My So-Called Writing Life: Reconsidering Traditional Publishing

What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail?

While a tired week on the home front, it’s also been a pretty good creative week.  I’m rethinking what I had believed for years would be my second novel, in favor of swapping it with the third (which I’ve had some good inspiration on recently, but that’s not necessarily the reason for my consideration).

Also, many thanks to writer Axel Howerton for his review of The Imaginings at Amazon.  If you haven’t met Axel, you should check him out.  He’s an interesting character and a talented writer. For Axel’s blog, click here.

What does the future hold?

I debated posting today’s post next week and actually putting up a review of Joss Whedon’s new horror movie, Cabin in the Woods, but by the time I thought of the doing the review (sometime yesterday afternoon), I already had this post written.  So I hope you’ll forgive the fact that next Friday I’ll be putting up a movie review two weeks after said movie’s release.

But without further ado…

One year ago, I was just starting to feel better again.

The artist ego is a fragile one, and in November of 2010, mine had taken a pretty good kick in the crotch when the agent I’d been working with for six years told me she wasn’t handling horror anymore. (for more on this, you can also read my second official blog post, To “e,” or Not to “e”)

I’ll be honest.  It was a dark winter.

I was certainly happy to be a new father, but I had also just gone part-time teaching with this whole “kick start the writing career” thing going on.

To quote from Raising Arizona, “And then the roof caved in.”

[Note the use of humor to dull the pain.]

And it was the middle of winter.  Dark and cold.

I watched a lot of television, ate a lot of junk and nursed my wounds.

But as most of you know, around March of 2011 after much consideration (and cajoling from my father), I made the decision to self-publish The Imaginings.  Mostly just to see, you know?  I found a great book with some amazing resources to get started (How to Make, Market and Sell Your E-book: All for Free), did some research, and thought, Well, I’ve got the time.  If I don’t have to spend that much money, what do I have to lose?

That last part is a pretty funny question really.  If you’re a writer, stop and think about it, and you might have a chuckle.

So after a few months of preparation to go it alone, I self-published The Imaginings.

Now I’ve always been a relatively practical person, raised up with a blue collar work ethic, and many years ago, I came to the realization that while overnight success might happen for some people, I would have to work for it.

Or maybe this is just my excuse for why I’ve never done that well at gambling.

But either way, I have to admit that while I was still considering looking for representation, I wasn’t doing much about it actively, and when it came to the original consideration of self-publishing, the siren song of the self-publishing success stories was pretty stinkin’ strong (how about that alliteration?).

I believed in my writing abilities (still do).  And I thought, Why the hell should I wait around for some publisher to decide they agree?

Then I thought, Furthermore, why the hell should I pay someone a percentage of my sales when I can do it myself?

Of course, I had yet to learn what “doing it myself” actually entailed.

There were hours of writing, rewriting, revising, and tweaking… and that was just for my 150 word book description (I’ve never been so frustrated with the concept of pronoun agreement).

And then to finally settle on something, only to wonder if a marketing person would just chuckle and rewrite the whole thing.

Is this the right cover? Or should I have gone with version #128 instead?

(repeat process for cover design, formatting, keywords, SEO, etc…)

That I think has been the hardest aspect of the past year.  Well, that and feeling like even though I’ve been writing for years, since this is my first foray into finally being actually published, I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to growing my audience.

But anyway, even though I value the learning experience I’ve gained on how to put together an e-book from Chapter One to “Upload,” there’s so much uncertainty to knowing if I’m the best guy to be doing the best job of the business side of the writing business (like that one?).

[Again, see my earlier question about “what do I have to lose?” and consider the fact that I’m not a fan of gambling (read: experimenting), especially when it comes to the future of my family.]

After all, my degree is in writing, not business.  Certainly there are people out there who can do it better (and probably quicker) than I can.  People with more connections, and who are being paid a percentage of my sales to work for me.

And while she may not agree with much of what I’m saying here, as Triberr mate JW Manus pointed out in a recent post, at least now I’m empowered with knowledge of how to do it myself so I can negotiate what price I’m willing to pay to have someone else do it for me.

Do I want to be a successful writer?  Certainly.  Do I believe I have that capability? Yes.  Do I think I’m going to have to work for it? Dammit, yes.

