Two Paths to Publishing: Which is Right for You?

This blog has often featured articles that writers might find helpful. Not because I’m an expert on this whole “writing gig” but because I’ve done some digging. I want your road to publishing to be smoother than mine has been.

One of the big questions I still find myself debating is about HOW to get published. Should I take the traditional path? Or should I self publish?

Recently, one of the writing teachers I follow wrote a long blog post on the subject. The teacher is Tim Grahl and you can read his post here.

Not that I’m trying to convince you not to click over to Tim’s site, but the post is LONG. And I can sum it up in two sentences.

If you want someone else to do the work of publishing your book, you want to go traditional. If you want to control all of the ins and outs, and don’t mind spending time as an entrepreneur, self-publishing is probably the road for you.

Too simple? Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

Traditional

This used to be the path of “authentic” authors. But it’s a LONG and arduous path with a lot more querying and pitching than actual writing.

Here it is:

  1. Write a book
  2. Revise, edit and polish the manuscript
  3. Research agents and publishers
  4. Craft a killer query and synopsis
  5. Start emailing your query to the members of your list
  6. Attend conferences to pitch agents and editors in person

Don’t sit around and wait, my friend. You’ll grow old and might ruin your computer from repeatedly clicking the refresh button on your mail inbox.

Once you send the queries out, it’s time to begin writing something new. Authors from either path agree on this.

Self-Publishing

This used to mean your manuscript couldn’t get past the gatekeepers. Let’s be honest, we’ve read some books that weren’t publish-worthy by snagging up free reads on Amazon.

But there are plenty of books that debuted as self-published and made their way into a movie deal or a television series. I’m thinking of The Martian not 50 Shades.

The traditional path generally takes long and probably won’t net you as much of a return on a “per book sold” basis, but check out all the steps for self-publishing:

  1. Write a book
  2. Revise, edit and polish the manuscript
  3. Research editors
  4. Hire an editor
  5. Research cover designers
  6. Hire a designer
  7. Fix manuscript according to editors suggestions
  8. Hire a proofreader
  9. Deal with changes to the cover
  10. Upload the final products to your publishing platform of choice
  11. Figure out how to market the book

Yes, I could have added a step for researching and hiring a formatter because it isn’t as easy as one might think to get the book ready for publishing. But it can be done with a minimum of hair pulling and several review phases with CreateSpace.

I’ve been guilty of including my small indie publisher in it’s own realm because it doesn’t require the wait times (nor have the distribution) of the big publishing houses.

There is a third path. It’s the one I’ve been traveling for the past three years.

Hybrid

I have manuscripts I’m actively trying to sell to agents or publishers. This is me on the traditional path

I’ve contracted many stories and novellas with a small publisher, so this is probably me on the traditional path, too.

I also have a novella and two Bible study books that I published myself using CreateSpace.

Some authors have books on Amazon they’ve published, and then they sign with a big house and contract for other books that will soon be on Amazon under that publisher’s control.

Either way, that’s the hybrid path. You aren’t sold on getting published ONE way.

Although Grahl suggests giving yourself a year on a path before deserting it, I think you can walk the middle line as a hybrid author. You’re likely to discover which trail appeals to you and you’ll see your name in print rather than waiting for an acceptance letter from an agent or publisher.

Maybe it really is as easy as deciding if you want to spend your time writing (and marketing because you do that on either road) or if you want to embrace the business side of publishing while you’re writing.

What experience do you have with publishing paths? Do you have other advice that will help muddy clear up this issue?

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I love my job but I hate this part

I love my job. Writing stories and articles and study books delights and excites me.

    But…

Don’t you hate when people say something good and then ruin it with a but?

I like your hair, but…it looks like you’re stuck in the 80s
Your dog is so pretty, but…he has no manners at all.

You know what I’m talking about. People do this all the time. WE do this several times during any conversation.
Because the truth of the matter is ugly hard to swallow unimaginable depressing.

Nothing in life is without its flaws and drawbacks.

(Sorry, honey. I know I tell you and everyone else that you’re perfect, but that’s just not the case. You’re perfect in my eyes only…and when you don’t leave the toilet seat up.)

