I have this analogy at Carrot Ranch: That the path to publishing a book is like a rodeo ride. My father, his father and his father were all bull-riders. My father gave it up after high school. I really wanted to ride bulls, coming from a family that did so. I rode training barrels, goats and steers. I never made it to the level of bulls. If I had, all I would have needed was one eight-second ride at a rodeo to prove my merit. I never got the chance.
Now it’s about writing novels. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, mostly publishing in newspapers, magazines and business publications. But I’ve trained to write novels. It’s a bit like my childhood, comparing my writing experience to that of training with goats and steers when I really want to ride bulls. Every lesser step matters though. It’s how you develop skills and practice your craft.
Also, other life experiences matter.
Parenting teaches you a certain kind of dedication that a job does not — you can always change jobs. Every job teaches you something of value, even if it is the recognition of what you don’t want to do. It can teach you the value of teamwork, negotiation, administrative skills. When you feel stumped about how to ride a bull, think back to what it was like to ride a goat or steer. Back up to what you know and look for connections from your experience to take you down an unknown path.
Publishing is the big dream. Think big. Dream big. Publish. However, it’s not quick and easy.
When I first set out, I was so certain I’d ride the biggest, baddest Brahma bull the rodeo had to offer. I would get published. Turns out, that requires getting an agent and the agent brokers the ride. It’s a long process. In the meantime, I kept writing. With my third WIP, I discovered that genre really does matter when it comes to getting published in the bigger arena. This means I won’t get my chance to ride until I finish revisions on my third. And just because a publisher is interested to read doesn’t mean it will get picked up. I have much anticipation on one ride, but it is a strategy and I’m committed to see it through to success or failure.
Well, no one can take from me what I’ve already written. If one ride doesn’t work out, there are plenty more rodeos to aim for. I will most likely consider a new strategy or shop it out to other publishers and agents. Then there is self-publishing.
Self-publishing has remained low on my list of rodeos to consider. To me, it’s like aiming for the county rodeo when I really want to ride at the Nationals. However, it can be a legitimate strategy for authors. Some start with the county rodeo with the intention to get picked up for the national ride. Others enjoy the county rodeo and that’s where they want to be. Many are successful there. It doesn’t matter which rodeo you want, as long as it fits the ride you seek.
While some might think self-publishing is an easy ride, they speak from a lack of experience. It requires a writer to provide more, and to understand book publishing regardless of your entry point. It’s one thing to know how to ride bulls, but do you know what each rodeo requires of you? Self-publishing requires specific skills and planning. It’s more than knowing how to upload a digital file. It requires every step that book publishers take. Thus the author becomes a publisher. It also puts your book into the same market. Thus the author becomes a distributor.
The P-word: planning. Not every author likes the p-word. In fact, a successful author I follow had a hard-truth-response to an author who said they’d self-publish and see what happens. C. Hope Clark, author of several mystery series and the weekly Funds for Writers, responded:
“I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. I encourage it, actually. I have no problem with people publishing as a hobby. I encourage that, too. But . . . when they hint that they do not have the time to do it right . . . when part-time is an excuse for not doing it thoroughly, I just want to get to a microphone someplace and rant!
Of course ranting to anyone is not the way to make them understand. I don’t want someone shaking their finger at me, either. So I try to educate.
1) A book not prepared with a professional eye, will not sell.
2) A book not edited hard by people other than the writer, will not sell.
3) A book placed on Amazon with no steady promotion, will not sell.
4) A book published without the author marketing herself, will not sell.
One gentleman threw those words at me, “and see what happens,” and I simply replied, “It won’t sell.” He looked like I’d slapped him.” (Read the full post, “I’ll Throw it Out There and See What Happens.”)
Planning is essential. I love the craft of writing, too; I love creation, to create, to dwell in the hum of creativity. But I want to ride bulls to make the purse. In other words, I want to publish what I write to earn a living. I’m not so ignorant of the state of this profession to not see how difficult that is. In fact, it’s why I equate publishing books to making a rodeo ride. But consider this: I have student loan debt for a writing degree; I worked in the trenches at newspapers, magazines and in marketing departments; I workshopped my craft on my dime each year and invested money in craft-related books. This isn’t a hobby for me. And just as I have nothing against those who do write for a hobby — I know and admire many who are on this path — I want to help myself and others who are serious to make writing a viable career.
If you do plan, understand it can take years to come to fruition. I wrote a guest post for Rachel Poli about planning and how it’s part of establishing your writer’s platform. You can consider three different plans, all or one. A vision plan is great for all writers. It helps you understand what you want out of writing, an answer only you can give. Once you clearly see your vision, decide if you need a business or marketing plan. If you are having trouble keeping to your plan, adjust it.
Don’t beat yourself up every time you fall off the bull. You will fall off the bull 8,000 times, but you only need one eight-second ride.
You will fail to meet your plans. You will be rejected by others. You will fail to convey your ideas in words. You will experience disappointment. Don’t linger in disappointment (back in the 1850s, it was a common reason for getting committed to an insane asylum). Connect with other writers who are on similar paths. Study the rodeo rides of successful authors and absorb that the ride can be done. Find your voice and use it. Acknowledge your falls, but get back up and try again. You might even want to quit for a while until the itch to ride brings you back to the arena.
The purpose of this post is to give a backstory to posts to come. I’ve been working to define a writer’s platform as what you build from branding, community, credibility and audience. Currently, I’m stuck on audience building. It’s similar to building community, but often harder to make the connection. Community is getting to know your fellow bull riders. But say you had to fill the grandstands with rodeo attendees. Sure, a few bull riders might attend, but most are going to be in the arena with you. So, how do you find people to come watch the show, buy tickets and see your ride? That’s the same question every author has — how do I get people to find my writing, buy my book and read it?
I’m also exploring the world of publishing, specifically self-publishing. Currently the Congress of Rough Writers are collaborating on our first anthology. Sarah Brentyn is riding as Trail Boss; she’s our editor. Volume 1 will include flash fiction from our first year of writing at Carrot Ranch and will introduce several chapters of new work, including essays from our memoirists and longer stories from our featured fiction writers. Sarah Brentyn is also writing a chapter to make this anthology a teaching tool for book clubs, writers groups and classes. Several writers are assisting on teams to guide the processes involved. We plan to self-publish. As Lead Buckaroo, the planning is my task.
What I’m learning is that the marketing channels for traditionally published and self-published books are the same. The difference is what and how distribution is available. Another difference is that as self-publishing, I’m the publisher.
Subsequent posts will explain:
- the marketing channels,
- the role of authors,
- each publishing requirement,
- the process of planning,
- ideas on pricing,
- how a writer’s platform applies to the anthology.
An anthology is a way to explore at low risk. Each participant is risking little on this ride. If it’s successful, it benefits many. It it fails, it doesn’t take down any one writer’s hard work, like a full novel. If I fail, I learn from it. We can always try again. My hope is that the anthology becomes a practice arena of sorts. We can experiment with self-publishing, pricing, distribution, platform and even craft and content, which are all lessons we can individually apply to our greater individual rides. As a group, we have greater experience and skills to share, too.
Stay in the saddle! Once a week, I’ll post something new from what we are doing, learning or discussing. Feel free to add to discussion in the comments.