Monday, December 27, 2010
Going Indie - Jessica Barksdale Inclán
As I've been out in the blogsphere publicizing my indie books, folks have been asking me: Why are you doing this? Many people question the wisdom of this tactic, and I suppose sometimes, I've questioned it myself. After all, I could be grinding my career to a halt. Or, maybe, I'm ahead of the game, on the zeitgeist, headed down the road that many more will soon follow.
When we set out to publish, most of us writers intend to go mainstream, traditional, hard copy, hardback New York publishers all the way. We want to be able to walk by the corner bookstore (should it still exist) or the nearest Borders (should that exist) and see our book in the window display. I can tell you from personal experience that this sight truly is a massage to the ego, a balm to the harried writer’s soul. It is amazing to see something tangible and concrete come out of a whole lot of arduous work. It’s wonderful to walk in and read to a crowd, sign books, hear the actual register ding each time a copy leaves the store.
But the book business is a business, bottom line. What sells is what is of value, first and foremost. Yes, there are the artistic books, the literary books, poetry and exquisitely drawn novels that are truly published based on merit and beauty and art. While there is a middle ground, many manuscripts are sold based on platform and idea. Do you have vampires, a dystopian world, a love triangle with multiple sexual positions, a triple murder/suicide? Horror festival of epic proportions? A zombie romance? Send it on over. Of course, a well written vampire/werewolf tale is better than something hacked out, but agents and editors are often looking for that hook, that angle, and it is a hard game to play when—as with most writers—we simply have a story to tell. We have the impulse to write, and we wish that were enough to sell the story we want to put on the page.
Back in 2001, my first novel Her Daughter’s Eyes was published by NAL to enough acclaim and showed a good sales record. My then editor purchased two more, novels I really loved. The Matter of Grace, the first of that duo, was published in 2002 to the same acclaim and more sales, but just as that novel was being copyedited, my editor quit and moved to Florida. There was some kind of political shake up, and I wasn’t exactly the first person to be notified. She was flat out gone! Later, my new editor brought me into her office and told me that despite my first editor’s love of what was to be novel three, she hated it. She thought it was too damn much. Too dark, too sad. She thought it was well written, but she was appalled that someone had a heart attack in it and died right there on the page.
“So,” said I. “You aren’t going to publish it?”
“No,” she said.
“Even though it was already purchased and edited? You can do that? That's like kosher? That’s something that can happen?”
“Yes,” she said.
So rather than give back my advance—spent as it was on a new roof—I wrote another novel, a sad novel in and of itself, but no one had a heart attack in it. There was a gay character that she had me “un-gay” (give that writing task a go sometime! I am pretty sure Neil still is gay) but other than that, she loved it, it was published, and life chugged on.
But after my writing career took some weird twists (my second agent turned me toward romance novels because he wanted me to “sell big,” my current editor passed away, and my second agent fired me via email), I found myself thinking back to that long ago purchased and then rejected novel, the one with the heart attack: The Tables of Joy. I loved that novel. My first editor loved that novel. It was a good story with a cast of characters I enjoyed despite the terrible heart attack at the end. And because I happen to love my Kindle and admire what digital publishing is doing out there in the world, I began to form a plan with other novels that met similar fates such as that would-be second novel: I was going to published them digitally. My latest self-published indie offering is .The Only Thing I See
My traditional publishing career has continued during this process (I have had romances come out 2006-2010), but I am really very excited about publishing myself. To get my novels into the ready state, I edited and reedited them. I found a couple of people who would create the covers for me. And I have to say that my created covers are much more representative of the books’ plots than my traditionally published books(The Matter of Grace—the second novel orphaned during my editor shake up—has a beach on the cover, when no beach exists in the story). After proofreading once more (all of my books have gone through many drafts, my writing group, and an editor), I struggled but managed to format the book for Kindle and Smashwords. I wrote copy for various sites and then asked my publicist to do what she did for my traditionally published books: send out the word.
Now you ask: Have I made a lot of money from posting my indie books on Amazon and Smashwords? No, I have not. I’ve made some slight change, enough to go out to dinner with my husband at a nice restaurant once a month (there will be no advance that will help me put up a new roof from these). But here’s what feels good: novels that I’ve loved and love are being read. People can read work that slipped through the publishing cracks, but it is work that I believe in and stand by, work that “my” readers would recognize and love. Maybe New York doesn’t want them, but enough people do that I will continue to publish myself as the situation presents itself. Fellow writers have warned me that I’m diluting my “brand,” but I’m sick of that brand idea. I started to write because I wanted to tell stories that people wanted to read. And they are reading my stories, even if they are indie books, even if they aren’t traditional. Even if there is a heart attack, right there, on the page.
Jessica Barksdale Inclan
Posted by Jessica Barksdale Inclan at 1:00 AM