I’m a full-time, professional author. To earn a paycheck, I substitute teach at the local middle and high schools.
I enjoy teaching. I believe it’s one of my secondary strengths (which is why I write Bible study books and teach women and teenagers at my church).

But writing is my soul food.

When I’m in the groove, churning words directly from my heart and mind onto paper (or a computer screen), it’s Heaven-on-Earth.
Why? Because I believe I was created to do this “writing thing.”

What I Love

I love when I get a new idea. It sparkles and gleams. Every cast of light reveals another dimension.

I enjoy sketching out the plot. I do this with a ton of “what if” questions. And I only hammer in the major plot points before I begin to write. I like to give my characters just enough rope to jerk them into an uncomfortable position.

I adore setting up the scenes in Scrivener, color coding them so I can keep track of things like narrator or timeline.

I don’t even fear the blank page.

I crank out the first scene. I don’t sweat it too much. It will get rewritten more than any other scene in the novel. I accept this and pound out the words.


I bite my lip as I write the last scene. Where do I think my characters will end up? How do I end this?
Believe me, I come up with some incredible last lines.

Then they get edited out of the final manuscript.

I write. There’s no fear of blank screens and blinking cursors.

If I’m not “feeling” a scene, I skip to where my characters are begging to go. I can fill in the blanks later. In fact, those blanks might be better scenes if I don’t force them when I’m not emotionally engaged in writing them.

The whole fast draft and first draft process makes me feel euphoric.

Not that I Hate This

Okay, actually, I pretty much despise everything that comes after writing the first draft of a novel.

As for shorter projects, I don’t mind making several editing passes and polishing the manuscript to a shine. I can do it in relatively the same amount of hours I invested in creating the original draft.

Novels? Not so much.

There’s no way to comb through 70,000 plus words in three weeks (the average time it takes me to write that at the rate of 1,000 words per hour).

And every manuscript needs multiple “passes” before it’s ready to be seen by someone I want to buy it.

I think I’ve written about my process before here and here, so I’m not going to bore you with those details again.

The problem is that the words start to all sound the same after my sixth pass through a manuscript. I can’t discern what works and what doesn’t.

I’m done. I hate this stupid thing. Can I throw it away now?

Some writers talk about coming to love their stories the more they work on it. I get there after the publisher’s editor takes a fine tooth comb to it, pointing out all the weak points and helping me strengthen them.

But while I’m working on the pre-published manuscript? I come to despise it.

Sometimes, when I pick it up months later (on a break from my most recent revision nightmare), I decide it’s not such a bad story. That character is pretty witty. That fight scene gives me palpitations.

But when I’m in the middle of trying to polish it, hoping to convince a publisher to take a risk on me?

I get to the point where I can’t stand the sight of it.

Why would anyone want this if you hate it so much?

Who cares? I just want to get it out of my sight.

What things do you love about your job? What makes you groan with dread?

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Epiphany on the TP Roll

It matters if the toilet paper rolls from the top of the roll or the bottom. Articles have been written on the subject. Memes have blasted around the Internet. Not long ago, I had my own epiphany thanks to a roll of toilet paper.

From the Top

I once read in a reputable magazine that more successful people make sure their toilet paper rolls from the top.

In fact, I think they made some cool-sounding quip like: over-achievers roll over the top. Get it?

I recall checking out my toilet paper the next time I was in the restroom. And switching it from its under-achieving state of being.

“My husband must have put that roll out.”

That under-achieving man! Everyone knew a Type A perfectionist like me would go far in the world.

If that meant getting my toilet paper from the top of the roll instead of the bottom? What could it possibly hurt?

From the Bottom

But you know how different experts have differing opinions about everything. This includes the issue of how toilet paper rolls.

Somewhere at some point after my roll-reversal, I read there was another reason people might let toilet paper dispense from the underside of the roll.

This genius claimed that cat owners rolled their paper that way. Apparently, it made that tempting paper more difficult for cats to unroll. Or maybe it made the paper a less-attractive target.

It’s been many years since I discovered this amazing news.

I could put my toilet paper back to under-achieving mode. And blame it on my cats. For real.

And of course I did it. Not even blinking at how this might make me look in the eyes of people who knew about the over-over quip.

I didn’t even work this new information about cats with toilet paper fetishes into the conversation. Too often.

