Only once

I understand why some authors don’t want to deal with anything but the writing. Vetting editors, finding illustrators, getting a cover made, formatting the text, picking a distribution model, building a website, doing promotions, organizing sales … these all take away from doing the central work they set out to do, which is writing.

I’m a little different. I like to be in control of my destiny, and I don’t like to compromise creatively. That’s why I’m independently publishing. I’m also a marketer by trade, so all the business stuff is actually fun to me. I know, I’m weird.

But that doesn’t mean the new stuff isn’t scary. I’m trying to design my book’s cover right now, and it’s made me realize how out of my element I am. I don’t know what works in covers as well as I know what works in words. I have ideas, but this is all new, and scary, and I don’t know if I’m going to waste money or get ripped or and I just want to ignore it all and go write.

Here’s what I realized: it’s only scary the first time. Then it will lessen. Next time, I’ll know how to get a book formatted. I’ll have an illustrator to go to. I’ll know what promotions work and don’t work.

Oh, it won’t go away completely, but that’s fine. Fear is good. If you’re not doing work that frightens you, you’re probably not doing the work that’s worth doing. But it lessens. It’s not longer paralyzing, and it not longer slows you down. You’ve done this before. You can do it again.

It’s only scary once, and after that, you’ll know how to do it for the rest of your life. And that knowledge is more valuable than the extra time you could have spent writing, when you would have paid with the lion’s share of your profits for that time.

There’s outsourcing, and then there’s running away. Be sure you know which one you’re doing.

Compromise

In my opening salvo on publishing, I may have come across as unwilling to compromise. In certain ways, this is true. In one extremely critical way, it is not.

That way is editing.

Chris Guillebeau wrote an article recently titled Why Artistic Compromise Makes For Better Work. In it he talks about the different ways he has compromised in writing his new book. I understand his journey completely, because I have either made those compromises or am in the process of making them.

When I first gave my book to my alpha reader, he suggested sweeping changes. I accepted almost all of them. Over 90% of them, by my guess. I completely rewrote over a third of the book and revamped the rest, and those compromises have only made it stronger.

Then I sent it to my line editor, who finished his edit a week ago. Chris Guillebeau estimated he accepted 85% of suggested edits. I don’t know what my number will be yet, but I expect it will be that or higher, and my story will grow stronger.

Finally, I will get a proofreader. They will suggest yet more edits, and I will likely accept the vast majority of them. My story will be stronger for this as well.

But not all of them! I rejected some of the suggestions my alpha reader gave me, I will reject some of the suggestions my line editor made, and I’m sure I will reject some of my proofreader’s edits as well. That’s the key.

I am open to compromise. I’m willing to make it. I want to make it. I know it will make my story stronger, for others will see what I could not. But it must be on my terms, otherwise the interesting parts will get sanded away and my story will devolve into a piece of uninteresting, generic tripe.

Imperfections are what make a story great. I will seek compromise, but I will maintain control. That will let me to give you an even better story than I could otherwise.

Control

As I get closer to publishing my first book, I think it would be useful to explain why I’m planning to publish independently (self-pub).

The bottom line: Control. I want to maintain complete control of the stories I tell, and that cannot happen by ceding control to a publisher.

I’ll give you an example of what can happen when control is lost. At work, I helped design a new internal software platform that will be launching next month. I, along with three others, worked hard to create a flexible system that would serve the needs of the end-users–in this case, our salespeople. It wasn’t perfect, but all the salespeople who saw the designs liked them a lot.

Then IT got a hold of it, and the director of IT had other ideas of how the software should function. Like a petty tyrant exerting her authority for the sake of her ego, she slowly overruled our designs and morphed the system into something else. I’ve watched for years as our designs were twisted and perverted into a shambling thing I no longer want my name associated with, a feeling the other members of the design team share.

This isn’t a perfect example. If I were a programmer I could have helped build the software myself, but I’m not. It had to be handed off to developers eventually, and some changes were liable to be introduced. I can accept that.

But I watched something I was proud of morph into something worse than useless. I’m ashamed of what my work has resulted in.

I will not let that happen again.

There are many reasons I’m independently publishing, and I’ll go over more of them in following posts. But the chief one, the one that stands above all else, is I want control.

The only people vital in the book business are authors and readers. I won’t let anyone meddle with my story, nor get between me and you, the people I hope will one day give me a chance and enjoy the books I will have written. I will not watch as something else I am proud of is destroyed.

If my work is to be destroyed, if I am to fail, and if I am to make terrible mistakes, I will make them myself. I will not let someone else make them for me, and then force me to put my name on the result.

Next post: Compromise.

Writer, author, full-time author

To me, there are distinct differences between these three titles, and when I will allow myself to use them.

To become an author, you must sell something you’ve written. If you’re a traditionally published author, that means selling a book to a publisher. For independently published (read: self-pub) authors like I plan to be, it’s the first time you sell a book to someone who isn’t a friend or family.

If I’ve never spoken to you in person and you are the first one to buy my book, you will be the one that makes me an author. Until then, I am not. Aspiring author is the most I will claim.

As for becoming a full-time author, that’s the holy grail. That says not only is someone buying your work, you’re making enough money to support yourself with your writing, even if you still don’t make much. That’s the dream, because it means I’ll be able to write even more.

But writers? Writers write. If you write, you’re a writer. Maybe not a good one, maybe not a successful one, maybe not a widely read or beloved or influential one. Maybe you’ll never become any of those things. That doesn’t matter. If you write, if it’s something you love and seek out, you’re a writer.

Writers write. If you want to be a writer, write. That’s it.

Book update: Off to see the editor

It’s time to put my money where my mouth is.

I’ve been working on this book for years. For the longest time I was figuring everything out on my own, because I knew that, though my ideas were good, I couldn’t execute them as well as I wanted to. I wasted a lot of time there.

Finally I sent them to my editor, who is also my best friend. He’s got a good head for stories, and he helped me iron out the kinks. Another rewrite, and more confidence now that someone had seen my story and christened it as “not totally shit”. (He was more kind than that, but that would have been enough for me.) But his services came cheap – mostly in beer and owed favors.

Now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. I’ve contracted a professional editor to whip this thing into shape.

I think it took me longer to get to this point than necessary because I was scared. It’s not that I don’t believe in my story, because I do; I wouldn’t have stuck with it this long if I didn’t.

It’s because, until now, I didn’t have to decide. Until now, I didn’t have to take a stand. Until now, the moment where this all becomes real was still in the future.

That time is now. I’m putting money down on this thing, so I can fix it up, doll it up real pretty, and then ship it. It will be months yet, but in my mind this project has turned from an eventuality to an inevitability.

It’s coming. Before the end of the year if I can manage it, though I’ve missed my target dates before. Whatever the case though, it’s coming.