(What’s that line from ‘The Office’? “Stop asking yourself easy questions so you can look like a genius” 🙂 )

Okay. So while I may have temporarily lost sight of the fact that I wasn’t going to win that lottery (even given a little talent), while I have been hard at work at making my success, I’ve realized that it’s time that I put my hard work (given my limited time to do it) back in the direction it belongs.

It’s been a great year.  And a hard year.  And exciting.  And frustrating.  Educational.  And humbling.  I wouldn’t change what I’ve done, but it has definitely given me perspective on what I want to do differently.

I’ll be very interested to see what the next year brings.

What do I want from you?

This post was inspired by a two-part series of posts by fellow Triberr and TESSpecFic group mate, JW Manus. JW is great for telling it like it is. If you are wondering about your options as a writer–or just to see more of my feelings on this top (I left comments at both posts), please check these out:

Six Good Reasons to Try for a Traditional Publishing Contract

Six Good Reasons to Self-Publish Your Fiction

I may be opening a can of worms here, but… what are your thoughts?

Finally, don’t forget to check back next week for my review of Cabin in the Woods.

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29 thoughts on “My So-Called Writing Life: Reconsidering Traditional Publishing

  1. Very interesting post, Paul. You’ve nailed the heart of the problem with publishing. Too many writers don’t spend enough enough time THINKING about it. Cripes, who can blame them/us? I want to reserve all my thinking time and energy for my writing. That’s the important part, right?

    I put much of the blame for the state of the publishing industry on writers. Sure, publishers craft horrendous contracts and play stupid power games and abuse writers. If we–and I do mean a whole lot of writers–had actually THOUGHT about what we were doing and signing and agreeing to, we would have put our collective foot down and said, “Hey, this is stupid.” We let them do the business thinking for us and now the industry is in meltdown. It’s even more difficult for a new writer to get a publishing contract, and the pay is lousier and the contract terms are more draconian. I feel a bit sorry for many writers who are stuck with increasingly bad contract terms, yet are too afraid to jump ship and strike out on their own. It might take years for the industry to finish shifting and finally settling, and maybe (fingers crossed) everybody can come to the table like equals instead of overlords-and-serfs.

    It’s also the best of time to be a writer because we have options we haven’t had before. Many of us are waking up to the fact that we don’t need publishers, they need us. So we can pick and choose instead of waiting–and waiting and waiting–to be picked and chosen. It still requires thinking. While the connection between writer and reader is a magical thing, there is nothing magical or mystical about the business side. It’s hard work, dedication and making hard decisions.

    Right now, I’m building co-op relationships, seeking out talent. Most fiction writers can handle the writing part by themselves, but the production and business parts require a other skill sets. I see co-ops with pooled talent and promotional/marketing support as the way of the future. If I’m right, it will merge the best of both worlds: Writers retain the rights to their works, but still have a support team watching their back.

    1. Hey Jaye,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I won’t rehash all of our previous discussions here, except to again thank you for your perspective on all of this.

      I like the idea of being empowered. I think that’s what helped me get those three publishers interested. I went in with confidence in my novel, of course. But also, I knew that if they didn’t take it, oh well. I can keep moving forward with what I am doing on the self-publishing vein.

      And a co-op, eh? I like that idea. I would agree that it does sound like a good new avenue for the future of writing and publishing.

      Thanks again, and have a good weekend.

  2. I think this balanced, level post should be a must-read for anyone considering whether to indie publish or keep trying for the traditional road. I will tweet & share with writers groups. For myself, I began trying before there was indie pubbing as it now exists. I can’t say what I might’ve done if the road had been much longer. I had gotten feedback that my book belonged with a traditional house–but it took eleven years and eight novels for the offer to come.

    1. Hey Jenny,

      Thanks so much for your comments (and sharing with your group. I’ll go ahead and share your blog here 🙂 I enjoy your content as well. Hear that everybody?

      I actually started back before the current status quo also. I remember when “self-publishing” meant finding a printer to make up copies and then either putting them in the trunk of your car and going on a trip, or trying to send them out to individual bookstores. And there was a little more tarnish on the image back then. I think that’s why it took awhile for me to finally decide to self-publish. Well, that and the fact that I wanted to give my agent a shot first. It took quite a bit of consideration before I decided this was the route to go.

      Thanks again for stopping by and sharing this post.

