Monday, July 28, 2014

Why Being Independent #ROCKS

If you've kept up with this blog since the beginning, you know I'm a crazy movie-buff.

My maternal grandmother, who we called "Bobie," loved movies, and she got me started watching them with the old noir detective films.

These old movie posters are amazing.
My best memory is of watching The Big Sleep with her, and I've seen it so many times since, I can practically quote the whole thing.

It's also cool that William Faulkner was one of the screenwriters. (Yes, that William Faulkner.)

It's a crazy, twisty super-fun movie with fantastic, unforgettable characters doing unexpected things.

And you really have to watch it about five times to understand what all's happening...

After watching it several times, you might get more insight into my own characterization and plot twists. (JRM points to Footloose as being, "everything you ever write"--LOL! That's not so true anymore.)

So what does all this have to do with being an Independent Author? I'll tell ya!

I was reading an article about Roger Ebert in Entertainment Weekly (link), and it had a listing of his "Movies of the Year," going all the way back to 1967's Bonnie & Clyde. (I totally agree with his assessment of that film, btw.)

In the listing were JFKMalcolm X, and Schindler's List. About Schindler's List, Ebert says, "The movie is 184 minutes long, and like all great films, it feels too short." Spot on.

That got me thinking about the battle Spike Lee had over the length of Malcolm X was, and how the Big Studios wanted him to cut it.

Oliver Stone had managed to get away with 188 minutes for JFK the year before, and as expected, Lee had some choice words about that. But at the time the Controlling Powers had established "norms" about "what audiences wanted," and long films about controversial black icons were not it.

The next year, Big Fish Steven Spielberg made a 184-minute, black and white film, no sweat.

Flash Forward many years, and I'm thinking about how all of this relates to Independent Publishing v. Traditional Publishing.

Film, like music, and now books, went through a revolutionary "independent" period that played out differently in each medium. (I should say "is playing out" with regard to books.)

Personally, I just wrapped a series of books that I can't even imagine trying to get through the Traditional process.

The Dragonfly Series starts with Book 1, Dragonfly, which is written in the standard mature-YA manner: first-person, female POV. (It's how you wrote books like this in 2009.)

The next book Undertow takes a completely different turn. The bulk of the story is told through three journals, but regular journal-style felt inhibiting to my process... so I didn't follow the rules. I wrote it like a narrative, but unfolding it epistolary-style.

It's told in three different POVs--Meg, Lexy, and Bill's--and it's the story of an affair that led to a birth and a death. It does not have a happy ending... and most readers seem to love it.

It's a layer to the series that goes to the heart of everything happening, of Anna and Julian's relationship, of all the secrets and lies, and readers really, really need to know that story. The style fits into the overall series arc, and it was how I chose to write it.

The content of Undertow is also decidedly New Adult to Adult--one of my beta readers even said, "This reads more like women's fiction." Another said, "You should write more adult fiction."--LOL!

It makes sense, and I think my readers of all ages get it. I trusted them to get it.

Watercolor (#3) is back to the present, it's Anna and Julian's love story, first-person POV, female lead and more strict NA, a'la Jessica Sorensen, Colleen Hoover, or Katja Millay books. (I.e., the main characters are seniors in high school.)

Then we get to Mosaic... 

It's the end of the series, and I really wanted to tie the whole thing together both from a story perspective and a stylistic one. So right slap in the middle of that book, sandwiched between the present--which is 20 years after Watercolor ends--is Anna's "private blog."

It's her journal (told Undertow-style), and it follows her and the gang through college all the way to the break... where it stops, and we see what happens next.

When I started writing this series in 2009, there was no "Independent Publishing." Amazon hadn't truly launched the Kindle yet, and at that time, self-publishing meant Vanity Publishing.

Vanity Publishing is bad, reader-friends. It means you pay thousands of dollars to jerks like Author Solutions (now owned by Random-Penguin) and they take you for a ride that ends with them dumping a pile of paperbacks on your doorstep for you to figure out how to sell.

It isn't legitimate in any sense of the word. It's a racket that many well-meaning authors got sucked into because they didn't want their stories to die in a drawer. (And they didn't have Thelma Toole, Walker Percy, or LSU Press, link. Geaux, Tigers.)

