My (Indie) Publishing Journey
by JC Andrijeski
I feel pretty lucky, actually, how the timing fell out for me in terms of my fiction writing career. It didn’t always feel that way though, I have to say.
Let’s just say, I wasn’t one of those people whose books smelled like roses right out of the gate. In fact, I spent about fifteen pretty thankless years hammering away at learning to write novels before I got to a point where I felt confident enough to try selling any of them seriously. Back then, around 2007-2008, there really was no indie publishing to speak of. There were vanity presses, sure…and the very first Kindle readers had hit the market, but so far not a lot had changed. My only knowledge of ebooks came from ‘Rocketbooks,’ which most of you won’t remember, and that I only do because my boyfriend in San Francisco at the time happened to be one of the pioneers in that format, mainly experimenting with writing bizarro, musically-scored novels which were kind of a cool curiosity, but not exactly taking the publishing world by storm.
So when I started trying to sell my first (real) novel, it was to traditional publishers.
I did the query thing. I went to conferences and met a lot of extremely cool and encouraging editors…and a much smaller pool of equally cool and encouraging agents (not because the agents were less cool or anything, I just met fewer of them. Truthfully, the whole ‘agent’ thing always struck me as a bit weird from the perspective of my business background. They weren’t going to pay me…why would I waste my time trying to court them?). I got a lot of great feedback and some nibbles, but mostly, I heard that my series was ‘unsellable.’ Meaning, the sales force at their particular houses would probably hate it, unless I was willing to make some pretty massive changes to the content.
What phrase did I hear the most? “Send us your next book.”
I’ve since found out this is actually a pretty big compliment…although it didn’t really feel like it at the time, I have to say.
Then, while I was at a pitching conference in New York City early in 2010, I met another starting-out writer, what you might call a ‘neo-pro,’ like me. Meaning, we’d had a few sales, but only short things. We had some years behind us on the writing gig, and weren’t trying to sell our trunk novels anymore, thinking they were the best thing since sliced bread and that we were geniuses. We got that it was a job and that publishing was a business. We’d even been through enough rounds of rejection that we didn’t get angsty about it anymore or spend hours after each one listening to bad cowboy music and drinking Thunderbird.
As we got to talking, this other writer recommended that I get in touch with a group of pro writers he knew living on the Oregon coast, who ran workshops. Since I lived in Portland at the time, he said I should take advantage of the proximity, since they only taught professional writers and neo-pros, like us, and they were serious about it.
I took his advice, (since he seemed a level-headed sort), and ended up taking a class with that same group of writers a few months later. Well, right around then, the Kindle was really starting to gain some traction. I remember the two pro writers running the workshop reacting to this phenomenon cautiously at the time, but they were definitely paying attention. In the workshop itself, however, the focus remained exclusively on selling to traditional publishers.
Well, wow…did that change a few months later.
Those same Oregon Coast writers ended up being early adopters and pioneers in the whole indie publishing phenomenon, and pretty much right after I met them. As a result, I got to basically sit and watch a group of long-term professionals figure this whole thing out while it was actually happening. This did a few things for me. One, it gave me the courage to try it for myself. After all, these people were pros. If they said it wouldn’t ruin my career to experiment with indie publishing, I trusted that they were right (as opposed to vanity publishing, which was like handling dead bunnies to most people in the industry and to be shunned at all costs).
Secondly, I instantly had a network of people who were all trying this, and making mistakes, and sharing those mistakes and whatever they learned…and trying again, and making more mistakes, and on and on. After watching and listening quietly from the corner for a few months, I decided to experiment for myself. I put up those unsellable books, in that unsellable series, figuring…what the heck? What do I have to lose? I put up a few short stories, too. Then I just kept adding things as I wrote them.
So why do I feel lucky? I mean, I’m not one of the ‘instant millionaire’ stories you read about in indie publishing…far, far from it. Most people still haven’t read the ‘unsellable’ books. But they are selling, and I’m now writing full time, and slowly building a fan base around those books and others I’ve written. I’m not selling my trunk novels, because I’d already written my way past that phase. On the other end, I’m not locked into any bad-deal contracts either, and unable to get my rights back because I was too desperate to read the fine print.
So yeah, I feel lucky.
Most of all, I feel lucky because I now get to spend a good chunk of my day, every day, doing what I love. Now, if I ever do have a deal from a traditional publisher on the table, I also feel like I’ll be approaching it more as a free agent. Even more importantly, to me anyway, I can keep writing the ‘unsellable’ novels, the weird ones that don’t fit easily into handy sales buckets…and which generally tend to be the ones I most like to read.
Genre – SciFi / Fantasy / Romance
Rating – PG13