  3. Jenny ^ brought me over here, and I am so glad she did. What a good blog! Thank you. I feel better (misery loves company) because I lost three agents. One had to show “steady income” to adopt a child *poof!*, the second dropped all fiction *poof!*, and the third dropped out when Borders closed. Dark humor does help to mask the pain. Without dark humor–and lots of coffee–I’d be lost. Congratulations on your perseverance!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by a commiserating 🙂

      Wow, three separate agents. I’ll stop complaining now. And I’m glad to hear you had a steady infusion of coffee to keep you going. If you see my response, please feel free to stop back and leave a link to your blog if you have one. We gotta support one another.

      Thanks again, and I hope you have a good weekend.

      1. Just started blogging. I blogged for 3 years when Yahoo shut down their blogging system and deleted 3 years of posts, so I lost my taste for blogging. But now I’m starting something new (and vaguely anonymous-ish).

        1. I imagine that would be frustrating to lose all that content. I had a blog for awhile a few years back as well, but dropped it because of time reasons. Once I decided to self-publish my first novel, I started this blog and have tried to be more committed (and a little more focused).

          Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll be sure to check out your new/vaguely anonymous-ish blog.

  4. I went ahead and shared the link to this blog too.

  5. Enter a man who has experience with traditional houses-70+ ghostwritten novels- and now with small Indie Press publishing. Small Indie Presses with decent contracts are your third way to go. No matter how you do it, We all need editing, formatting, art people, promotional and marketing people. Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional.

    My agent died a few years back. He was a great guy and always did right by me. However, I see no reason to find another agent. I’m not going to publish with the idiots at the helm of the big houses anyway. Scott Turow can cry in his beer all he wants about poor, poor pitiful him, but the industry changed and is changing more.

    I just recently posted on my Press blog a piece about building promotional leads to your novels and how I aim to share what I will be doing, health permitting, with my readers. Stacey Turner will be adding a post soon as to self-pub versus quality small Press.

    Great post, Paul! We all need to think as we go. Writing is the easy part.


    1. Thanks, Blaze. Your input is always valued. JW Manus also had a fair amount of experience with traditional publishers, and I think that somewhat soured her, I believe. But her two posts are still pretty fair and balanced. And actually, I told her that I was waiting for a third post on the advantages to smaller presses. Sounds like Stacey will be helping out with this idea.

      I’ll be sure to check your blog. Although I was just there yesterday. Or is it another blog. Or did you just post yesterday? You are a busy man, my friend. It’s all I can do to get out a post a week.

      Thanks again.

  6. Well said Paul and so brave to give so much of your journey. I don’t read Horror, but it has a huge place in the market and I believe in you! I think you touched in many of the feelings and experiences of US the self-published author.

    M.C.V. Egan

    1. Thanks Catalina. I realized that I kind of gloss over many of my emotions here, instead making it more like a periodical than a chronicle, so I thought this was a good opportunity to let people in a little more. It seems like I had been seeing many writer/bloggers recently talking about rough patches. I think it has something to do with winter again. I’m just glad I have some people to commiserate with this year. Wish I would’ve known all of you a year ago 🙂

      Hope things are still going swimmingly for The Bridge of Deaths.

  7. I support your decision, Paul. When I self- published VAlknut:The Binding, the decision was based as much on the need to let that book go as on the possibility on making money on it. It’s easy to obsess when you only have one book, and the obsession was killing me as a writer. However, my longer term plan is to test the waters in trad publishing with each novel before self-publishing it. Not that I’ll sign any ol’ contract that’s presented to me. But I see the potential benefits of traditional publication and envision publishing both ways in the future.

    1. Great point, Marie. That’s kind of where I got with The Imaginings. While there were many times when I thought I was done with it, I recognized that each revision made it better. But the last time I sent it in, I felt pretty confident. And the problem was that it was paralyzing me from really getting into another project. For me, I just couldn’t give all of my energies to the next novel until I felt like The Imaginings was done. I needed to be done with it, or at least done enough. At some point, you have to let it out there and see if it will sink or swim (personally, I’ve been frantically treading water :))

      And being savvy about contracts if we go traditional publishing is another lesson really pounded home by Jaye. A good one to remember.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Thanks for the shoutout, man. Keep pluggin’ and, to quote the voice of a generation wheezing past its prime “Stay gold, poneyboy”.