How it Made Rejection Okay

Fast forward to a recent day in the life of an author who reached the twelve-week point of no return.

What I mean to say is, the publisher that asked for my dystopian young adult novel still had the manuscript well beyond the promised eight-to-ten week notification window.

It had been a couple weeks since the publisher’s editor said that the manuscript was at the top of the pile. It would be read next. The publisher was giving it due-diligence.

And the toilet paper rolled from the underside of the dispenser.

At that moment a light went on.

I was getting rejected because I had allowed my cats to dictate my success.

Rather than demanding that I step up and succeed, I’d compromised by flipping the toilet paper rolls.

It wasn’t my lack of writing credentials. Nothing about my story lacked.

I just needed to flip the stupid toilet paper roll over. And BAM-success would follow.

As I reached to do the deed, it occurred to me that once I flipped the toilet paper roll around and claimed my right to over-achievement, my scapegoat for failure would no longer be available.

Decisions. Decisions.

I told you this whole issue of how to roll your toilet paper was of utmost importance.

So, what do you think? Did I flip it or not?

The Three Stages of Editing – And why you shouldn’t try them all at once

When it rains, it pours. Manuscripts in need of editing, that is. Each in a different stage of editing: developmental, line and copy edits, oh my. It’s a three-layer parfait.

Of doom.

The work in progress novel must be ready for submission by the beginning of May. And it’s rough. It’s missing crucial elements. It needs developmental edits galore.

About the time I’m reaching the three-quarter point on that project, I get a manuscript I haven’t looked at since December back from an editor. I haven’t given it a thought since then. Back when I made the developmental changes to it.

Now, the second editor is making a few line edit suggestions that require actual rewriting. Mostly additions, to flesh out a few things added in during the developmental stage.

You know, things that will deepen the story, make the characters more believable and ultimately engage the reader.

And every author wants to ensnare the reader and make them forget they’re even reading. Lasso them into the story realm and hold them hostage until they reach the last page.

“I’ll finish the novel edits first,” I decide. “Then I’ll delve into this other story.”

Meanwhile, the short story I wrote in December and polished in January was sold in February. It’s slated for a June release.

So, of course, I got the first round of edits from the editor. Because I had nothing else on my plate.

Why did I think it was a good idea to have so many projects going at one time?

Oh right, because writers write. And when writers sell their writing, it means they must revisit that story world over and over.

Which is something I enjoy because my story gets better and more enchanting with each round of edits.

The publisher who purchased said short story has never made developmental editing suggestions. I’d like to think it’s because my stories are well-written, but I have a feeling it has more to do with budget and short publishing timelines.

The edits for the story were line edits. A few commas, questionable word choice, repetitions pointed out. All of it a quick fix.

So that should be a simple turnaround, right?

Uh, have you met me?

I will read through the entire story again and tighten every sentence I can. In fact, I deleted two sentences in the second scene, deciding they made my male protagonist look too eager.

So, I have a 14,000-word manuscript to line and copy edit. The second-round edits are mostly line edits, too, but involve some additions. That’s a 20,000-word manuscript.

And the ugly developmental edits on the revised first draft of the novel are getting into the heart and heat of the story. When everything blows up. When my characters enter the crucible and come out the other side as different people.

How do I prioritize this?

My gut says to finish the novel because it needs to get input from alpha readers and my editor. Then it may very well require extensive rewrites before it’s ready to enter the polishing phase.

After all, it’s not even on its way to a publisher yet. It needs to be honed to a shining jewel before I submit it, in hopes the publisher will love it. Will make an offer on it.

And then it will come back again. For developmental edits and then line edits and finally for minor copy tweaks.

Lucky me, though, I can enjoy all three stages of editing today. Right this very moment. With three separate projects.

A Novel way to Write a Novel

image from www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com

There are books on the process of writing a novel. Entire websites are dedicated to the subject. And none of them suggest doing it the way I’m about to demonstrate.

As I move through the process, the reason for that will become abundantly clear. In fact, multiple reasons for avoiding my novel way of writing a novel will flash like neon warnings.

But did that stop me?

And it begins

I’ve been working on a short story project since March. I’ve alluded to it several times in posts here or updates on Facebook.

However, even though I have a signed contract, I was sworn to secrecy. It was my Top Secret project.

