Scaling The Border Wall Of Publishing


If you consider yourself a writer, you must have experienced a few breakthrough moments. Once in a while there are magical times, hard to come by but worth all the previous struggle, when the words begin to flow and a previously thick stew of ideas coheres into a real story. In years past, that euphoria never lasted long because it was next to impossible to take it any farther. That fleeting sense of accomplishment was inevitably followed by the hopeless feeling of running up against a border wall. Patrols were stationed there to keep you from entering the promised land where your stories might take root and flourish. Obtaining a passport to gain entry into that realm wasn’t totally impossible, but there were dozens of hoops to jump through, and endless waits for the decision-makers to pronounce you worthy.

Then a revolution of sorts arrived on the scene. The self-publishing industry rose up, almost overnight, to blow down that barrier as if it were the Bastille. How liberating was that? We could say good riddance to those endless rules of proper storytelling that applied to newbies like us, but that established authors ignored with impunity. No more waiting six months to hear an agent or publisher say “not for us,” if they bothered to reply at all. No more of their arrogant demands, like the right to view our pieces exclusively so that we wouldn’t waste their precious time, when they had no regrets at all about wasting ours. No more spending years revising one story to suit numerous “expert” and often contradictory specifications, years that could have been filled with countless other stories and boundless creativity.

Perhaps most importantly, none of us has to take no for an answer without knowing why. Even if every agent on earth declares, “I can’t sell it,” that no longer has to be the final word. If we believe in our own work, we can sell it ourselves. Once I’ve given my best effort to my own manuscript, I can put professional editors, proofreaders, and graphic designers on the job. A hired team works to make it as professional as it can be without stomping on my original vision. There are plenty of books out there that are not particularly commercial, and certainly not destined to be best-sellers, but that are good enough for me.

Those would include my own four self-published novels. If I were to pick up one of them and skim it as if it had been written by somebody else, I would at least be tempted to buy it. It would speak to me on numerous levels. No industry expert can convince me that the first paragraph has to grab me with blood and gore. Slow but steady character development is what I like. The most liberating part of this revolution is the ability to produce the kind of writing that interests me. I might be in the minority when it comes to literary taste, but I can’t be the only reader in the world who likes chick-lit minus the predictable, happily-ever-after endings. I must be able to believe it myself. My favorite heroines aren’t all that different from me.

Back in the old days, some experts advised aspiring authors to concentrate on popular genres where the markets were relatively receptive. They mentioned children’s stories and science fiction as possibilities. Certainly those genres have popular appeal, but I was never able to get a spark of an idea from them. My stories tend to take a political or sexual turn, which is hardly ideal for children.  Science fiction presents too many plausibility issues. My real interest is writing about the struggles of more-or-less ordinary women who will never be Wonder Woman, or even the first female president of the US, but who can nevertheless triumph in their own journeys.

These days it looks like we’ve blown down the border wall by sheer numbers, but that doesn’t guarantee that all of us will prosper on the other side. It’s our job to cultivate the promised land, not overcrowd it with junk and take up resources without contributing enough. Who knows how long it will take us to feel like full citizens of that rich country? A satisfying life can only be built one day at a time. It’s our job to spread our seeds, cultivate them, and then wait patiently for the desert to bloom.

16 thoughts on “Scaling The Border Wall Of Publishing

  1. I agree we are in a brave new world where writers have direct access to readers without intervention from agents and publishers. Even blogging is a way to reach readers and build readership. While I’m trying the traditional route now, I feel very grateful and heartened to know that self-publishing is a way forward if the other doesn’t work out. It’s had a lo to time to mature and a lot of writers are choosing it over the Big %.

    1. I do wish you the best of luck in finding a traditional publisher if that is your first choice. But I also think you can relax a little, knowing it isn’t the only possible choice. And you need not be tempted to take a deal that isn’t in your best interests.

  2. I agree, but…have your self-published novels found their way into the hands (or Kindles) of readers? And marketing self-published books is made even more difficult by the fact that many influential media outlets as well as independent bookstores won’t even consider them.

    1. You certainly have that right. Marketing self-published books is a difficult process for sure. Only a modest number of mine have found their way to readers. But the rareness of the event makes it all the more satisfying when it does happen. That is a lot better than nothing, which is likely what I would have if I waited for the traditional powers-that-be to bless my efforts.

  3. I don’t think the publishing establishment wants to give outsiders a chance. Nor do I think they have much interest in developing the medium in the right direction – it’s all about dumbing down to maximise profits. I published my first novel as an e-book, but with little idea of how to develop a social network (and even less enthusiasm for it) my book drowned in the thousands that are published every day. I’m publishing my second novel as a physical book. I know I’m unlikely to make any money, or even make back much of what it will cost me to get it published. But if I can get the book out to a small number of (hopefully) appreciative readers, it will be worthwhile. I’m relieved at last to have found someone who has similar ideas, and who isn’t prepared to compromise their principles, and their writing, in order to comply with the way the establishment tells us we should be writing.

    1. I agree w/you literary lad. It means a lot to me when readers of my novel talk about my characters as if they are real people, and how the reader personally related to a certain scene or character in the story. Touching people w/our writing is the key, and keeping the standards high enough that they far surpass those of the “stuff that sells” is what counts. Self-published books should be the real literature, the way it started in the old days.

  4. Very good article. I haven’t come across anyone writing on this topic until now. I call the traditional publishers The Gatekeepers. You’ve touched on a good number of the issues and stated plainly and honestly the big fat elephants that have been in the living room for all these years…and there are even more. But mostly the whole idea of bowing to kiss the feet of publishers who put out books I wouldn’t read to my dog, just so maybe they’ll grace me with a Rejection Note I can add to my portfolio, and if the “editor” adds something more than “We don’t like it,” I should think I’ve arrived!

  5. Reblogged this on IM Light Publishing and commented:
    Being an indie author has made life a little easier for many writers…especially those whose ideal story doesn’t necessarily fit within the ‘norms’ of standard publishers. Read what this author has to say about the freedom of being an indi author.

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