Next week, April 30th, I will be teaching a mini-workshop at Mendocino College LitFest about defining your publishing dream and making it a reality. So many of us write the book and then think if we pound on enough doors eventually one will open, allowing us to enter the world of Literary fame and fortune. We'll join the likes of Amy Tan and David Sedaris, Sharon Olds and John Updike. Maybe we'll even be included in the hall of fame with Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger.
I admit, I want that too. I dream of being the kind of writer people discuss how brilliant I am at dinner parties, and that publishers throw gobs of money at. I want NPR to interview me and Time Magazine to put me on their cover as the greatest writer who ever lived.
Probably not going to happen.
I mean maybe... you never know what the future will hold. One of those novels buried in my bottom desk drawer could be the hidden gem to bring me fame. It could happen to you, too. Alas, the odds are not in our favor.
The good news though, is that it's even easier to be published now than ever. Don't get snobby with me and say, "Being published by a micro-press, or (shudder) self-published isn't really being published at all."
Stop right there, because you are full of shit.
Seriously, if you hold fast to only that one dream of being legitimized by Random House, you might as well stop sending out those query letters and save money on stamps; bury your head in the pages of your manuscript and spend your days dreaming.
Today, getting your work out there to the reading public has never been easier. You are free to make your own way, thumb your nose at the crumbling halls of the big publishing houses (who are in as bad shape as the music industry), and take control of your future as an author. Deciding how you're published depends on what you dream of.
First, let's acknowledge that we do indeed want that three-figure advance, three book, deal. But what is plan B? That's where you find the route to seizing your publishing dream. Your own personal Plan B... actually, let's call this Plan P, for "Published." Your personal Plan P will show you what you need to do to get published.
For example, let's say you really want to make a living as a writer. You've got a three book Fantasy series living with the candy wrappers in your top drawer, and you'd really like other people than your grandchildren to read them. You've got a little money set aside you could invest in marketing your books, but you don't want to self-publish. Instead of only focusing on the big houses, find some smaller, e-book publishers who are willing to take a chance on a new writer. There are many on the internet now, and with more and more e-readers being bought, there's a strong need for new books to read. Many of these publishers also sell print copies on a print-as-needed basis. The only way to stand out from the pack of ebooks is through marketing, which luckily you've got the money to go to conferences, buy some target ads, and hire someone to build a dynamite web site. You can even set up a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account and start networking with other writers and people who are interested in Fantasy. It's a lot of work marketing your books, but here's a little secret you may not realize: if you were published by a bigger publisher you'd have to do the same amount of marketing work. Many of those authors you see on book tours are paying their own way.
But maybe you don't have the money to launch a marketing campaign. You can do a lot of marketing, but you'll need to do much of it yourself and primarily on line. Rather than a website you can set up a Word Press blog which allows you to customize your page for free. It will take more time and work than investing money in your book campaign.
Or maybe, that's way too much work. What will really make you happy is a few people reading and enjoying your book. Sure, it would be great if more people bought a copy, but a hand-full of people in love with your work is perfect. You want to devote your time to writing, not marketing. You don't give a fig about how many "likes" you have on your Facebook page, or even want a Facebook page, you want to write and get those pages out into the world for anyone who wants to enjoy.
Because when it comes down to it, just being able to write is the greatest dream. All of us get so caught up in being validated as authors, when we should be spending that energy on our craft. We should make damn sure we're writing our absolute best work, not worrying about how many people have visited our blog that day.
It's a balance, as all things are. We must balance the joy of writing with our need for publication. And if the need for publication steals the joy from writing, then we've given up too much of our creative selves on our dream of success.
When you think of being published, what is your dream? How much are you willing to give up for that dream to be real (money, time, writing time, sanity)? If you made all those sacrifices, will you still be happy? If so, then go for it. With hard work you can be published and will sell books. If not, then keep pouring your heart and soul into writing. Give your work away, or self-publish. All that really matters is that someone reads what you wrote, and finds pleasure in it.