Friday, June 6, 2014

Five Things on a Friday: Publishing and Self-Publishing

It’s mostly about writing this week.  Sneakatara Boatman and the Priest of Loki has been on my mind a lot this week.  If you can’t get behind that, you might want to come back later.
1.  Finishing a book is only the beginning
I’ve spent part of this week rediscovering why I started blogging.  It’s because I enjoy writing, but unfortunately, finishing your book is only the beginning of the process.
My problem is that I’m a good writer, and I always have been.  I’m used to getting my point across on the first draft, and it’s made me lazy.  I don’t want to re-write, I especially don’t want to start making wholesale changes to scene and story structure once my basic structure is in place, and I have bad habits that I let myself get away with way too often in the name of “personal voice”.  None of these is a crushing problem for a blogger, but novelists have to be better.

If you’re putting out a novel, writing and rewriting are just the beginning of the process.  Everyone needs an editor, and there are two kinds—developmental editors, who help fine-tune your scene and story structure, and copy editors, who fix your grammar mistakes.  If you then want to get your work out to the public, it takes a publisher, and if you want people to know your work exists, you have to find a way to market it.
Blogging is a simpler solution.  Your work might not find an audience, but the process is instantaneous, and the blog is an ongoing affair.  Any mistakes you make get covered up quickly by the accumulation of new material.  Your old stuff is still there and still searchable—your most popular posts can continue to make you money—but in general, no one cares what you wrote yesterday.  All they want to know is what’s coming tomorrow.  This is excellent if what you really want to do is write.

I'm planning to use a version of this symbol on the cover of my book.
In Norse tradition, Loki is the father of Fenrir the Wolf and Jörmungandr the World Serpent.
I've used Jörmungandr and Ouroboros interchangeably.  The snake eating its tail seems an appropriate symbol for the God of Chaos given its inherent pointlessness. 
2. Figuring out what to do next
Unfortunately, blogging is the beta-male’s solution to the writer’s dilemma.  I wrote the stories that form the basis of my book for my daughters, but having now gone to the trouble of finishing the book, I want to see how good it can be.  I want to know if it speaks to other people.  
I want to know if it’s good.  
I can’t get where I want to go just through blogging.  Posting the book on the blog proves nothing, and anyway, I think it’s unhealthy professionally to continually choose the path of least resistance.  Moving forward means figuring out what to do next.
  • I have some options.
  • Search for an agent
  • Search for a publisher
  • Hire a developmental editor, and then do one of the things above
  • E-Publish the book online
  • E-Publish the book  a chapter per week on my blog
  • Search for a self-publishing service
  • Go to Kickstarter, and then do some the stuff listed above
I like writing.  When I wrote my first book, I did it for the same reason that most people run marathons.  I wanted to see if I could.  This time out, I’m a better writer, and my book is a better book.  However, I’m still not sure what the right answer is.
3.  Changing my process
On top of everything, my writing process has changed.  To paraphrase my friend Elizabeth Howard (@smallstate) yesterday, I need to quit rolling out the red carpet for my words and learn to just say what I’m trying to say.
That’s good advice, but I find it hard to follow.  Elizabeth's advice is swirling through my head right now, telling me to write smoother, clearer prose.  But knowing it and doing it are different things.
It might be maddening, but Elizabeth’s advice yesterday helped me formalize my process.  That’s been extremely useful.  It’s not that I didn’t know to trim excess verbiage off previously, it’s just that the way she put it changed the way I think about it.  My process now looks like this:
  • Draft
  • Read and evaluate the work for story and scene structure
  • Rewrite to fix story structure.  Add missing scenes where necessary.  Cut unnecessary crap.
  • Rewrite to clarify scenes and reinforce theme.  Make sure each scene says what I want it to say.
  • Rewrite for style and language.  Cut out “red carpet” words and phrases.

4.  Thinking about Kickstarter
The most expensive part of publishing a novel turns out to be the early part of the editing process.  This makes sense.  A copy editor is going to fix your grammar, but spell-check is going to do a lot of that work, and anyway, it’s not overly difficult to simply make the sentences right.  Time-consuming, but not hard.  Marketing also costs, but there’s a smart way to do everything, and no one is going to buy TV spots to support a new novelist’s book.  Printing used to be a cost driver, but nowadays we can print-on-demand and distribute digitally.  This leaves developmental editing.
Developmental editing takes time and skill, there’s no technological solution to make it easier, and it’s absolutely necessary, even for experienced authors.  You have to hire someone how knows how to write, and they have to read your work and give you useful, intelligent feedback about the way your story is constructed.  You then have to take that feedback and fix the places where your book is either not working or not conveying the right message.  Writers can become myopic about their work over time, and story is all about putting structure to what’s in a writer’s head.  My experience has been that it’s hard to tell what others are going to take away from something you’ve created.  Test readers are great, but there’s no substitute for getting the opinion of someone with training in the craft.
I could afford to hire a developmental editor, but it’s a tough decision.  Writing is still basically just a hobby, and it’s not one I want to spend thousands of dollars pursuing.  I feel like that would be a mistake.  On the other hand, lots of folks write, publishers are swamped by submissions, and even books that get published often don’t sell.  Coming in as a new novelist, I feel like I will dramatically reduce my chances of getting published if I start submitting without proper editing.  I could get lucky, sure, but after doing a little searching this week, it seems that lots of publishers expect new novelists to take the burden, i.e. the cost, of developmental editing onto themselves their first time out.
This is supply and demand in action.
I have therefore started thinking about doing a little Kickstarter campaign.  I’ve already run a small press comic book company, so I know some editors and some potential cover artists.  I know how to manage the work process behind publishing a book.  I would prefer to have an established publisher behind me, but I’m having trouble reconciling the idea of hiring an editor, paying the expensive parts up front, and then going to publishers just to get a marketing push.  That marketing push might be real, but that doesn’t mean it would success.  Plenty of published authors don’t make money on their books, and that’s assuming that I’d find a publisher.  
I don’t mind spending money to make money, but I don’t want to waste money.  That’s true regardless of other considerations.  I have plenty of uses for my money besides funding my ridiculous hobbies, and writing—as a hobby—shouldn’t be expensive.  
Doing a Kickstarter campaign not only lets me test the potential market for my book before I spend my own money on it, it also serves as a potential marketing channel.  That makes self-publishing look much more attractive than it might otherwise have been.

5.  Tomorrow!
Tonight is opening night for “Annie Jr” at my kids’ school.  My daughter Hannah is playing Annie, and she’s been working on it for months.  She was all fired up for her last rehearsal yesterday, and now that the day’s finally here, I can only imagine how excited she is.
Meanwhile, I have to take my other daughter Emma to her synchronized swimming performance tonight, and then the two of us are going to see Annie Jr tomorrow.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow!  You’re only a day away!
That’s all I’ve got.  See you guys next week!


  1. Awesome blog today Danny. Obviously you need to figure out what the next step in your book process will be. You will get there. Look how far you've come since almost a year ago!

  2. Thank you, Sally.

    I agree that it's a victory just to be writing, that writing well is its own reward. I'm happy that the girls are enjoying the story; that's as important to me as any other aspect of this. It makes the decision more difficult, though, not less.