Just because you’re a Lone Wolf doesn’t mean you don’t have to wag the dawg…
Indie authoring has opened up whole new vistas of writing possibility, you’ll hear everyone who has an opinion on it say so. And this is True Facts in the same way my need for morning coffee is inversely proportional to the speed with which the coffee maker brews it. But what hasn’t changed is the way we tell a story. Doesn’t matter whose muscle pushes my book out into the ether, whether it’s my own or a publisher’s or a combination of hardworking individuals that gave me a leg up and helped me make it better along the way. The story, and the parts that make it a story, don’t change on a dime or a bend in the Amazon river. Stories still have structure and rules that everyone needs to follow in their own way.
Whenever you put a story out there to the reading public, you’re making a case for your method and interpretation of How We Tell Stories. Or to make a fun Law & Order analogy, whether or not the Story Court will find your interpretation of Story Rights to be Story Constitutional. Structure is the body of physical laws that hold story together. You have the right to your interpretation of the structure of story, but that right is interpreted by the judgment of the reading public. It is up to you to make your case through craft and creativity, and let the jury return a verdict.
Editors, whether in the guise of publishing house editors or freelance development editors hired on by the independent author, are usually excellent arbitrators about what will and will not pass the sniff test in Story Court. When you’re going it alone, it’s not as easy to see those rules and if/where you fell down on ’em before you find that editor willing to help you make a better case. And you can also choose to Fight City Hall and make a case for an unusual interpretation of storytelling. But just as in the case of “lawyering up,” “editor-ing up” isn’t always a cut-and-dried process. Most big-name law firms take cases they feel they’re likely to win (or at least have a chance at winning), from people who can afford their services, or special cases where publicity benefits outweigh winnability, and the same goes for editors at publishing houses–editors are less likely to risk advocating for your story if they can’t sell it to the jury. So even if you have a solid case of Unusual Circumstances In Storytelling, you still might find yourself without an advocate that brings a big-name firm in support.
But here’s where the analogies diverge. Unlike a trial for murder, your trial for story does not end with you being tossed in the hoosegow for Crimes Against Dramatic Structure. It’ll just make your book flop, and you might have to do time in the failed sales pool while you try to live down a bad book. But, like all justice systems run with a modicum of mercy, sometimes you can luck out or plea-bargain down the debt to literary society of a mis-spent writing youth and have your record expunged. Just make sure you keep up frequent check-ins with your literary parole officer.
And keep your writerly nose clean.