October 20th, 2014

Your Publishing Career: it’s all about choices

Kathryn Craft

Turning Whine Into Gold

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As writers, we are used to making choices on behalf of our characters. As characters in our own life stories, though, we also make choices. We set a goal, pursue it until we come to a fork in the road, and then deal with the changes and challenges this new direction brings to our lives.

Hands down, the goal that inspires the most rabid pursuit among writers is to see their work through to publication. Note “rabid.” Since rabies is an infectious disease that creates unquenchable thirst and madness, and the treatment is painful, it behooves us to look at our choices in a healthy way.

First, let’s be clear: despite the rancor often found on the front between the indie vs traditional camps, this is publishing, not war. No one is holding a gun to your head. You have entered this publication story’s plot of your own accord and can leave at any time.

You always have a choice.

In fact, the number of publishing choices for authors nowadays is unprecedented, a fact that in itself is anxiety producing! People bank on the fact that each choice will lead to “King”-sized income and best-sellerdom. It could—I’m not trying to take that dream away from anyone. Heck, I have that dream too! But let’s look at the cold, hard math:

(Assuming: same # of readers consuming same # of books)

divided by

(unprecedented # of authors getting published in an unprecedented # of ways)

= fewer readers per author.

No amount of wishful thinking can change that math.

Oh, but we want to blame someone for it, don’t we? This is where disease sets in.

But there’s an antidote for the soul-rot caused by blame. I covered the first steps to take beyond emotional reaction last month, so we could deal with our anger before spewing it all over social media. But when met with an unexpected plot twist we aren’t just going to sit in the road adapting while any old truck comes down the pike to hit us, are we? Heck no—this is our career we’re talking about.

When change provides new information, we must choose again.

How quickly we disempower ourselves by saying we “had” to go in a certain direction! If you are one who is “defaulting” to self-publishing, what you are doing is deciding to put yourself out of the misery of waiting, and choosing to take on the misery of an outcome that was less than your goal. Think of the word “de-fault”: it sounds like there’s blame hiding in there, doesn’t it?

After owning a few small businesses, I know that disempowerment is not the foundation you want to build on. You are the brand, and people want to believe in you. Being an author requires an entrepreneurial spirit, self-published or not, and to think otherwise is to live in another century.

Incontrovertible truth: You will never be able to drive forward while looking back!

There is no reason to park your creativity at the door when it comes to your publishing choices. After all, even a fork in the road has many tines, right? A choice isn’t always either/or. The language of “choice” will empower you. Here’s an example, using the self-pub default example:

I can’t get an agent/I’m too old to wait for an agent. I’ll have to self-publish.

• You could choose to stand firm and continue to submit the same, always-improving project to agents in other geographic areas.

• You could choose to start a new project and resubmit to see if agents deem it more marketable (once an offer comes through, multiple completed projects are a huge bonus—and in the time it takes to write the new novel, a new spate of hungry young agents will have arrived on-scene).

• You could choose to up your game by learning more about writing and storytelling and publishing. Knowledge breeds confidence!

• You could choose to submit to one of the many small and micro publishers that you can access without an agent.

• You could choose to begin an education in the many aspects of book production and marketing and see if the self-publishing option beckons to you. If it doesn’t, you will be that much more knowledgeable about publishing when the offer comes. If it does, you have an exciting new career option!

“Exciting new career option” sounds a lot better than “default,” right? I know people who have taken each of these paths and called it a win—because after considering many options, they owned and fully embraced the choice they made.

It is my opinion that fiction writing makes authors more empathetic people. We deal daily in human failings, deep motivations, emotional scars, and irrevocable change. Why not extend some of that empathy to ourselves? Make the choice, today, to let the protagonist in the story of your life own his or her own path. After all, you chose it.

To what aspects of your life do you feel enslaved? Do you “have” to work a day job, or care for an elderly parent? How could choice language help you honor the part of yourself that holds to this agreement?

 About Kathryn:

Kathryn CraftKathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy, due May 2015.

Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.

Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Although a member of The Liars Club, she swears that everything in this bio is true.

Website: http://www.kathryncraft.com/

25 comments to Your Publishing Career: it’s all about choices

  • Thanks for the excellent advice!

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    I totally agree about the word “de-fault” – it’s just begging for a good whine session about why things didn’t go “my way.” There are so many options available to writers these days, all equally viable – as long as you’ve made the choice that’s consistent with your goals.

