Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Guest Post by Chris W. Martinez

On quivering Bambi legs, I step out into the world of self-publishing for the first time.

I have one novel, 18 Twitter followers, 78 Facebook followers, and about as many readers of my blog. Your aunt's uncompleted Google+ profile probably has a greater online presence than I do. And yet I am thrilled for the future.

Why? Not only because of my lunatic-gluing-magazine-cutouts-of-eyeballs-to-his-walls fervor for writing fiction, but because of the invaluable guidance and inspiration I've gotten from folks like Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, and David Gaughran.

The generosity and openness of their advice is a refreshing (and fitting) contrast to the country-club exclusivity and impassivity of so much of the legacy publishing world.

A Rube Goldberg chain of events and circumstances brought me to Joe's blog as I worked on my first novel, SAVANT (now $2.99 on Kindle). Barry and I "met" in the comment section of journalist Glenn Greenwald's former blog at Salon. I was an avid commenter there, Barry let me know he enjoyed my political and legal observations, and we exchanged the occasional email.

I mentioned I was working on a book and he pointed me to some writing resources on his blog and Joe's. At this point, I had exactly zero knowledge of publishing; I was still just trying to get my head wrapped around completing an entire novel—one with, like, lots of chapters and characters and subplots and stuff.

The first time I visited Joe's blog, I read it into the night. His experiences and insights, delivered with refreshing honesty and bluntness, were profound revelations to me.

After reading all that, I barely had the stomach to query agents when the time finally came to publish my manuscript. Still, I coveted the sense of legitimacy, the Seal of Institutional Approval from all those literary big shots with Manhattan addresses. For a short while, at least.

I understand the importance of a good hook, but the query death march felt far bleaker than just distilling my full-length novel into a snappy pitch.

Before me towered a crumbling edifice, and at its portcullis I was commanded to obey every jot and tittle of Ye Olde Rules of Submission, whereupon the thing I had so lovingly crafted for years was tossed onto the Slush Pile, a vast lagoon of hopes and aspirations subject to milliseconds of judgment from jaundiced 20-somethings so overburdened with submissions that they could only take to Twitter every two minutes to preach to their thousands of writer followers that Thou Shalt Not Use This Type of Sentence Structure, or Why Hath Ye Proles Sent Me Yet Another Story of a Disfavoured Kind, or I Just Allowed an Author Through the Iron Gates and It Wasn't You TREMBLE BEFORE ME.

Ok, maybe it wasn't quite that dramatic, but you get my drift.

I think I made it through, at most, 20 queries before I decided I was wasting my time. After all, even if I did get an agent, this would likely mean several more months trying to get the attention of a publisher, all just to do 99% of the marketing myself, under unconscionable royalty percentages, nonsensical pricing, and restrictive contractual terms.

I abandoned the query process without a second thought, but still I felt intimidated by the prospect of self-publishing. Much of the appeal of latching onto an agent and a publishing house came from the promise they would hold my hand as I went through the daunting business of refining, packaging, and distributing my book for the first time.

But now, with so many resources out there for independent authors, instead of one hand holding mine through the process, I have a hundred.

Having made my decision, I returned to Joe's blog and reread the annals of his steady march toward independence. On Barry's suggestion, I read Be the Monkey for an added shot of courage and wisdom. Then I discovered David Gaughran and his indispensable Let's Get Digital guide, which I still consult daily.

Who knows, maybe if I had kept querying I would have gotten an agent eventually, and that agent would have gotten me a traditional publishing deal, finally granting me that glimmering Seal of Institutional Approval. I've always believed my novel is good enough for that, and I still do. But indie options, incentives, and support systems are strong enough now that even a neophyte like me has little reason to go through the nuisance of knocking on the clubhouse door for months on end, begging to be let in.

If not for folks like Joe, Barry, and David, I probably would have thought I had no other choice but to keep knocking. From the bottom of my heart, I thank them for the advice and encouragement they've so generously and openly shared so that other independent authors might flourish as greatly as they have.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to find that the champions of a more democratic approach to publishing are similarly egalitarian with their hard-earned knowledge and experience.

I shouldn't be surprised, but I truly am grateful.

Chris W. Martinez is an attorney by trade, but few things give him greater satisfaction and enjoyment than writing fiction. He recently released his debut novel, SAVANT, and looks forward to writing many more stories in the years to come.

Joe sez: Congratulations to Chris, and I wish him huge success.

Way back before the invention of the wheel, there weren't any blogs about publishing. Now there are many, and writers are sharing valuable information with each other on an unprecedented level. Talking numbers, posting data, and publicly making gatekeepers accountable has made it easier for writers seeking information to make informed decisions about their careers. 

So it's a good time to bring up some guidelines for newbie authors. If you're considering publishing (in its many forms) you might want to take the following into account.

1. Seek out as much information as you can. The more, the better.

2. Establish your goals. Goals are within your power. Dreams are not. Finishing your novel by May 3 is a goal. Getting an agent is a dream. If you dream about getting an agent, your goal could be to research ten agents by then end of April, send out ten query letters, and visit a writing conference to pitch to three agents in person. 

3. Weigh the information you find appropriately. Are the arguments well presented? Does the data support the arguments? Who is offering this information? Is it someone who is successful? What is their agenda? 

4. Adapt, experiment, and always be willing to change your mind.

5. Understand that luck is an essential part of success, no matter how smart, talented, and prepared you are.

There is no right way or wrong way. We all have our own paths to follow. But my money is on those who educate themselves, understand what they want, and work their asses off. 

I haven't met anyone who has had any degree of success without working their ass off. This is a marathon, not a sprint. But that doesn't mean you take it easy, or even pace yourself. It means you give it your all, and keep giving it your all, no matter how long it takes.

So get going. The world isn't waiting for you, and no one owes you a living. But ebooks are forever, and the sooner you start forever, the better off you'll do.