As I pen these words, I still haven’t been given the go ahead to announce the project or my participation therein. What was supposed to have an October 2015 publishing date has been pushed back to February 2016.

The repercussions of a story I wrote specifically to submit to this secret project ring like aftershocks in my writing world.

It all began with a line from an email:

“Last, but not least, the publisher is curious as to whether you’d be interested in developing The Demon Was Me into a full novel! (Way to go, Sharon!)”

In a world where I sent queries into the depths of cyberspace, pleading for a chance to send my fully written, revised, edited and proofed novel for their reading enjoyment, that simple sentence knocked me for a loop.

And there were expectations

I would have been crazy to shrug off this opportunity. So, I sent a cautious reply to my editor.

And the email correspondence continued for another week.

What the publisher wanted, however, wasn’t a novel – or even the outline of a story. These were the specifications for what she wanted:

“To retain threads of time, theme, characters in the short story and throw out ideas that can be explored further” in a novel-length work.

Does anyone go about building a story this way?

Isn’t the seed usually for a premise or concept, or maybe a character or problem?

And there were plenty of lee lines hanging around in my short story. In fact, my main character had something like a heavenly directive given to him in the resolution of the 9000-word experience (otherwise known as short fiction).

So, rather than outlining his complete story, I was supposed to brainstorm possibilities for what happened afterward.

Yeah, I scribbled out three full notebook pages without pause.

But how can I organize these tidbits into something compelling enough to convince this publisher she wants the story?

And deadlines

The initial deadline to share my visions of where the story might go (after it ends in the short story bought and to-be-published) was given.

“The publisher would love to have a 10-point outline from you by October 1.”

More gaping.

I have an idea factory inside my brain. Every fiction writer I know has something similar. The slightest thing becomes a seed for a full-blown tale.

The same was true for the universe I imagined in detail as the setting of this short story.

So the scribbles continued. First, I guessed I had enough for a four-book series. On closer thought, I condensed it into a trilogy.

But the stakes and the ticking clock needed for the first installment still seemed a little week.

And wait! Am I even supposed to be planning this stuff?

The ten points that are due …the clock is ticking on that…don’t have to outline a complete story.

Shouldn’t I have sighed with relief? Instead, frustration mounted.

I seriously didn’t know how to pitch on incomplete story idea. Should I focus on a few premises? Let the publisher take her pick?

And brainstorming sessions

Those original three handwritten pages were a drop in the bucket.

I expanded the 500-word history I’d written for my setting into a nearly 3000-word history. I laid out the different sub-sections of the war-torn country. I gave each of them inhabitants and a governing style and leaders.

Now there were people for my hero to meet on his journey.

And so I filled more notebook pages with descriptions of the people and their problems. I listed possible conflicts that would arise when my hero encountered those systems.

And it still looks like a trilogy in the making or one FAT novel (not the preference for YA readers).

But I didn’t know what to include in the requested outline. So I called on my fabulous editor.

And waiting

When it was all said and done, written down in sparkling clean fashion and emailed to the publisher, the waiting began.

Again.

Sometimes it feels like writing is more about waiting than it is about transcribing pretty words on a page to form cool adventures.

Are you writing a novel? If you’re nodding yes, don’t follow this plan. Seriously.

Whose story is it anyway?

In a non-parody of a comedic television show, let’s take a moment to investigate the ownership of a published work. Recently, this author has been pondering this oft-debated issue, and I’ve come up with four possibilities.

One of the co-authors in the romance anthology Accidental Valentine posted on the topic July 16, 2015. Her points made me reconsider this whole notion that a story belongs to any one person.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Wendy Sparrow’s post on this topic, as well as the comments (there were only two at the time of this writing). I won’t attempt to paraphrase what she says because I don’t want to twist her original meaning.

And there is the crux of this issue for me. How can I know Shakespeare’s intended meaning a few hundred years after his death? 

If an author is still living, and of sound mind, I suppose we could interview them to find out what they meant. However, if we assume that words can take on a life of their own when formed into a story, is the original intention even the point?

Those questions are to give you a hint how my brain arrived at the four possible owners of a story. (And I’m not talking about copyright issues because we have laws that clearly govern those.) Once a story is penned, published and consumed, does the story belong to the author, the readers, the literary community at large or the characters?

