There’s so much talk going on around the blogosphere about e-books and self-publishing and the changes that are here and the changes that are coming that…well, it feels a bit overwhelming to even try and jump into the conversation. Then again, all that talk does get me/us thinking, and it’s a conversation that does need to be had, even if we don’t come to any major conclusions.
So, my thought for today is about how we, the writer, know when a story is “ready.”
I don’t believe that having a book accepted by an agent or an editor at a traditional publishing house is the only definition of ready. I’m not getting into the argument about whether these routes only produce “good” books or not. Obviously, there are books that were ready that also got turned down in this forum, for various reasons from taste to market needs, and that’s only happening more in this economy, I’d guess. I do think, however, that we can say there is and has always been a kind of validation for an author, if and when they get a yes from someone along this path. Someone who reads a lot, who knows the industry and the business and who, yes, loves books.
So many of us are talking about other routes today, seriously considering them–if not for this project, for the possibility of a future one. It’s kind of like the discussion about e-book readers: I don’t need one now, but I can definitely see a future when I’ll have one. I’m not ready to self-publish anything myself today, but I hear conversations about e-books for royalties only, and I think…hmm? I don’t know.
And the big thing I wonder about is: for all these writers who do decide to take this step, who take back the reins of the horse and release their own book–how do they know when it’s ready? How do they get the validation that what they’ve written and revised has reached that stage when their audience, if not a publisher, will say…oh, yeah!? (And reaching that audience–yet another discussion!)
For me, I think, there has to be one or more outside readers in the process. Yes, a critique group, obviously is the choice I would make, but, really, what I’m talking about is people who are less invested in your writing and your success than you are. People who are brave enough to dig deep into your story and talk to you about what isn’t working yet. People who are skilled enough to do that. And people who will be honest with you and say to you, “Not yet,” if that’s what they truly believe.
And there have to be multiple stages where you, with or without this kind of critique feedback, take your own work to pieces–big and small–and put it back together again. And again. And….again. You have to not only kill the darlings, but find them first and then figure out what to replace them with. You have to recognize the differences between each draft–see where things are getting better, then dive back in and work some more with the places that aren’t.
And then…what? What in this new world is going to take the place of that external, professional validation. Maybe the first self-publishers, the adventurous ones already taking those steps are braver than me about this, more self-confident. Maybe, as I said, I’ll get there–to a place where I have a gut-level I know about my own writing. I’m not sure. I’m not going to worry about it today. But I’m definitely curious.
Writers are not the only ones having this conversation. Agents and editors are tossing thoughts and questions and ideas about it all back and forth–I think this is a time more than ever before to be reading their blogs and, if you can do it, stepping out onto Twitter to see what they’re saying to each other. Listen to them at conferences. I’ve heard some people wonder if the professionals who are really excited and enthused about the changes aren’t also a bit naive. Maybe. But I’m telling you–if there were two agents asking to sign me, and–with everything else equal–one of them was “naively” jumping into whatever this all is and the other was reluctantly tagging along, even resisting–I know which one I’d be talking to most.
Where do you see yourself on this path? In what situation might you consider self-publishing? Would you choose print publishing or e-book publishing or both? And what other questions are you musing over yourself? Jump into the comments with your ideas.