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'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 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,