Upon the release of my third book, Driven, I want to talk about the stigma of self-publishing, but first I need to tell you a little about my publishing journey. Like Shelli, I pursued the traditional route for years. I studied hard, worked my butt off, and did everything “by the book.” I sought feedback and revised. I queried time and again, never letting the rejections stop me—never giving up. After five years, I finally found an agent. But she couldn’t sell my book.
In many ways, I don’t regret the arduous process I went through because it helped me develop the skills I need to publish my own books. By the time they get to my editors, they’re already in great shape. My copy editors tend to comment that I didn’t leave them anything to correct, or that if they were charging by the error, they’d only make a few bucks. But what I do resent is how the traditional publishing community led me to believe it was a lack of skill and talent that kept me from being published (mostly by saying nothing at all), when in fact it was about marketing. It’s only through my experience witnessing what gets accepted and what gets rejected—and my effort to market my own books—that I’ve become enlightened. An author can have a perfectly crafted manuscript, and if it’s not marketable in New York’s eyes, you’re not going to get a book deal. Many writers out there would be doing themselves a favor to recognize that and stop beating themselves up. The traditional publishing model is a business. Businesses survive by making money. It’s a simple, brutal fact that often has nothing to do with the human element.
So after all those years, I came to the decision to publish my books on my own. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will say it was a lot like losing your religion. At first you’re sure you’re going straight to hell. But that feeling goes away, and the sense of empowerment gets stronger until you wonder why you were ever afraid to begin with. At first I worried I was making the wrong choice. Fifteen months later, I can say I haven’t regretted it for a second. It’s been a total rush.
Which brings me back to stigma. This is something indies encounter a lot, and some of them get angry or depressed or let themselves get bogged down in it. I don’t have time for that nonsense. If someone disses me, I just don’t associate with them. I’m living my dream and running a business. Why would I care what ignorant people think?
But I do find it amusing. Case in point—I got a gig teaching a self-publishing class at the Oregon SCBWI Spring Conference. As an indie author, I’m not allowed to sell my books at the event. I’m not PAL, after all. Since I’m self-published, my books are bound to be crap, right? Forget the fact that excerpts of them have won awards. The irony is, before I decided to go indie, I was part of the team that founded Puddletown Publishing Group. My first book, Running Wide Open, was scheduled to be one of Puddletown’s first releases. I parted ways with the publisher and they went on to become PAL certified. Had I stayed with Puddletown, I’d be Published and Listed now. And my book would be of lesser quality for it. Why? Because I wanted it to go through one more round of editing, so I paid a professional New York editor to read my manuscript. Then I got another copy edit. And yes, these editors caught several things that would have otherwise wound up in the book. When you look at the irony of this, the sheer whimsy of the way the PAL rules work (simply because they have a blanket approach, rather than being decided on a case-by-case basis), you realize it’s ridiculous to take offense. This is not about skill. It’s about an organization having a simplistic system that’s easy to implement.
Though some indies have a problem with traditional publishing, I don’t. An individual’s publishing journey is a personal thing, and it’s up to them to make a choice based on their strengths and desires. Each of us has to do what brings us the most satisfaction. But I would like to leave all writers with this one bit of advice: don’t beat yourself up over whether or not you get an agent or sell a book. Don’t get down on yourself because of arbitrary rules set to make things cut and dried for an organization. Businesses and organizations have a purpose, and it’s not to feed your ego or let you down easy. Keep that in mind, and the whole publication process will be a lot less stressful.
The last thing on 16-year-old Jess DeLand’s wish list is a boyfriend. She’d have to be crazy to think any guy would look twice at her. Besides, there are more important things to hope for, like a job working on cars and an end to her mom’s drinking. Foster care is a constant threat, and Jess is willing to sacrifice anything to stay out of the system. When luck hands her the chance to work on a race car, she finds herself rushing full throttle into a world of opportunities—including a boy who doesn’t mind the grease under her fingernails. The question is, can a girl who keeps herself locked up tighter than Richard Petty’s racing secrets open up enough to risk friendship and her first romance?
“The first romance is captured beautifully—just the right combination of natural and awkward, of eager and scared.”
~ Bob Martin, writing professor, Pacific Northwest College of Art
About the author
In addition to being a YA author, Lisa Nowak is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. Though offered two deals by a small presses in 2011, she turned them down to go indie. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are. She enjoys dark chocolate and stout beer and constantly works toward employing wei wu wei in her life, all the while realizing that the struggle itself is an oxymoron.
Lisa has no spare time, but if she did she’d use it to tend to her expansive perennial garden, watch medical dramas, take long walks after dark, and teach her cats to play poker. For those of you who might be wondering, she is not, and has never been, a diaper-wearing astronaut. She lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her husband, four feline companions, and two giant sequoias.