Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Weather's Fine Outside of the Box and I'm Stayin'


Recently, I had to make a decision.

I finished another manuscript.

What to do?

Should I continue self-publishing? Should I try to get an agent? Should I try to get a traditional publisher?

My last novella was very well-received. APPLES SHOULD BE RED was a finalist in the DABWAHA contest, a finalist in the CoRWA Award of Excellence, it was a bestseller for months, and resonated very well with readers.

It did not, however, fit into a traditional publishing niche for romance. It had characters in their late 50s and early 60s--the polar opposite of the uber popular NA trend. And it was not a full-length novel.

Then I went to Seattle. There was a fabulous exhibit at the EMP Museum about Nirvana, the ground-breaking grunge band that changed the sound of American rock. It reminded me what the term "indie" really means...it's about artists who are risk-takers, who have courage to think outside of the box, who are fearless. Indie musicians are not concerned with commercial trends and what's selling and what's hot.

It's about craft. It's about innovation.

Years ago I met with an agent, when I was pushing my very first novel. It had finaled in three contests. I was so proud of myself because it was DIFFERENT. It was unique. No one else had created something like it. The agent hated it. She hated it because it was different. It was the wrong word count, it was the wrong theme, it was seasonal, it wasn't like anyone else. In fact, one of the first questions she asked me was "Who are you like? What other authors?" I was shocked. I thought I was supposed to be unique, one-of-a-kind.

That was my wake-up call about the publishing industry. They didn't want unique. They wanted you to fit into a tidy little box, just like a ton of other authors, so they could market you in a certain way, sell your books to a certain audience.

Trad publishing is LOW risk.

I had a successful author tell me to rewrite my book and lose the Christmas angle. (My book about Santa Claus and his sons). Just turn it into a regular old contemporary romance...it would do great. I also had to shave off the hero's beard--because "publishers don't like beards." I also had to double the word count, because "readers don't like short novels."

I didn't change the theme.

I didn't change the word count.

I didn't shave off the hero's beard.

(Oh sweet irony: Now tons of authors are creating heroes with facial hair. The unacceptable character trait has turned into a hot trend.)

I still sold my book. To a small digital press that liked short novels, that offered seasonal stories. And for a debut book, it did pretty well. And the whole series continues to do well. Go figure.

I had a decision to make then, and I have a decision to make now. Am I going to squeeze myself into that tidy little box? Or ignore the box and enjoy the freedom to write my book any way I please?

This is a tough decision. I would love to have more readers. That's always been my bottom line goal. Not the money or sales or bestseller rank. I WANT PEOPLE TO READ MY BOOKS. And it's possible that an agent and publisher would help me find more readers.

But on the other hand, an agent and a publisher won't like me writing 57,000-word novels. They won't like me making my romance characters "old." They won't like me playing with genre parameters and taking risks.

I made my decision.

I'm staying outside of the box.

I'm not going to make any big bestseller lists this way (or a million bucks)! Hee hee. But I will continue to have the freedom to write what I like, when I like, how I like.

And I have a nice little posse of readers who are coming along for the ride. Thanks, guys!

Happy To Be Box-Free,
Penny

16 comments:

KT Grant said...

You better never stop writing heroes with beards!

I am dying to read more seasonal books.

Penelope said...

Hey KT! I love seasonal books, too. I also love shorter novels and novellas, and having fun with traditional romance themes. My next 2 books will also have bearded heroes...Gregor from SWEET CINDERELLA and my adorable werebear in THE CURIOUS CASE OF JOHN B. HAMILTON AND THE BLUEBERRY PIE.

Julia Barrett said...

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I hate being boxed in and told what to do, what to write, how to write... I can live with commercial failure. Even more these days-- I write what I want to write.

Penelope said...

Julia...I feel the same way. I like being "the boss of me."

CBrandstatter said...

The World would be a sad & dark place if we didn't have you and your wonderful brain!!! You know I love you and the Claus Brothers!! ;-) heeheehee

Penelope said...

CBrandstatter...my brain thanks you!

Jessi said...

Hoo-RAY for being out of the box! It's windy out here, but SO much more awesome.

I love how the trip out here to Seattle gave you some valuable perspective. Kurt Cobain & Nirvana hold a special place in my heart. I first heard their music when I was in high school, and it opened my eyes to a whole other musical genre. Rebellion + unique artistry + pain + honesty. Such a wonderful combination.

Good luck with your upcoming release!

Mary Moriarty said...

Penny, there is a lot to be said about being out of that box... freedom is one of them. If we are meant to hit those wonderful list, so be it but if not... we have our readers who love us and that is more than some can say. We have the freedom to write the way we please that would give some agents and publishing houses a fit.
So keep up the great work!!!

Penelope said...

Hey Jessi! Thank you. That entire EMP Museum is so inspirational...Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, the history of animation. So many innovators, I just loved it! And I especially loved the horror and sci fi shows, too. I highly recommend that place.

Penelope said...

Hi Mary! Some day I might write something that fits into a box, but for now I appear to be free-wheeling it. Hee hee!

JenM said...

I'm so happy that you are staying out of the box. Authors like you are proving to the publishing establishment that "different" does sell. I'm just happy that there is now a viable market for stories that don't fit the usual mold and a way for readers like me to find authors like you. I also find it hilarious that beards are the new hot thing. You are a trailblazer!

Penelope said...

Hi JenM! Thank you! I think the key thing is to accept you're "niche" and just go with it. It's funny how many folks were totally appalled by the beard thing five years ago, and now...LUMBERSEXUALS are the new trend. o.O

chele said...

Love your Apples book with oldies like me. Love your lumberjack stories! I love your uniqueness. I'm happy to be part of your posse!

Penelope said...

Hi Chele! Thank you so much. OLD PEOPLE 4-EVAH! Hee. My posse is small, but it's fierce!

THANK YOU!

glitrbug said...

Well, you know how I feel about your seasonal books since I write every fall and ask when the next Klaus brothers book will be out. Those books are a Christmas tradition like my tabletop tree that comes out when I get home from Thanksgiving at mom's and stays out until the batteries die.

It's fall. When is the new book coming out?

Penelope said...

Hi glitrbug! Thanks so much for reading my Klaus series! SWEET CINDERELLA--Gregor's novella--will be out this xmas. Probably on Dec. 1st.