Please welcome Virginia Carmichael aka Mary Jane Hathaway to Writing Prompts today.
Hello, everybody! Big thanks to Christina for having me over here today to talk about my publishing journey. This will be quite a weird little ride, so buckle up and keep arms and legs inside the blog at ALL TIMES.
This post probably applies to those of us who are writing for publication (for money), not just any writer. There are people who write without thinking of publication, and that’s a whole different blog post. So, with that caveat, let’s begin!
I started writing in 2009, when I was pregnant with my fifth child. I was working at Whitman College’s Penrose Library and had an awful lot of time at the front desk. I’d just read ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ and LOVED it! Hilarious! Of course, I knew it was a Pride and Prejudice redo and that just added to the wonderfulness. But… it was… sort of crude. Okay, a lot crude. I loved it but couldn’t really give it to everybody I knew. It got me thinking about a sweet P and P take off, set in academia. So, I started writing.
Fast forward two years and I’d found the Seekerville blog http://seekerville.blogspot.com/. Every day had wonderful writing tips and tricks, plus some awesome giveaways and contests. I’d finished my first book, written a second and was trying without success to get an agent. I won a query letter contest in Nov. 2011 and got a full request from editor Melissa Endlich of Love Inspired. Three weeks later I got a call! YAY! First book sold!!!
Here it is, in all its glory…. Season of Joy Season of Joy (Love Inspired): Virginia Carmichael: 9780373877805: Amazon.com: Books! It released Nov 2012. Yes, that’s a full YEAR from the book being submitted. If you don’t know this yet, traditional publishing moves slowly. Not quite glacier-slow, but maybe molasses-slow.
The whole process of writing and selling books is an odd one. We work so hard, write so long, give up so much time only to wait. And wait. And wait. If you’re a slow writer, that can work in your favor. Sell one or two books a year? Yay! Right up your alley!
But if you write more than that a year, you may be left with extras. Add in all the books that get a pass, and you’ve got a hard drive full of stuff.
Before we go into the ins and outs of self publishing, let’s talk about whether it’s a good fit for you. You know those little diagrams where you follow the arrows?
Well, let’s imagine one for writers who are thinking of self-publishing. A lot of people talk about being a square peg in a round hole. Or round peg in a square hole. Whichever. You’re there, you’re working to fit in, but it’s really not comfy. There are gaps and drafts and your edges are getting a bit raw. You just feel… off.
THE SQUARE PEG
My experience of being the square peg was the gaps between books. The gaps between contracts meant gaps between checks. I know some people consider their writing career a hobby. I don’t. A hobby is knitting. A hobby is collecting bottle caps. My writing is a business and I treat it like one. (Wait, don’t tell me you don’t care about money and you’ll always write even if no one buys your work. You wouldn’t commute to a day job every day for free. Nobody does that. So, this post is for people who are writing to sell their work. The artistic side is a whole ‘nother story…)
So, there I was, six kids, a whole bunch of books and a whole lot of gaps between checks. I was putting in the hours, getting myself to the job day after day (night after night) and there wasn’t any paycheck, really.
I could either change jobs (get a real job in the outside world) or take a closer look at self-publishing. (On our flow chart, if you’re not feeling those drafts and gaps. Stop right there. You’re good for traditional publishing. If you’re feeling the breeze, we’ve headed to step two.)
YOU LOVE TO SHARE!
With traditional publishing, your name is on the book, but there are dozen of people helping you with the process. This is one of the strengths of traditional publishing. You have assistant editors, editors, copy editors, and line editors. You have cover artists, back cover writers, blurb writers, and promotional assistants. You have agents and professional reviewers.
You go through hours and hours of editing as a group effort and must collaborate. Whatever you’ve heard about the ability of an author to use ‘stet’ (which means “I don’t like the editor’s suggestion, please don’t touch my words”), it’s actually not really kosher to use it. An editor at HQ tweeted a few months ago that her pet peeve was authors using stet constantly. You have to be willing to let a lot of changes go. I’ve never used ‘stet’ in my two books and probably never will.
So, you get your cover and hope you like it. It’s a done deal when it arrives. There is no ‘I don’t like her hair color and can you make him taller?’ going on. It just doesn’t. I loved the one cover I’ve seen, but I got very nervous before I saw it. What if I hated it?? What if I was embarrassed to have my name on this cover? I didn’t, but it could have happened.