    1. My pleasure. Hope to drive a little love your way. What you do with her when she gets there is up to you.

  9. Paul, thanks for the (slightly different) plug of my book. Decisions for writers these days obvoiusly varies much more than it did in the recent past. The Amanda Hockings and Darcie Chans have made sure of it. For some, traditional publishing is worth a shot–others realistically only can go Indie–still some others don’t fit neatly into either box. It amazes me how many writers speak with conviction that they have the global answer when it comes to how to publish or how to price. I still believe my books could be picked up by a trad house but I feel liberated doing it myself. If the offer came, not sure what I’d do, but that’s not really the point. Everyone makes choices and goes with it. I don’t mind if writers want tradition or independence. It’s probably the wishy-washiness and second guessing that is a tad annoying.

    1. Jason, thanks for stopping by and commenting. As I said in the post, I wouldn’t change anything major about the past year, and a huge part of my learning and successes are attributable to you and your book.

      It’s a sticky wicket for sure. I also feel liberated handling my own material, but I think it stresses me out just as much.

      And not to say that I won’t go back to self-publishing possibly some day. With any luck, I’m hoping I’ll be able to manage and experiment with some of my shorts independently while a publisher is handling the novels. Who knows?

      Thanks again, and I hope you have a good weekend.

  10. Great post, Paul. My journey mirrors your own closely. I self-pubbed last spring, bringing my four MG books from the previous eight years to print without knowing what the heck I was doing. I’ve learned a lot and have no regrets, but Blaze was right: writing is the easy part!

    I have a little different perspective on having to make this thing work, however. I’m not the breadwinner in my family. I’ve been wading in babies, toddlers and homeschoolers up to my neck for over a decade now, and all my writing time has been snatched during naps and late at night. Now that my family is outgrowing that stage (and all but one will be in public schools next fall, WOO-HOO!), I feel like I need to prove my “hobby” can become a career. I really don’t want to go back to teaching.

    So I’ll be right there with you, giving it my darndest this year too. I just wish every middle grader had an ereader and a credit card. 🙂

    1. Sing it, sister!

      I will hope the same for you and your middle graders (hey, it’s never too early to start building your credit score, right? :))

      And funny that you don’t necessarily want to go back to teaching, seeing as how that’s what I’m doing currently. As I wrote in an early draft of this post, for those of us for whom writing is a passion, it’s hard to have any job that isn’t… well, writing.

      Here’s to your success in the coming year (what is this January again?). Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  11. I love this post, Paul. I appreciate your candor, your humor, and your admission of the dark times. You have a great deal of talent and, at least as important: you have a lack of dogmatic ego. This will help you to your path faster than those who feel a need to stick to one way of doing things. A great person I work with always says, “Just because that’s the way things have always been done doesn’t make it right.” I think that motto can be applied to your open assessment of your options as well as to the publishing industry at large (both indie and trad).

    I am also inspired by Jaye’s posts, and have a draft post of my own in the can for next week… I think. If I feel as brave as you’ve been to post your thoughts!

    1. Thanks, Aniko. As I replied to MCV Egan, I feel like sometimes I gloss over my emotions here and keep it pretty surface, but I was inspired myself by a few other writer/bloggers admitting to the dark times recently. If there’s nothing else to be gained from these blogs, let it be that we can find comfort in the misery of others, eh?

      Wait a minute, that didn’t come out right 🙂

      You know what I mean.

      Hope you’re having a good weekend.

      1. What I like is not so much sharing the misery, but sharing the hope that things can and will be better. It is encouraging to know that other people encounter obstacles and survive. It is doubly encouraging when there are some practical bits of wisdom that can be applied, or at least considered.

        My weekend is pretty good, thanks!

  12. I read that same book about how to sell a million books. The best way to do that is to write a book about selling a million books. It’s not as easy as it’s made out to be. The amount of work that goes into a book, whether self or traditionally published, is immense and sometimes thankless. I’ve done both and have zero qualms about my traditional published experience, and less than happy thoughts about the self published book. But that’s me. It’s different for everyone and the good news is that there are more choices than ever for writers.

    1. Indeed, Hunter. The irony was not lost on me that I bought a book on how to sell my book 🙂

      Glad to hear things are going well for you and the traditional route. And it is nice that there are so many options out there. Maybe too many? Oh well, a topic for another day.

      And speaking of, looking forward to your post in two weeks. Thanks for stopping by.

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