Of course, the word normal is kind of meaningless, especially when we're coming up on Holy Week. We have choir and/or quintet practice five out of the next seven days. Two of those are at my house. This is not going to be a quiet week.
Still, it's Monday, and Monday wants a post. Ergo, your writers' link of the week: Hugh Howey's advice to aspiring writers.
All right. For several years I've waffled inside between traditional and self-publishing. I've been working towards going indie with my fairy tale retelling, while reserving my NaNoWriMo novel and sequels for a serious attempt at the Big Five. I even wrote a brief manifesto titled "Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: Why I'm Trying Traditional" two years ago. And while I wouldn't say I haven't seriously considered self-publishing—I have—some part of me has always hung onto the plan.
Howey just shook that determination in serious ways. He's not focusing on worst case scenarios or calling people stupid for wanting to get in with a big publishing house (nor, thank goodness, is he denigrating people for making use of modern self-publishing tools, as some traditional-publishing loyalists are wont to do.) He's simply suggesting that, publishing contracts and the life of a shelved book being what they are*, a writer is better off starting on his own and building his career from the outside in. From the article:
This is going to sound strange, but you are MUCH better off with your 10th work exploding than your 1st work. You’ll never have quiet time to crank out quality material ever again. And when your backlist matches the growth of your first breakout, you’ll do very well for yourself. Be patient. It’s been said by many others, but I’ll repeat it here: self-publishing is a marathon.... Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t team up with a publisher if you choose. But do it from a position of power. Give your work a chance (years and decades) to be discovered.He's the first person I've ever heard state so plainly that careers are best launched gradually, on a carefully-built body of work, not on a single polished and marketable manuscript that may or may not fly in its brief window of opportunity. That sounds like truth to me.
I question a handful of the absolutes in his piece. For instance, the stigma against self-publishing is not gone, it's merely diminished. Yes, a certain recent Big Five mermaid romance I read contained more copy editing mistakes than my average first draft (not exaggerating), and yes, my friend Annie's self-published Christmas children's book that she wrote for her nieces and nephews equals or supersedes much of what can be found in B&N during the holiday season. (It is beautiful. I wholeheartedly recommend it.)
But I generally read a self-published novel only after it's been strongly suggested to me—if only by its own excerpt—that it's more thoughtfully and empathetically written than its compatriots. Of course, there are so many novels in the world that this is more or less true all around.
Self-publishing is too immediate and too short on gatekeepers to offer readers the kind of confidence a publishing house can. An indie writer has to be able, not just to tell a good story, but to sit on that story till she's got her world and characters and prose developed at least to the point where it would satisfy a professional reader (and then to find and utilize a smart editor). It takes a level of self-control and objectivity fairly rare among humankind to be able to wait for and finally spot that moment in your own work, and I find it hard to imagine that anyone publishing more than about a novel a year—traditionally or independently—possesses that.**
But none of these debate points suggests to me that Howey is wrong in his general approach. For a quiet, deliberate, cautious mover like myself, he could be quite right.
I'm not committing either way just yet. Feel free to argue with me or Howey or both. I'm just looking for the way to give my books the very best chance at life I can give them.
* Regarding publishing contracts and the life of a shelved novel: industry contracts tend to contain things like non-compete clauses. And books that actually make it into bookstores, and they don't all, reportedly have an average shelf life of six months. The former difficulty you may escape, at least in part, with the help of a good agent or lawyer. The latter is simply an inherent risk. Is that risk better than self-publishing and never making it onto B&N shelves at all? That's a lot of question for a footnote; suffice it to say that the answer isn't clearly yes or no.
** The converse to that, of course, is that the book-a-year schedule of traditional publishing undermines story development, too. That's a difficult pace for most people to reach, and a nearly impossible one to maintain.