I’d be lion if I said I have something to write this morning about lions. I don’t. More of a tiger person, myself.
Yesterday I got the idea of looking at some of my short stories, many unfinished, and that’s consuming me until I get the proof of the China book back from my editor.
This is the fourth book my editor, Beth Bruno, has helped me with. Long, long ago when I first wrote Martin of Gfenn and was submitting it to agents, I got a response. The agent had written in Magic Marker, big black letters, “Get an editor.”
I honestly didn’t know what he meant. I thought that was what you got after you got a publisher. It took fourteen years or so for me to “finish” Martin of Gfenn by which time the agent thing was moot. I published it. I sent it around. Then… I looked at the published book and saw it was rife with small errors of the type someone like me would never, ever, ever see. Savior was (I thought) finished, but I was afraid it was also fraught with errors. I went online to find an editor and I found Beth.
I found others at the same time and contacted several. I ended up hiring Beth because she presented herself in a straight-forward manner, and her commitment seemed to be helping writers write THEIR boosk rather than writing HER book through someone else, if that makes any sense. Many of the editors I found did not seem to have the professionalism or detachment Beth has. Her references were good and supported my perception of her.
It was expensive (for me) but it was worth it to me. Since then, Beth has helped me with three books. Now that she knows what she will be getting from me (a finished manuscript that doesn’t need a lot of development assistance) it’s more affordable for me, and we have evolved into a team. We work using the comments and changes feature on Words/Pages and by phone. With the China book, she was especially helpful in reminding me that I was writing about a world most people have not experienced, and I needed to clarify terms, ideas, moments, cultural details so others would know what I was writing about.
Working together on the China book has been great. After she finished the work specified in the contract, she offered to do a final reading of the finished project, something she’s just completed. We both love the project, I guess.
I was also thinking last night that initially I considered self-publishing (Indie publishing, has that phrase caught on?) to be failure, something you did when no one wanted your work because it wasn’t marketable for any one of a number of reasons. I still feel that way, but I also understand that a work not being marketable might not mean it’s a bad book, poorly written, or uninteresting. It just means that there’s no agent who feels they can sell it to a publisher because there’s no publisher who sees a market for your work. The market isn’t the arbiter of quality, just what people will buy.
Over this evolution I read a lot of best-selling historical novels that I would be ashamed to have written. I learned that I have an intrinsic sense of what makes a good book and that sense is sacred to me. I also realized none of this really matters. I understood this when I saw that just because I couldn’t find an agent, I would not stop writing. I also learned that I enjoy the process of putting a book together. For a brief moment I had a publisher for one of my books — The Brothers Path. That experience showed me the compromise that would be involved if I went “legit,” so to speak. And then he went out of business, and I was able to do my book myself. Disappointed, but…
Recently, The Price garnered an IndeBRAG Medallion. I’m happy and proud because that means all three books in that trilogy get to wear that badge. It also meant I could combine them in a single book and sell it at a lower price.
The president of IndieBRAG messaged me that she loved the cover of the The Price and asked who’d done it for me. I wrote back that I’d designed the cover for that and all my books. She was surprised. But I think it’s fun to figure that out; what images tell the story?
I still wish that there was an agent who saw the possibilities for my books, but the process of submittal got to be really grueling and my attitude toward it shifted from one of hope and possibility to, “Who the fuck are you to sit in judgement on my books?” That shift began at a writer’s conference in which an agent complained about having manuscripts to read. Really? That, Sweet Cheeks, is job security. Another wondered if the leprous hero in Martin of Gfenn got married and had children at the end. Over time, I encountered this again and again and realized that I’m just not on the public pulse. Can I go there? I don’t know. I don’t think so, even though there are a lot of good books out there that ARE on the public pulse.
Do I still feel that self-published books are “failures”? Yes, in a way. But a bigger failure would be allowing an external notion of success to stop me from doing what I love.