Why I went Indie
When we set out to publish, most of us writers intend to go mainstream, traditional, hard copy, hardback New York publishers all the way. We want to be able to walk by the corner bookstore (should it exist) or the nearest Borders (should that exist) and see our book in the window display. I can tell you from personal experience that this sight truly is a massage to the ego, a balm to the harried writer’s soul. It is amazing to see something tangible and concrete come out of a whole lot of arduous work.
But the book business is a business, bottom line. What sells is what is of value. Yes, there are the artistic books, the literary books, poetry and exquisitely drawn novels that are truly published based on merit and beauty. Yet many books are sold based on platform and idea. Do you have vampires, a dystopian world, a love story, a triple murder/suicide? Horror festival of epic proportions? Send it on over. Of course, a well written vampire/werewolf tale is better than something hacked out, but agents and editors are looking for that hook, that angle, and it is a hard game to play when—as with most writers—we simply have a story to tell. We have the impulse to write, and we wish that were enough.
Back in 2001, my first novel Her Daughter’s Eyes was published by NAL to enough acclaim and showed a good sales record. My then editor purchased two more, novels I really loved. The Matter of Grace, the first of that duo, was published in 2002 to the same acclaim and more sales, but just as that novel was being copyedited, my editor quit and moved to Florida. Gone! Later, my new editor brought me into her office and told me that despite my first editor’s love of what was to be novel three, she hated it. She thought it was too damn much. Well written, but she was appalled that someone had a heart attack in it.
“So,” said I. “You aren’t going to publish it?”
“No,” she said.
“Even though it was already purchased and edited?”
“Yes,” she said.
So rather than give back my advance—spent as it was—I wrote another novel, a sad novel in and of itself, but no one had a heart attack in it. There was a gay character that she had me “un-gay” (give that writing task a go sometime!) but other than that, she loved it, it was published, and life chugged on.
But after my writing career took some weird twists (my second agent turned me toward romance novels because he wanted me to “sell big”) my current editor passed away, and my second agent fired me, I found myself thinking back to that long ago purchased and then rejected novel, the one with the heart attack: The Tables of Joy. I loved that novel. My first editor loved that novel. It was a good story with a cast of characters I enjoyed. And because I happen to love my Kindle and admired what digital publishing can do, I began to form a plan with other novels that met similar fates such as that would-be second novel: I was going to published them digitally.
My traditional career has continued during this process (I have had romances come out 2006-2010), but I am really very excited about publishing myself. I found a woman who would create the covers for me. And I have to say that my created covers are much more representative of the books’ plots than my traditionally published books. After proofreading and editing once more (all of my books have gone through many drafts, my writing group, and an editor), I struggled but managed to format the book for Kindle and Smashwords. I wrote copy for various sites and then asked my publicist to do what she did for my traditionally published books: send out the word.
Now you ask: Have I made a lot of money? No, I have not. I’ve made some, enough to go out to dinner with my husband at a nice restaurant once a month. But here’s what feels good: novels that I’ve loved and love are being read. People can read work that slipped through the publishing cracks, but it is work that I believe in and stand by, work that “my” readers would recognize and love. Maybe New York doesn’t want them, but enough people do that I will continue to publish myself as the situation presents itself. Fellow writers have warned me that I’m diluting my “brand,” but I’m sick of that idea. I started to write because I wanted to tell stories that people wanted to read. And they are reading my stories, even if they are indie books, even if they aren’t traditional. Even if there is a heart attack, right there, on the page.About Jessica Barksdale Inclan:
Jessica's debut novel Her Daughter's Eyes was a final nominee for the YALSA Award, and many of her novels have been published in several languages. A recipient of the CAC Artist’s Fellowship in Literature, Jessica teaches literature, creative writing and mythology at colleges, universities, seminars and workshops throughout the U.S. A full-time writer, she lives in Oakland, California. For more information on Jessica, please visit www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com.