Every journey leading to publication and success is different, but there is one thing each writer’s path has in common with every other writer’s path: hard work.
It’s not easy to write a novel. Period. You have to juggle a lot of plates in the air, and these are not just the fragile, breakable plates of a novel— plot, character’s eye color, historical events, etc.—but also the spinning plates of keeping your life humming along smoothly. Many of us have to both write and work a day job, or cook for a family, or take care of a sick child, or any number of other, practical tasks. We like to imagine the day our first book is published as the day we can quit our job or hire help, but it isn’t always so. To pay my bills, I worked as a housecleaner for years, and I remember many days of dusting my own books on my clients’ bookshelves.
This guest post is by Nancy Peacock. Peacock is the author of the novels Life Without Water (chosen as a New York Times Notable Book), and Home Across the Road, as well as the memoir and writing-in-the-real-world guide A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning and Life. She teaches writing in her studio in Orange County, North Carolina. Her third novel, The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson, released in January 2017, was published by Atria Press.
In fact, this depressed me to the point that I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue writing. You probably know the feeling. What’s the point? Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just quit this writing business and accept the fact that I’m a failure?
If this resonates with you, I want to tell you that you are not a failure. Every artist in every venue works hard; every artist has failures and disappointments. But sometimes those failures are really a sign that you need to empty yourself. You need spaciousness.
After my third book was published (A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning and Life, Harper Collins 2008) I felt depressed. I made the immature, but perhaps necessary decision, to quit. But one day the opening line of The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson—“I have been to hangings before, but never my own”—slipped into my mind. Yet, at the time, writing and publishing another book was the last thing on my mind.
Although, even as I say it, that feels like a bit of a lie. I think publishing is always on a writer’s mind; I also think we have to forget about it. We have to write without feeding any fear regarding the future of a book, how we’re going to publish, how we’re going to reach an audience, and how the book will be received.
The truth is I was as befuddled about the process of traditional publishing as I was the day of my first novel’s pub-date. A lot had changed between my first book and my third. The world had gone digital, social media boomed, and there was a lot of pressure to be plugged in and available every minute of every day. Frankly, I was having a hard time keeping up and I wasn’t sure I was up to the new expectations of authors.
Add to that, the fact that each of my three experiences with publishing could not have been more different. In one case, due to issues in house, the book was unavailable anywhere even as it was being reviewed—at Christmas, no less. I don’t think I’d ever felt so helpless in my life as people contacted me again and again saying they couldn’t get my book. It was then I realized that anything could happen.
This was my emotional landscape when that great opening line landed in my head. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I felt that the failures were also mine. I felt that I’d failed to find a way to reach an audience. I decided that if I was going to write this book (and I was), I was also going to take matters into my own hands and self-publish it.
Self-publishing was gaining new respect and many writers were crossing over from traditional to self-publishing. I felt like it was a natural fit: I like feeling that I am at the helm of my own ship. I’d been self-employed for years, and it always worked for me. Why not with writing? If there were failures in the process, they would be mine alone, and therefore more identifiable and correctable.
Fast-forward to 2013 and the book is finished and published, just as I’d planned. I’d worked with a book designer and a professional editor. I worked with a friend of mine who had self-published her own mystery book through a company she started. She was gracious enough to help me with the technical side of things. (Nora Gaskin of Lystra Books and Literary Services and author of Until Proven, deserves a shout out here, for helping me with every aspect of the process.)
Fast forward again to 2015 when The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson won First Place in the Mainstream Fiction category of the 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. I was thrilled to get that email!
So what happened? Why am I now re-releasing this book as a traditionally published book? What about all my trepidation over traditional publishing? What about that time my book wasn’t available while it was being reviewed?
Well, yes, there is all that, and as I have said, anything can happen.
But the fact is, we don’t get to write without risk and we don’t get to publish without risk either. I had a great experience with self-publishing. I am fortunate to live in an area with wonderful relationships between booksellers and writers; I was able to get my book on the shelves and schedule readings and public appearances. I also received some local and national press.
So what changed? What made me want to return to traditional publishing?
The answer is simple: I signed on with an agent whom I liked and trusted. And self-publishing had everything to do with that.
In the process of preparing my book for self-publication, I’d reached out to a lot of writers for blurbs, and one of the writers liked the book so well that he sent it to his agent.
His agent liked the book and took it on—even though he had concerns about being able to sell a self-published book. But my agent believed in the work, and was willing to give it a try. “And if it doesn’t sell, we’ll try the next one,” he told me. I appreciated his long view of a writer’s career.
He’d been my agent for only a few weeks before The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson won First Place in the Mainstream Fiction category of the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. When I contacted my agent to tell him this, he was thrilled. He immediately made a list of publishers to whom he would send the manuscript, and within two months, the book was sold.
Every journey is different. Every path is unique. And every writer, self-published, traditionally published, or a combination of the two, is working hard. You work hard to write the book, and when your book is published, you work hard at that too. No matter how you go about it, you must first have a deep relationship with your material, your character, and the story. Ultimately, all the paths one can take stem from there.
The Indie Author Guide takes you through every stage of the self-publishing process. Inside you'll find everything you need to know to:
- explore your self-publishing options
- format your book for POD
- publish in e-book formats
- build an author platform
- promote your work
- transition from indie to mainstream publishing
- And more!
If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at firstname.lastname@example.org.