So in the last two months I have had the fortune of publishing two novels, and the best thing about it has been the encouragement I’ve experienced from friends and family. My hope with the novels is that in some small way, they will encourage readers in the same way that I have been encouraged (no small thing, considering the sizeable support from those all around me). I’ve learned a lot through this process.
Namely, to not give up. For well over a decade I’ve tried to get published through a traditional publisher. And to do that, I’ve sought to secure an agent, because most publishing houses, and all the big ones, require an agented submission. It is very hard to obtain either. I’ve sent out probably close to 200 query letters over the past decade, usually three or five at a time or sometimes only one. I’ve been in contact with various agents and have come close a few times, but most of the time the agents reply in a generalized form letter that never mentions why they’re passing on your work. So as the months progress, it feels like you’re in a fog with no direction or compass to show you how to get through to the other side.
I’m not sure what the recipe for success is through the traditional route (other than refusing to give up and learning all you can about the publishing business and improving your craft and waiting for that perfect moment when opportunity and preparation coalesce), but I imagine it’s the same recipe for self-publishing.
For many, self-publishing means that you’ve given up, that your writing isn’t of a certain quality, that you’ve settled for something that would not stand up under the scrutiny of a discriminating readership. That may be true. I may never discover how to satisfy that readership; I may never arrive at the right mix of plot, character and style. But maybe I’m learning I don’t have to.
There’s something very liberating about telling yourself, You know what? I don’t care if my story is not 100 percent perfect, the best of the best. What I enjoy most is the process of creating story, of entering into new worlds that hold the very gems that I need to discover to bring order to my own chaotic life, and I am thrilled that I get to connect with readers who enjoy sharing those gems together.
Self-publishing has been nothing less than an opened door–not just a slender opening, but one thrust wide, as if the light behind it has suddenly exploded through the darkness and blast a pathway so free, so unimaginably free, that all the darkness I’ve been shrouded in is as if it never existed. It is a thrill, a joy, to step into that freedom.
It is a joy to discover how much control I have over my book. At times this may work against me, but is satisfying to be able to decided on what my book will say and what cover will go on it. And of course, this means that its success or failure lay in my shoulders. But that is true for any business entrepreneur who is carried by a dream.
I see only possibility before me. Not compromise. I see readers. The heart of readers with whom I may have the fortune of connecting.
My dad is an attorney with his own law practice in a small town. He is his own boss. I’ve admired the freedom and control that he has over his practice. Although I never took the bait to go into law with him, I think I’ve followed in his footsteps somehow by living out this self-publishing business as my own boss, just like him. It’s a way to connect with him that I had not anticipated, and it is very satisfying to do so.
So far I’ve had good success with Warm Gold. It’s a historical novel set mostly in Canyon City and Eastern Oregon in the 1890s–the story of a miner who, by braving his fears, discovers the Motherlode. It took me over four years to write it. It is available in paperback through Amazon and as an ebook on Amazon, Nook and Smashwords.
My novel How Well the Sailors Run is the story of the Prodigal Son retold as a sea adventure. It is based loosely on my experience as a deckhand on the Schooner Roseway when I sailed aboard her in the summer of 1999. Like Warm Gold, it is available in paperback through Amazon, and as an ebook through Amazon, Nook and Smashwords.
I am excited to share these stories. But I think what excites me more is the hope that readers will find a great story in them. I believe a book, if it is dripping with words dipped in the soul, merely drizzle and whet the great story in the heart of a reader. The reader herself is living the story that is everlasting, shaped by the beautiful words from pages turned.
I refuse to give up on that. There’s so many stories waiting to be told.