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.


Unknown said...

Chris, Thanks for your post, which cheered me up. This morning, I too "barely have the stomach to query" and ironically, I was an agent at one of the big three in Hollywood in my former life. But now I'm a mom, and when my 9-year-old wrote a novel, and it got an unbelievable review from a local bookstore, I thought I'd use my past-life agenting skills and my passion for my daughter and her book to shepherd it into the world. But ugh, the roller coaster of unbridled love of the journey to the shame of self-interested self-promotion. I felt for would-be clients as an agent, and I do still now. Congrats to you for persisting. Congrats to my daughter for unwittingly re-awakening my love of promoting talent. Blech to Joe, who doesn't accept guest blog requests - Chris' post inspired me to want to write my first. And Chris, I too have 18 twitter followers, so good for you.

Joe, if you change your mind, I'll craft a post on the journey of the novel Magic The Crest.

Joel Arnold said...

Best of luck, Chris!

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

Chris--from a fellow attorney and indie writer--MAZEL TOV. (Yiddish for buena suerte). By the way, having once been pubbed by one of the (then) big Six, yeah it was cool in the beginning, but unless you earn up to expectations you are treated like the bubonic plague. Besides, we attorneys don't like to be told what to do, do we? In case Barry Eisler is looking in, you and I have three things in common--Law, Several Years in Intel (I was No Such Agency) and a martial arts background. Now if only I can get your sales numbers in common! Joe, Barry--let me echo Chris' gratitude to you guys. As my sales slowly creep up, I believe it is because of the wit and wisdom you generous geniuses supply.

Alan Tucker said...

Kudos, Chris and best of luck on your journey! Your post had my head nodding in agreement so much I nearly smacked my forehead on my keyboard ;-)

Chris W. Martinez said...

Thanks, everyone! I'm so glad my thoughts resonated with you, and great thanks to Joe for posting them.

I'm having a lot of fun. Marathons are a whole lot more pleasant when the scenery is fantastic and there's plenty of company.

Unknown said...

Like Chris, I went on the merry go round of submissions and eventually decided that I may as well give my story a chance at being told and THEN get depressed, instead of just getting depressed first.

So after stumbling across Joe's blog a couple of years back, and seeking professional proofing and cover art help, I have let my story into the wild, where it can rise and fall on its own merits.

Thanks Joe, and good luck Chris!

ps - not a lawyer, but have spent half my career in Intel.

Colin M said...

Great post Chris,

Very inspiring. I'm presently working on my second novel as I let my first percolate before editing. I plan on self-pubbing both this year as well as a couple collaboration projects (all goals, not dreams). Thanks to the great advise on Joe's blog, I don't plan on even pursuing traditional publishing. I found your post very exciting as I hope to be where you are soon. I don't have a blow, and at this point would rather write than figure out blogging.

I, also, have found great inspiration from Joe's blog, as well as from the great comments by the many regulars who share their input. About eight months ago (maybe a year ago) there was someone ranting in the comments about how authors are only out for themselves. I couldn't disagree more.

I'd be embarrassed to admit how often I check Joe's blog per day, in the hope of seeing posts like yours.

Best of luck on Savant. I like the style of your writing and will pick up a copy once I post this. Hope your working on your next.


Colin M said...

Blog, not blow. It was auto-correct, not Freudian. ;)

NWA said...


I sent my guest blog post to Joe at the e-mail: joekonrath [at]comcast.net

Is that the right address?

Thanks for sharing!

JA Konrath said...

Those who donated to Tess Gerritsen's charity still will get a guest blog spot, but in order for me to find it in the massive amount of email I get, the header should say GUEST BLOG FOR TESS along with a DATE.

So if you want it run 2/19, the header would be GUEST BLOG FOR TESS 2/19, and it would include attached cover art and a Word Doc of the blog.

After I confirm the date is open, resend it the day before you are scheduled to appear.

I hope to allow everyone who donated to Tess a chance at a guest blog, and I hope everyone understands that there were over a hundred replies, and lots of people sent me blogs without specific dates. I'm just one overworked guy, and I wish I had time to figure out who is next in the queue, but I don't and need to rely on the queue reminding me.

NWA said...


Many thanks. I know you're a busy man and I appreciate all you have to share.

Inara Everett said...

Hi Chris, best of luck in your journey as a writer. And many thanks to Joe for all his helpful (and free!) words of wisdom.

One of the best things about self publishing is that it gets you writing. You KNOW your going to be published so you're motivated to write. And as you write, you learn. Learn how to expose your character's inner thoughts, how to make dialogue sound real, how to develop your plot in a logical way. It's exciting, stimulating and painful, as all growth is.

Then, once you've finished your book, there's the marketing. You slowly, agonizingly, watch your sales grow, then fall, then grow again. You pick yourself up after each tumble, like a child learning to walk.

You know you'll never give up until you drop dead, because you have this wonderful, terrible, thrilling, exasperating need to write that just won't go away. I'm so glad to be alive now, when self publishing has given us writers a chance to make our own way and become a success, as long as we work our assess off and never give up!

Again, best of luck to you, Chris, and to all the newbie self publishers out there!

Unknown said...

Best of luck Chris. Good title & excellent cover! You're halfway there...

Chris W. Martinez said...

Agree with you wholeheartedly, Inara.

Guy said...

Great post Chris. Just downloaded your book and look forward to diving in. Joe's insight has been a great source of inspiration for me. I'm thrilled he's helping so many bring their talent to the world.

Jill James said...

Chris, great post. Thanks Joe for posting.

Inara, can I steal your line and post it on my window above my laptop?

You know you are going to BE published so you are motivated to write.

I need to say that a few thousand times.

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Lizzie said...

@Joe Konrath

So do you have to confirm that you received the email and the date's open for the contest before you will post the blogs? Or do you just post the next blog on the list? I sent mine a while ago and it's coming up but I never got a response (can't blame you since I figured you got a flood of interest for the contest). But I was just wondering. I'm not in any hurry to have mine posted.