Written by K. R. Conway
Last night I had an epiphany.
One would think it would have been obvious to ME for a while now, but it wasn’t.
You see, I am a self-published author, though I refer to myself as an “Indie” mainly because I operate like a business – like a small press. I am also a professional writer, and I don’t say that off the cuff or because I’ve written two novels.
I’m LITERALLY a traditional working writer, so I will admit that gives me a bit of a leg-up in some aspects. And I’ve been a professional writer for nearly two decades – a paid, published, prolific, oh-crap-I’m-on-a-deadline, writer.
Because of my professional background, I WAS a publishing snob – I believed that to be a legitimate success, you needed an editor to praise your work and a Big Six publisher to fork over the dough. I thought you needed the stamp of approval from the publishing gods and a few lines about the deal on Publishers Marketplace.
And even after I decided to jettison my brain and self-publish UNDERTOW (mainly because I wanted to write the story I wanted to write for the first time in my life . . . and I may have been nuts), I was still seeking “traditional” approval. I wanted an agent or a publishing house to suddenly fall on me and say, “Oh YEAH – we want a piece of the action!”
I wanted their approval because I thought I needed it.
I thought I needed their watermark to designate a book as worthy — as great. The reality is that it is still a total gamble. I’ve read AWESOME traditionally published books and ones that are total junk. I’ve read lots of terrible self-pubbed stuff too, while others are phenomenal . . . although the kicker is I look AFTERWARDS for a pub imprint on the fabulous books. I know . . . the irony is sick.
And it’s true – to get reviewed in the big newspapers, you DO need such a mark. Many places will scoff at you and ignore you if you say you are self published because in their head, all that matters is a traditional publishing deal. The comments of fans, the rave reviews from book bloggers, means nothing. I take comfort in the fact that so many books come out constantly, that I find book sellers also don’t have a solid grasp on who an author is, even if the author has signed a huge deal and is a screaming success among fans. Seriously – if this describes you, don’t take offense by their lack of knowledge – they are hurled books and press releases all day long. Those writers with the biggest marketing buck are the ones they finally stock.
I am blessed that the UNDERTOW series gets a LOT of action. I owe that almost entirely from the one group of people who I had never really aimed for before as a journalist: fans. I started earning fabulous, dedicated fans and more importantly, they were buying Eila’s story, posting pictures to Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram. They were talking about it, writing fan fiction on it, shooting my crazy story to the top of the Amazon bestseller heap. Teens even started recognizing me IN THE MALL, which was waaaayyyy out of the norm for me.
Yes – I wrote UNDERTOW for those teenagers of the Cape (I used to be one when dinosaurs still wandered the earth). I wrote for Cape Cod, but the professional writer in me also sought that “publishing deal” even though I KNEW I had taken myself out of contention the second I self published the book.
So last night, as I was cranking out pages for CRUEL SUMMER, my professional brain kicked in and I started thinking if I should query the manuscript (send it to literary agents). I started wondering if I should throw my hat into the ring with the publishing gods, even though CRUEL SUMMER is a spin off of my books.
But then a message popped up on my author page on Facebook.
It was from a fan. Someone I had never met who lived in Ireland and was head over heels for the series. She said she went to her local bookstore, who refused to order STORMFRONT because I didn’t have a snazzy imprint from the Pub gods. But to her – this random fan who was strolling the streets of a foreign country — it didn’t matter, because she went online and bought it anyway.
And THAT is when I finally realized that those publishing imprints mean nothing to readers. My background as a professional writer, means nothing. The fact that my name is not in Publisher’s Marketplace, means nothing to readers. Hell, sometimes MY NAME means nothing because they never looked at who wrote UNDERTOW.
To the industry, however, those things mean everything.
It was then that I realized, that while my professional self wanted to stay in the professional pat-on-the-back track, it was my READERS who made my day. It was their reviews and their thoughts, that counted. They PAID me, and paid me well (thanks BTW!). UNDERTOW will eventually make the same amount as an average publishing advance, not because one person from the right business said, “yes,” but because thousands of readers said, “HELL YEAH!”
For me, that knowledge is humbling. My readers have entrusted me to not let them down and to focus, not on my professional past, but on my rebellious Indie future. They want characters that they scream for, stories that keep them awake at night, and a crazy author that will aim to always please them.
Yes, it is true that I would like an agent someday and I offer outrageous applause to those awesome friends and writers who DO have publishing deals (and I will push your books into the spotlight as much as possible). But for UNDERTOW and all the books that live inside that world, I will write for my fans and keep it in my control.
My readers may not be from the Big Six publishing houses, but they gave me their stamp of approval . . . by the thousands.
What more could a storyteller ask for?