    Thanks for another great post, Kathryn.

  • Words are so interesting and revealing, aren’t they? 😉

  • Kathryn – Great post! So many people feel trapped by previous choices, when we can always choose to undo them (painful, perhaps, but usually doable). I also want to add that making choices for your career is easier when you have a clear goal for your career. What is it you want to accomplish, really? And then to break the goal down further: what is your goal for THIS project? How will the choice for THIS project further your overall career goal? Taking some time to sit and think about your true goals for your career can make the choices easier–Jami Gold talks about goals a lot, and she’s right. Because not everyone has the same goals–some just want to be published, some will be happy with a small but loyal niche audience, some want multi-book deals, some have only one book in them, and some want to be the next JK Rowling. Knowing what will make you happy with your career makes the choices much clearer.

    • These are all great points Kerry, thanks for tossing them into the arena here. Goal setting is what pulls you onto the path to begin with—but these days, those paths that diverge at the fork in the road may just wind back and forth across each other, as “hybrid” authors can attest.

  • Kathryn, another great post. You do get right down to the bone … the bone of contention … or the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat?

    It is our choice to see each road as a well traveled path … not for us in particular … but for many others in general from whom we can learn. Robert Frost was said to have made the comment in his later life … that he decided to double back and take the other road. So the road less traveled became one way for him to see his path and not the last choice 🙂

  • Yes, Florence, Frost’s poem is a great work to call forward for this discussion. M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled, begins with the words, “Life is difficult.” And writers are called to a life that many might argue is more difficult than most. Yet storytellers are gifted with a) creative natures that can get us past tough situations, b) problem-solving skills that help us choose the path we want to walk, and c) a deep enough appreciation for words that by incorporating “choice language” we can empower ourselves to lives the life we want to live.

  • Fabulous post. Feeling forced into any situation is definitely not the foundation for success. As I read in one book, you have to feel you have the power to say “no,” so you can fully say “yes” to another option.

    Shared!! I want to see our writing community feel more positive and empowered!

  • Holly Robinson

    Sometimes the debate between indie and traditionally-pubbed authors reminds me of the old debates between stay-at-home moms and those who worked full time, where the camps are divided and there is so much finger pointing as each camp claims the other way is “best.” In reality, you’re exactly right: there are many choices out there for writers seeking publication, and each of us has to choose the best possible path not only for us, but for each book we want to get into the hands of readers. We all need to support one another–every writer’s journey is unique and exciting.

    • “We all need to support one another–every writer’s journey is unique and exciting.” Yes Holly! We should all go out and tweet this right now! Attribution to @hollyrob1!

  • Kathryn, I just approved several comments for you. I adore your “Turn Whine Into Gold” series. Everything in life is about choices, and many of them are hard. As our own Laura would say, “Sometimes you gotta ‘suck it up, Buttercup.'”

  • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist)

    “When change provides new information, we must choose again.” <-YES. And that is where we must try not to let ourselves get stuck. Patience, positivity, and taking control of how I approach this business is so important.

    Great advice, Kathryn.

    • Janet this is why I’m not even bothering taking self-publishing workshops right now. Might I choose to be a hybrid author down the line? Sure. But even six months from now, there will be new information posing new choices. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it!

  • My business plan is to write the best thing I can write and see what happens. I don’t want to get any farther ahead of myself than that.

    • Eric thank you so much for making this point! A time will come to make decisions about publishing; this is NOT a primary concern. It saddens me that in this era of self-publishing, writing conferences are bending to demand and offering more and more marketing seminars. What happened to studying the craft? It’s amazing how far that can take you. You stay on your path with my best wishes!

  • Thanks for the reminder, Kathryn. I’ve seen so many writers crying, looking at the closed door instead of the open one, right next to them! My own expectations hold me back much more than anyone else ever will!

    • Laura I’ve been staring at your last line here over and over. It intrigues me. If you check back to the thread, give me an example of how your expectations hold you back.

      • I could (and may, someday) write a novel about that, Kathryn! I don’t listen much to others’ opinions about me – or my writing. Reviews can’t destroy me. I had 417 rejections before I got an agent.

        But I didn’t begin writing until I was 43, because of my own opinion. I wasn’t smart enough to be a writer.

        Yeah, give me others’ opinions any day. Pfffft.

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