Friday, January 6, 2017

My Publishing Dream (And How It Died/Changed)

My Publishing Dream (And How It Died Changed)

It hasn’t yet been a year, so I don’t know why this has been on my mind so much this week, but I’ve been mourning anew the loss of my publisher, Booktrope, which was forced to close their doors last year.

In my heart of hearts, the truth is I had seen the writing on the wall for some time, I just didn’t want to accept it. I hoped somehow they’d be able to keep the business up and running; that so many people who had invested so much time and so much love into so many books (they published almost 1000 books during their existence, five of which were mine) wouldn’t see their dream come crashing down.

Then it came crashing down.

Those who closed the business, those who ran it, lost a lot no doubt; but for some of the authors they had signed, those like me, I feel we lost something more. We lost not just our dreams of being published but the knowledge that we’d actually made it that far in the literary world.

“Why don’t you just republish the books yourself?” I hear that a lot, and the truth is that GODSPEED was self-published before Booktrope picked it up. The reasons I don’t do it are as personal as they are complicated (business-wise) and insurmountable (health-wise). If I lived in a different body, maybe I’d have more choices, but the best option I had in the end was to take my books and put them up on Wattpad.

I am so grateful for the existence of Wattpad.

I am so grateful to the creative teams who worked on my five books, that Wattpad was an acceptable option for me to pursue, because at least the books are still being read, daily, by someone somewhere in the world. How do I know? Because I receive reader comments on one book or another pretty much every single day.

Those messages are the reason why losing Booktrope hasn’t completely broken my heart. Because my books are still being read. And by a larger audience, especially of young readers who wouldn’t have been able to ever order them from Amazon anyway. Some in places where they don’t even have bookstores in their country.

I look at Wattpad as the world’s largest public library. I know it’s become much more as they’ve added special programs and contests and such. Having my books there really means something to me. It’s saved them from oblivion of non-existence; and it’s shown me that even though I’ve lost my publishing dream that I am still a writer, deep down inside. Even on the days when I can’t find the words to type, even on the days I spend more time thinking about writing than actually getting the words down because I’m in pain, or the Bipolar is rearing its ugly head, or whatever.

Why am I still sad today, then, if things have worked out so well with Wattpad? When I am so very grateful to Wattpad for all their support of my stories, and all that they have done for me?

Because something was lost when my books went out of print. I’m absolutely certain it matters to no one else in the world, but it matters to me and it still hurts.

Several ex-Booktrope authors have started their own independent presses and republished; others have sought and found other publishers. I didn’t try to do either. Because at this age (45) I know my limitations, and I know that the work involved is more than a full time job and if I were healthy enough for that I’d have a paying gig somewhere on top of publishing my books.

It’s also a matter of money. I’d need to hire pros to format, redesign covers again, market the books (as I have discovered over the years that doing your own marketing is another full time job all its own and I’d never attempt it again.)

I’ve asked people’s opinion of what I am now that I was a published novelist but my publisher went out of business. Am I still published? Am I unpublished? Am I simply “out of print”?

Most have said that no one can take the label of ‘published novelist’ away from me once it was bestowed; and I don’t for the life of me know why it even matters to me to have it, but it does. It means my books were more than files on a bunch of computers. It is a reminder that GODSPEED hit #1 in Steampunk literature on Amazon no less than three times, and OF STARDUST went to #2 in Romance>Fantasy. That WISHING CROSS STATION was #1 in free Time Travel books on Amazon in multiple countries during a promotion we did for it. My books existed.

There are still print copies out there for sale by third party sellers. Some are reasonable, and some are priced so ridiculously I have no idea why anyone would list a book for so much money when obviously no one is ever going to buy it. Sometimes they are unavailable for a while, then a copy will pop up on Amazon as available.

I think the hardest part is when someone on Wattpad tells me “this story should be published” or asks where they can buy a copy, and I have to try to explain that they were available for sale once, but the publisher no longer exists.

I know that it’s time to move on from the whole nightmare, and maybe writing about it once more and posting this will help me somehow. Maybe it’ll serve as a warning to other writers that just because you are published one day does not mean that you can’t be out of print tomorrow, so don’t invest too much of yourself into the label “published novelist”.

I’m still published as a poet in an anthology that’s available on Amazon, and I had art, short stories, other prose, and poems published in various literary magazines, too, all of which have now also closed down. One of my essays is still out there in an anthology (non-fiction). Another short story was published in another anthology… on and on.

I am, I suppose, after all still published.

Writing as an art form is one thing; publishing is an entirely different animal. I wrestled with trying to do all I was ‘supposed’ to do while my novels were in print, because I wanted to do everything I could to help make my books a success. No matter what I did it was never quite enough. There are just so many books published every single week, month, year… to try to get noticed can be shouting into the void and endlessly frustrating.

Does this post have a point? I hope so. I hope the point is that those who are going into the world of publishing should do so with both eyes wide open, fully aware that it is a business (not a magical dream factory) and one that can be very hard on a person emotionally, physically, and (especially if you’re going it on your own) financially too.

Be sure that it is really your dream before you leap into something. Be sure of who you are leaping into that something with, and all terms and conditions of any contracts before you sign them.

And above all, don’t confuse “published” with “permanent” because I’m here to tell you that one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. An author told me yesterday that going out of print is just a part of writing. Maybe so, but it was one that I didn’t even let myself consider when I was bright-eyed and newly published. I should have. Maybe it would have prepared me better for what was to come later on.

Lesson learned, the hard way.

I am not my books, but they are a part of who I am and always will be. Even if the only way for people to read them is to do so on a screen. At least it won’t cost them a penny to do it, and I don’t have to advertise my wares anymore and hope someone will click Buy It Now.

Go after your dreams, folks, just do it with your expectations in check. It could save you a lot of heartache down the road later on if you consider every possible outcome, even “out of print”.