Ever wonder why most of the truly famous writers are dead? It’s because writing is a long game. Not only a long game, but sometimes a very long game. Long enough so that the language itself changes before your popularity does (guess who I’m talking about). It’s easy to forget that, especially when you’re in commercial fiction–how long do I have to wait before my favorite author’s next book comes out? How long do I have to wait to hear back from the agent/editor/publishing house? How long do I have to wait before that first advance payout or the first royalty check (or even the numbers for the first six months of sales)? And yes, only some of these Things Just Take Time. And no, I’m not talking about the payouts or the numbers–I used to work in industries where you could tell the very minute an asset was used in production, exactly where it was used, and in what end product it was used. You could tell exactly when that product was boxed and shipped, where it went, and yes, who bought it, all in near-to-real time. There’s no reason publishing and bookselling can’t do that. If my local farmer’s market vendor can track how much zucchini I buy off him, then publishing can do the same thing.
As an indie writer, I stepped away from part of that long-game process–I don’t have to wait for archaic accounting practices that involve the sacrifice of goats on full blue moons to see my numbers. I also don’t have to wait years for payments of my royalties, or pare off all but a sliver to the various middlemen involved. Because I’m an indie, I pay for my editing and cover art up front, so the people who have businesses supporting the crafting of good books also don’t have to wait years for their slivers of the pie, either. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own share of long-game playing. The writing process hasn’t changed.
Let me repeat that.
The writing process hasn’t changed.
Many of us indie writers didn’t just fall off the turnip truck and birth a novel completely out of our heads. We’ve been rattling around in the bush leagues for years–sometimes decades. We’ve been crafting stories, revising, critiquing, rewriting, polishing, cutting, and starting all over again with our manuscripts, trying to spin story gold from our need to say something to the world.
We’ve been submitting completed, polished manuscripts to traditional publishers or to agents and waiting–sometimes years–to hear back from them. We’ve been seeking representation through agents who then attempt to shop our manuscripts around to publishers and often wait long periods of time themselves to hear back. And we’ve been rejected for the reasons you’d expect–the book needs work. But just as often, many of us received rejections that you might not expect–“this book isn’t right for us” or “we just bought another manuscript with a similar premise” or “this subgenre’s on its way out” or “our marketing department doesn’t know how to sell this” or “characters with X trait don’t sell well” or “we’ve already filled our monthly spots for the next 24 months.”
All legitimate reasons for a publisher to reject a manuscript. After all, they know their markets, they know what works for them, and they’re trying to find more of it–if you’re making yellow raisins, you have to reject the purple grapes, even if they’re the most delicious and succulent purple grapes that ever graced a vine.
Of course, if you’re a reader who gobbles up books with a certain theme, or likes a certain subgenre that the rest of the world just isn’t that into, or even likes to read about characters with X trait, you’re out of luck, but not out of options. You scour the lists and loops looking for people with similar tastes and search out the used bookstores or the swaps or the out of print specialty places to find the kinds of books you like, but you don’t hold out for the big guys to put out more of what you like.
So you play a long game, too. Waiting to hear back from that out of print book dealer, or delighted to find a new author who just announced his or her book about your favorite theme was bought by a publisher (and waiting for the 18-month timeline to get that from announcement to able-to-buy), and waiting to see if those old favorites will be digitized so your falling apart out of print paperback can finally get a rest.
With the explosion of digital democratization of the publishing process, readers are now able to side-step some of that long wait. Independent authors whose books didn’t find a voice with a major publisher can find a home in a niche market that would have been a bad business decision but a good literary one. Readers have more choice than ever when it comes to acquiring stuff to read, and more ways to read it. But the reading process hasn’t changed.
Let me repeat that.
The reading process hasn’t changed.
You still hunt for books you love, and are willing to look in places you wouldn’t ordinarily look for stories you think you might love. You still find stories you love in unexpected places, and the finding in that odd place ends up being part of the story’s appeal to you, because you found a Great Story while you were On An Adventure and no matter how much scandal floats up over authors behaving badly, reviewers doing questionable things, or publishers making illogical decisions, no one can take that feeling of discovered treasure away, and nobody can force it to happen either.
And every time I hear some author or publishing executive making the news about the uproarious changes in publishing spelling gloom and doom, I look to those two blockquoted statements. It’s gonna be all right. I still have something to say. You still want to find something to read. We’ll find each other.
My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, is about a Dating Diva who finds the right kind of Mr. Wrong. It’s on Summer Sale for $3.49 at the major retailers.
NEW! Kobo Books
She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.