Of course, I'm sure Traditional Publishing doesn't consider Independent Publishing legitimate to this day--unless you start banking Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, E.L. James, Colleen Hoover, Jasinda Wilder, Abbi Glines... the list goes on... dollars. Then suddenly you're very legitimate.

(I hope you're catching my sarcasm. I drank the "not legitimate" Kool-Aid for way too long before I jumped off that merry-go-round.)

I feel like I'm losing my point--my point is, to me, the greatest thing about being an independent author is I can write my books the way I want to write them, the way that makes sense to me. I don't have to worry about established norms or "what readers want" when I sit down to write.

Okay, being a smart businesswoman, I do consider "what readers want" when I'm looking at which projects to focus the most time and energy on. (Hint: The ones that are selling!)

But take for example a book I've been sitting on since 2012. It's another NA contemporary romance, but it's an action-adventure story set in the woods of south Mississippi.

I loved this movie when I was a kid.
Since it's written by me, it's fer sure a romance, but the focus is on the transformation of this incredible character I love named Prentiss Puckett from everyday-country girl to a Red-Dawn-meets-L O S T-style action-hero.

Being trapped in a prison camp during what seems (to her) to be a Russian invasion of the U.S. will do that to a person.

This book, which is currently titled 21 Days, was with a literary agent for a year. He shopped it around, and we got the usual compliments on my "strong writing" followed by the reasons it "wouldn't work."

First, I was told it was "too dated." The problem is Prentiss fears it's the Russians holding them captive. It made sense to me in 2012, given where she lives and the persistent fear of "Russians" in certain pockets of the deep south.

I was told "nobody cares about Russia anymore" and given the "how very 1950s of you" treatment. (Oops! Ukraine just called.)

Second, after being kidnapped, *something* is happening to Prentiss, and it's causing her to have very vivid flashback-style dreams, which taper off as the plot unfolds. I won't spoil it here, but I was told "readers won't like that"--jumping back and forth.

It's funny because all six of my beta readers--all six of them--said that was their favorite part. One even wanted more!

Guess what I'm going to do?

I'm going to polish that baby up, add a few ideas that I've had since I finished it 2.5 years ago, and put it out there for you all.

And that's why I love being an Independent Author.

Now, I'm not going to go all *banging my fist on the table* insisting I'll "never go traditional." There are very legitimate reasons for plugging in and using that established book-selling machine--for example, none of my indie books will ever be reviewed in Entertainment Weekly.

I have managed to get into some high school libraries through NetGalley, which is amazing. But I won't be in any Scholastic Book Fairs at schools. (Scholastic is a traditional publisher, fyi. Those are all their books.)

It's incredibly difficult for independently published authors to get into places like Target or Sam's Club or Costco. (I won't say impossible b/c my indie-author friend Cindy Hogan does it all the time.)

This post has gotten very long. I apologize. I haven't blogged in a while...

One last thing that I love about being an Independent Author: As my one-degree-of-separation buddy Hugh Howey explains in detail here (link), being independent means for the first time in history, authors can make a living--an actual living that includes paying bills, feeding children, buying clothes, paying for college--through writing books alone.

Many, many authors are doing just that, and it has never been the case in all of book publishing recorded time... until now. Only a handful of "stars" have ever been able to make that claim.

So yanno. Vive la Revolution... or whatever.

I'm just so lucky and blessed to be living in this time. I'm not knocking anybody's choice or the path they follow. Whatever path you chose, traditional or independent, whatever books you read, do it because you love it. Otherwise, what's the point?

Thanks for being such FAB reader-friends. Love you guys~ 


Julie Musil said...

I agree! It's liberating. I absolutely love the control and freedom.

Kelly Polark said...

You are amazing, Leigh!!!

And I would totally read a Red Dawn-ish style book from you! :)

Jemi Fraser said...

So many great points! The freedom to try things is one powerful pull for the indie route!

erica and christy said...

Great post. Not too long! I'm excited for your next novel to be published. :) Christy

Anonymous said...

Great post, Leigh.

Carrie-Anne said...

All wonderful points! Why do it someone else's way when you can do it your way?

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great points! I think the best of indie is the freedom to make creative choices!

LTM said...

Thanks so much, guys! I've had a really great experience. At the same time, everybody has to do what's right for them!

What I HAVE found is amazing companionship and support in the indie community! Reader-friends ROCK! #MUWAH <3