about the serial idea. I think Branden might be onto something. I've never read serial fiction, but thinking of TV shows I can see what he means. The best thing I can think to compare Caribou Canyon to is Pretty Little Liars, only with ghosts. (I'm thinking of Pretty Little Liars the TV show, not the books. I've never read the books.) I definitely need to research serial fiction and how it all works, but I'm starting to seriously consider it. The great thing about it is, if I chose that route Caribou Canyon is pretty much ready as is. Each chapter would need a bit of editing of course, but it wouldn't need a full rewrite. In the serial format I could keep it in all its 250k word glory. Heck, I could even add words (and yes, there are actually things I want to add). I'm very excited. So, thank you, Branden, for the idea. And if there's any one else from writer's group who had this idea I'm forgetting to give credit to, thank you. And thank all of you wonderful friends for reading all 250k (or even 100k of them) words. Not everyone would do that. That is a lot of words.
 
     I think part of the reason why my stubbornness is letting up and I'm willing to look at other publishing methods is because I now have 3 stories under my belt. When I had only 1 baby it was really scary to think of trying anything other than the traditional route (which is irrational, considering that not all traditionally published books sell well). But now that I know my 1 book was not a fluke I think I'm willing to try things and I'm ready to get my feet wet and just see what happens. And while I'm doing that, I will be writing, writing, writing. Always.

     If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions on the subject, or knows anything about serialized fiction, I'd love to hear it!