So, you get your authors copies and open this book you’ve written… and it’s pretty much yours. A lot of people helped you make it happen. That can be very good. Season of Joy was nominated for Romantic Times’ Reviewer’s Choice for best debut in a series for 2012. I have NO DOUBT it was due to my editor Melissa’s awesome work. No doubt at all.
Can you open this book and smile, knowing it’s not quite the way you wrote it? Can you be happy with someone else’s fingerprints all over your baby? Are you happy with sharing the vision, the work, and the pay? (Remember your agent is getting 15% of the 6% your publisher is giving you. Did you follow that math? ) If you’re good with this sharing, excellent. Traditional publishing is a good fit for you. (I’m pretty okay with it, too, so that’s why I still submitted to Love Inspired after my first book.)
If you don’t feel comfortable with that process for any reason, follow the arrow to the next box.
YOUR WRITING IS A HOBBY
There are people who write to publish but also it’s a hobby. As I said before, that’s not me. My husband works a hard job and we’ve got these kids who want to eat every day. (Can you believe it?? And they want to wear shoes, too!!)
If you’re independently wealthy, don’t need the income, or plain don’t care about money, this step doesn’t really apply to you.
If you write as a business, then sit down and look at how much you’re earning. Will selling one or two books a year be enough? Remember, this isn’t how much you can write. You can MAYBE sell a few more than two, maybe four. But you’re not going to sell a book a month. Either you get a big contract with a big publisher, or many small contracts. And I wasn’t getting either one. I was getting one a year. I won’t go into specifics, since some people object to authors telling other people how much they make although I think more information is a good thing, but I’ll just say it was a fraction of my husband’s yearly income… and his was hardly keeping us afloat.
Don’t care about money? You can choose whether to keep going on our flowchart.
Money is one of those things in short supply at your house? Go on to the next box.
YOU’VE GOT GUTS
Someone asked how you get over the fear that no one will read your books if you self-publish. I sort of laughed at that because NO PUBLISHER can guarantee that someone will read your books. You get a contract, go through the above process, and… your book may not sell.
I’m not sure about you, but I battle that fear every time I put my fingers on the keyboard. What if I write it and nobody likes it? HUH? What THEN?
Well, it’s a possibility. (Don’t like it? Tough cookies!)
If you’re gutsy enough to claim the title of writer then you’re gutsy enough to get past the fear. In the end, the readers will decide. That’s actually very comforting to me! Let the readers decide…
I mentioned the guts as near to the end of this flow chart as possible because guts matter. You can hate everything about traditional publishing, but if you don’t have the nerve to do it yourself, better stay where you are. It’s not easy. There’s nobody holding your hand. If it fails, you can’t blame your editor, your cover artist, your publicist, or your cat. You’ve approved every step of the process, no matter how many people you paid, so the failure (and success!) will fall on you.
Got guts? No? Stop where you are. Nothing is going to get you past the hurdles of self-publishing if you’re not brave enough to try it. People are going to look down on you. People are going to tell you that you’ve doomed your career. You’re going to get snide remarks and eye rolls. IT WILL HAPPEN.
No one is going to be patting your back. No one is going to support you except the people who were supporting you all along- your friends.
Feeling GUTSY? Let’s keep going.
Tune in next week for Part Two of A Writer’s Journey to Self-Publishing!
About me: Virginia was born near the Rocky Mountains and although she has traveled around the world, the wilds of Colorado run in her veins. A big fan of the wide open sky and all four seasons, she believes in embracing the small moments of everyday life. A home schooling mom of six young children who rarely wear shoes, those moments usually involve a lot of noise, a lot of mess, or a whole bunch of warm cookies. Virginia holds degrees in Linguistics and Religious Studies from the University of Oregon. She lives with her habanero-eating husband, Crusberto, who is her polar opposite in all things except faith. They’ve learned to speak in short-hand code and look forward to the day they can actually finish a sentence. In the meantime, Virginia thanks God for the laughter and abundance of hugs that fill her day as she plots her next book.
You can find me on facebook at ‘Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits’ or at my authors page of Virginia Carmichael.
Christina here. Leave Virginia a comment or question and be entered in a drawing for one of her books.