… Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my novel
I used to review a lot of books, mostly for The Sun in Baltimore, a newspaper I worked for in the 1990s. I loved books, still do, and I was surrounded by smart, inspiring writers. Among them were richly talented critics and reporters who were or have become famous for their novels, including Stephen Hunter and Laura Lippman. For a few months, I was actually interim book review editor at The Sun, while the new editor was formulating his vision. I was handed that task – in addition to an editing job I was already doing – when I told my boss that being a book review editor was my dream job at the paper. It turns out, it wasn’t.
There was a huge backlog of books that hadn’t been considered and a tsunami of books pouring into the office. It was overwhelming, and I didn’t spend my time reading novels over hot cocoa and doughnuts. I spent my time organizing the deluge, prioritizing reviews, and saying no to publicity people. Despite what was probably considered, at the time, generous book-review space – space almost unheard of now in most newspapers – we probably reviewed less than 15 books each week, even including occasional roundup reviews of five or six titles. I wrote some of those, too.
From this experience, I understood that even books published by the big houses, even books written by people I’d actually heard of, wouldn’t necessarily get reviewed. Self-published books were simply never, ever considered for review, and for good reasons. One, there were too many “legitimate,” vetted books up for consideration; and two, most of the self-pubbed books were terrible.
Fast-forward to the last few years, when I worked at a newspaper in Florida and wrote about, among many other things, books and authors. We gave self-published books a mention, because there were so many local writers putting them out. Some of them were certainly worth the publicity they got; in fact, a few of them merited feature stories for their intriguing topics, interesting authors or writing pedigree. But the truth is, a lot of self-published books are still pretty bad. Some people publish in a vacuum, without doing their research, without the benefit of a critique group, without investing in good design, without understanding anything about the industry. They are, in their own eyes, Published Authors, a title I’ve long desired but wanted to get the hard way.
As my editor during an early internship told me a few thousand years ago, “Don’t you know? Every journalist has a novel in their bottom drawer.” I was one of them. The first one I wrote was pretty awful. The second one was fun and captured the zeitgeist of the time it was written, but I gave up too soon on publication after a handful of rejections. In the interim, I started chasing storms, and then, I started writing Funnel Vision, a novel about storm chasers.
I had tremendously valuable input from a critique group, and I got the novel into a state where I was ready to submit it to agents. I did. A lot. Some asked to see chapters. A few asked to see the whole thing. But no one said yes, and I grew weary of rejection, again. I believed in my novel, but it is a bit of a genre-bender – an adventure story with humor, drama and romance – and a novel like that seemed unlikely to find a home with a publisher who wants a shelf label, who wants a novel of a type that’s already been successful.
Despite my frustration, I still didn’t want to own the stigma of being self-published.
Then, as you know if you follow publishing, the world changed. It is changing, incredibly rapidly, and traditional publishing is going through a massive upheaval. E-books’ popularity is growing. There are some major self-publishing success stories. And while I didn’t think I’d be the next Hocking/Konrath/Locke, I finally decided that it might be time to give it a shot. Not only is publishing the Wild West; other books about storm chasers are out there – books I have studiously avoided reading – and I didn’t want the one I wrote five years ago to be irrelevant and overtaken before I even got it out into the world. Besides, as strange as it might sound, I had started writing a sequel.
So I set out upon one more revision. With fresh eyes, I added a couple of scenes. I found out even more about my characters. And I set the wheels in motion: cover, formatting, and all the fun aspects of becoming your own publisher. I believe in this book. Reading it again and again, as I have been in the final phases of getting it ready, I’m enjoying it, too.
I still have fears of being dismissed as part of the self-created slush pile, as some still see self-publishing. I cringed recently when I saw a bookstore employee venting on a Millions post denigrating self-publishing, saying, “Self-published authors are the bane of our existence.” I’m not a “hater” of the industry, as that column implied. I’m not naive. But I have my reasons for making this choice.
Why would a cynical book-critic type self-publish? I have a story to tell, a story I love. Time is ripping by, and the wheels of publishing turn slowly. While I still have fantasies of being the Published Author with the imprimatur of the Official Publishing House on my book, I know now it’s not the only way. And in the current publishing climate, it’s going to be even harder for me to find an Official Publishing House to accept my particular flavor of adult fiction.
I want my story to find readers who enjoy its world as much as I do. I hope they do. Look for Funnel Vision later this month.