A Literary Wild, Wild West
Of my dozen or two established writer friends in the 1990s, most of them had multi-book contracts through their agents. They would do signings and interviews and bookstore launches. 60% of them published through Tor; most of the rest with other large genre imprints like DAW or BAEN. And a few had books published by prestige small publishers. The closest anyone came to self-publishing was putting out occasional chapbooks through tiny self-owned imprints. Those days, a mere 20 to 25 years ago, seem very ordered and genteel (if a trifle elitist) compared to now.
Here are Some of the Many Ways the World has Changed for Writers:
I still have half a dozen writer friends with recent Tor books, and/or online novellas. A few others have drifted from TOR to either mainstream or well-known alternative publishers. A few writer friends whose books were orphaned by the demise of their publishers have been picked up with great results by Open Media. A number are still publishing with the surviving small presses, and a few are with emerging micro-presses, many of which were created by people who started out self-publishing their own books and then deciding to diversify.
Some writers have cobbled together sustainable incomes using Patreon or crowd-funding; some have built followings on Wattpad; and others sell their books through their own websites. Some advertise heavily while others wouldn’t dream of advertising.
Almost all of them are trying to find the best path forward, even the ones who seem at the top of their game.
I now also know many, many people who are self-publishing and seem to be making some kind of a living out of it. Most active writers are forced to have their own websites, whether self-maintained or farmed out to a friend/fan/collaborator/contractor. I don’t get the sense there is as much trading of services going on as there I think there should be (ie: trading content for web-building skills). But with Wordpress and Weebly and Wix and all of their of ilk competing for our patronage, most of us can build passable minimalist websites for ourselves. So in 25 years, we’ve gone from everyone following (or striving to follow) essentially the same blueprint to everyone having to make their own career blueprint as they go along.
There are as Many Pathways as We Can Possibly Imagine to Self-publishing Success:
One of them involves working unrelentingly on your own brand. And the other involves being far more prolific than it is even possible for me to be.
There are a great many authors these days writing 10 to 20 books a year. Granted with many of them, the books are actually just stand-alone novellettes and novellas and the series are just story cycles, with each installment packaged as a separate book – so maybe those twenty books are equivalent to four traditional sized novels, but still, they’re all amazingly prolific.
If I wrote that fast, it would be like churning out synopsis after synopsis of books I’d never get around to writing properly. I’ll jealously admit that almost all the people doing it are more natural writers than me, I have had to learn to invest five or more complete drafts before I am anywhere near happy enough with them to let people read them. If I produce a book a year, it would be rushed. The quality would be spotty, with some really good scenes amidst fields of manure. Maybe, when I’m able to write full time, one and a half books a year will be possible.
But even if I can’t bump my output significantly, there are still things I can do. I could definitely write them in a more serial fashion so that I could put them out one novella at a time. The Diptych I’m writing stands at about 250K words. If I had the foresight when I sat down to seriously tackle the books seven years ago, I would have worked harder to break the epic down into separate 50,000 word stand alone stories.
As it stands, I do have one book I’ll be releasing in that that fashion next year! It’s based on “Razorwings” – which was the surprise breakout story from my Psychedelia Gothique collection.
I had high hopes after it was first published in Terminal Frights and received a glowing review from Throne of Bones author, Brian McNaughton. But then it quietly slipped into oblivion.
While the early reviews for Psychedelia Gothique focused on my older stories, “Fourth Person Singular” and “Memory Games,” almost all the reviews singled out “Razorwings” – and several of them considered it to be the standout tale.
The second story in the cycle was cowritten with Sally McBride and published in the Unbound II: Changed Worlds anthology. Since then, I have been working on the climactic novelette, and adding some connecting material. In 2021, it should be ready to publish in book form.
I’ve been searching for a catchy title and just now came up with The Barrow-Imp’s Chronicles. I like it, and everyone who has read this far in this wandering post has helped me come up with it.
I should also have enough short fiction to put together one or more new collections. Along with Book Two of Avenging Glory, it’s enough to make me at least appear prolific and give me a big enough back catalogue so that money spent promoting any one of the books will essentially promote them all.
Unexplored Advantages of the New
The point I am trying to make is that every new edition of a work gives us, as artists, the opportunity to revisit, revise, reimagine, reintroduce. repackage and reconfigure until our work finds its ideal format. I think it’s one of the great advantages of this era of publishing – and it is an underused technique in the still emerging field of electronic literature.
Get the scoop on my new novel, The Human Template at https://dalelsproule.com.