Perhaps you have a fourth alternative. I hope you’ll share it in the comments.

Author

As an author, it’s no surprise that my first thought of ownership centers on the story’s creator. Surely, the one who created it should be able to say, “That’s my story.”

As Wendy Sparrow says in her post, ” authors pour a little bit of themselves into what they write, so taking the author’s opinion away from the work might strip it of some of its value.”

I would say authors pour heart and soul into whatever piece of fiction they’re working on. And creative non-fiction based on personal experiences takes an even bigger chunk. If the author holds back, the writing lacks authenticity.

Like Hemingway said, “It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.” (Read more on the debate of the true origination of this quote here.)

However, I can’t take full credit for any of the stories I’ve created. Something in the real world sparked the idea in my brain. It originated from that little seed. To grow it, I just kept expanding on the idea, asking “what if” until I had a solid story line.

Readers

I agree with Sparrow in that I am a reader first. I love to write. I live to write (or is that I write for a living?), but my first love is reading.

Once an author releases a story into the world through publishing, it settles into the hearts and minds of readers. Some stories are in the mind only as long as it takes to read them. Others embed themselves deep in the heart, offering up reminders of characters whose attitudes and experiences shaped my own worldview.

Do I write for readers? Yes. My stories are as much for them as it is for me. If I didn’t want to share it with someone, I wouldn’t.

Does that mean I’ve relinquished ownership to them?

What does that mean? Ownership, according to dictionary.com is “the state or fact of being a person who has or holds” some object. Ownership implies possession. If I possess it, it is mine.

Once I publish the story, I have consented to share its ownership. By making it available for public consumption, I’m sharing my creation. It’s like baking a cake. Everyone who consumes a part of the cake becomes owner of its deliciousness. I can’t take it back. It’s in them.

The same with written words. Once they are consumed, they become part of the consumer. That story is now part of the reader. It might go out as quickly as the cake. Or it might stay around for awhile (like the fat on my waistline from all the cake I’ve consumed over the years).

Sparrow says it well: “Authors want readers to invest in their stories…to become so involved that they care what happens to the characters. In some ways, we want to pass on ownership of our vision to the reader so that they immerse themselves in reading. It’s the only way a book becomes more than just text and becomes a journey.”

Literary Community

Once a book is published, it’s fodder for the public. One major voice in this realm is the literary community. You know who I mean, the professors at universities and English teachers at every level.

We’ve all suffered through a lecture on symbolism in some classic story or another. We were told the blue walls represented the author’s depression. The sword was a euphemism for death or power or kingship. (How can it be all three at once?)

In her post, Sparrow cited some literary figure and his theory on “The Death of an Author” (read more here if you’re interested). He’s one of many who believes if an author didn’t infer or state something in the text, it shouldn’t be later implied to be there.

Can we hear professors of literature everywhere sobbing?

Let’s face it, stories – especially fiction – are subjective. Each of us interpret the text through the stained glass of our own experiences. And the author did the same while they wrote it.

Can a story mean more than one thing? Certainly. It can live a thousand lives in the heart or mind of anyone who reads it and gleans meaning from it.

As an author, I want people to find themselves in my stories. I want them to relate to characters who are like them and find compassion for those who are completely contrary. Some of my writing is purely for entertainment, but even a short romance story I wrote had a deeper message: “breaking free from expectations takes determination.”

Characters

This is where my mind went after I read Sparrow’s post.

I might have birthed the story. In fact, I know I labored hard to perfect it on the page. It’s my baby. Or, I should say, it’s about a bunch of my babies. I’ve given them life by writing their story down and sharing it with others.

“Dream Architect” is whose story? Ashlin’s and Dylan’s. I told their story and submitted it to a publisher. The publisher liked it and bought the first American publishing rights to it. (So maybe the publisher is the owner of the story-for three years anyway.) Readers consumed the story.

But the story is about Ashlin and Dylan. It belongs to them. They lived it (as much as a fictional character can). They experienced the accidental encounter and the turmoil that followed. I wrote their experiences down and readers learned about them through reading, but the story is Ashlin’s and Dylan’s.

What do you think? Does a story have a single owner (possessor)? Do all of these people share in ownership of a story?