January 19 marked my one-year publiversary as a self-published author. A year ago on that day, my first book, Gnarled Bones and Other Stories was released, officially making me a self-published author with all the excitement and anxiety that entails.
Naturally, this brings about some reflection for me as to the past and the future of myself as a writer. And since in my psychological fiction my characters deal with the past affects and how it affects their present and future lives, I think it’s only fitting that I go through this kind of process as it applies to me as a writer and author after my first year of publication.
One important question for me at the one-year publiversary is why I decided to go the self-publishing route rather than traditionally publish my work. There are several reasons. I wanted the freedom of making my own decisions about my writing life, both from a writing and publishing standpoint. I wanted to be responsible for my own career and know that whatever successes and failures I had along the way would be due to my efforts (as far as any writer or publisher can be responsible – the book world is a very mysterious and whimsical place). I wanted to avoid as much as possible a publisher (big or small) making decisions that might not be the best ones for me personally or professionally. This is not to say I know better than a traditional publisher what works and doesn’t work in the book world but there are decisions I would rather make on my own that might not be conducive to selling more books (which is the main, if not the only, thing a traditional publisher is really interested on). I respect authors who want to focus on writing and revising and let a publisher do the rest (editing, proofreading, formatting, book cover, etc). But for myself, I chose a different route and don’t regret it.
However, my choice wasn’t just about personal and professional control. It was also about communication. For me, one of the joys of self-publishing has been the direct communication I’ve been able to establish with readers. Since I am publishing directly to them (without the middleman of a publisher, editor agent or others that figure into the publisher-author relationship) I could speak to readers through my fiction in a way that might have been censored (because of marketing or personal preferences). I could write about what I know but in the way that I know it as filtered through my own psychological reality and through that of my characters. This direct communication has been one of the most rewarding aspects of self-publishing for me.
And, too, I knew going in that my fiction and my writing voice were different than what agents and publishers are looking for and what they think will “sell”. I wrote here about the huge anxieties I had (and still have) over my writing voice because it’s not the straight-forward kind of prose that many writers and publishers favor. My style is poetic prose and I like to play with language. Self-publishing has always been a platform for experimentation even before the rise of the internet (Anais Nin published her own work with an old printing press she bought in the 1940’s because publishers would not accept her dream-like surrealistic prose style at that time). Self-published authors can tap into audiences that the mainstream doesn’t want or is afraid to touch. I never expected to be a bestselling author (and still don’t) but I knew I had a better chance of discovering and communicating with an audience that would like and appreciate and enjoy my work if I went it alone.
This is partly why, when I made the decision to self-publish my work, I decided to test the waters first. I knew I wanted my first book to represent my writing voice and style and I also wanted it to be a relatively short work since I wasn’t sure how many people would invest in reading a longer work of psychological fiction written in a poetic prose style. So Gnarled Bones and Other Stories because my first published work. That book, a collection of five short stories, contains the kind of emotional exploration I like to do in my stories and the unconventional plots that place characters in strange and unfamiliar places and situations where they are out of their comfort zones so that they reveal themselves to themselves and to others. They are not the best stories I ever wrote (and at some point I will probably be releasing a new edition of the book with revised and expanded stories) but they proved to be a good beginning for me. They were a way for readers to get a taste of what I am about as an author and, as an author, the book allowed me to experience the many facets of self-publishing and get a sense of the complex and involved process of publishing your own book.
So what does the future hold for me as an author and publisher? More psychological fiction, of course. I just published my second book, The Order of Actaeon, the first book of my Waxwood series. I’m working on the second book, The Claustrophobic Heart right now. The third book in the series, Dandelion Children will also be forthcoming. And there’s a stand-alone book, House of Masks that’s also in the works.
But one of the beautiful things about self-publishing is that it isn’t limiting. I love my psychological fiction but I am also aware that readers crave books that are more accessible. For this reason, I’ll be branching out into other genres that I love and that are quite different (but not as different as you might think – a future blog post about that) from my psychological fiction. In 2013, I wanted to experiment with writing in a more plot-focused genre. I have always loved classic mysteries a la Agatha Christie and I thought it would be fun to write one. I have also always loved history, especially late 19th and early 20th century history. So what better way to have some fun with writing than to combine the two?
So for National Novel Writing Month for 2013, I wrote a book that was to be the first of a long historical mystery series. I enjoyed writing the book and it also taught me a lot about working with a story that has to be carefully plotted. I put the series aside to work on my psychological fiction but I’m ready to take it up again. I can’t say for sure exactly when the first book of this series will appear, but I hope that readers like it as much as they do my current fiction!