Vera Jane Cook is the author of two published novels, Dancing
Backward In Paradise, and Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough. Dancing
Backward in Paradise was a finalist for the Indie Excellence Award in
General Fiction in 2007, as well as receiving the Eric Hoffer Award
in 2007 for notable new fiction. Vera has been in publishing for over
twelve years as an Education Consultant and she lives and works in
Manhattan. Her next novel, At the End of a Whisper, is a sequel to
Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough, the culmination of three generations of
women. It will be published in 2010.
Author Vera Jane Cook Shares With Us Her Thoughts About The Brave New World of Self-Publishing
I’ve been writing novels now since 1997 in between my day jobs, which pretty much translates to Sundays, holidays and stolen moments. I was a purist when I began and under the false assumption that if I’m good, I’ll be published. I’ll not only be published, I’ll receive an advance so I can write my next book. I’ll not only receive an advance, I’ll hit best seller status because I’m good and because I’m so damn good my books will be easily accessible to the average reader and in no time at all Oprah will be sending me praise and congratulations. Oh, least I forget, she’ll want me on her show so she can give the entire audience copies of my book and promote me from here to Mars. I’ll send her jars and jars of Macadamia nuts forever because I know she loves them and paper my walls with Os.
What a life we envision for ourselves when we don’t know any better. I’m no dummy, I just thought it was easy and turning to self publishing was the mark of failure and I’d carry the stigma of writing for friends and family and not the reading public. I believed that self published authors were not very serious and their professional coffin would be forever sealed, their tombstone engraved forever: Here Lies a Self Published Writer, poor thing.
You might be wondering how I came to my senses. Well, I spent the first year of my writing career on the Writer’s Market website scanning their database of literary agents. I had a nice form query, that I paid handsomely for, and a long list of agents biting the erasers on their pencils as they awaited my thrilling piece of undiscovered literature. I now have a trunk full of rejection letters from that year. I came close with one agent who wrote to tell me that my manuscript had made it as far as the final acquisitions meeting. Big Woo. Several seemed titillated by my query and asked for more, only to reject me later on. Mostly, no one wanted my manuscript and I began to think it was me and my oversized ego, and not them and their undersized vision.
Oh, I’m not bitter. I’m really not, and I do understand industry trends and just what kind of upscale women’s fiction lights a fire under the asses of the publishing industry. I just don’t write it, nor do I write formula fiction that is sure to perform and fly off the shelves of every airport Hudson News in America. After that first year, I was just about to bury my head in the sand forever, accept that I was writing for the closet and let the wounds heal.
But then I found a literary agent. Now this woman was smart. Only problem was she couldn’t sell peanuts to elephants. She liked my work enough to represent it which really means that she was a renegade, a crusader that took a chance on my writing, despite the industry trend for something else. I’m not saying the industry wants bad writing; it just wants safe writing, proven writing; writing with guarantees. I mean, we all have to eat and if they can’t get a publisher to snatch it up, we’re all standing on our haunches for dog biscuits.
My agent tied up two manuscripts of mine for over a year, with out moving either one of them an inch. At the end of year two I was back where I started. I had nowhere to go. I took my little bruised ego away and wrote two more novels, just to get my mind off reality. So where was I? Four novels in that no one was going to read. It gets pretty defeating, especially having gone back to the drawing board for two more manuscripts that I knew I wouldn’t be able to sell. My manuscripts are even in different genres. You’d think science fiction publishers would be different than mainstream publishers, but they have their formulas too, and if your little book doesn’t come out looking like everybody else’s chocolate cake, your cake gets tossed. That isn’t to say it isn’t good dessert, it’s just, perhaps, one layer away from being a seven layer, too rich for a mousse and too creamy for cheese cake.
Forgive the analogy, just comes to mind that it’s all subjective. When I decided to self publish I blushed when I told people, as though I were admitting to being an unprofessional vanity writer, as though I wasn’t really serious about it. The mere mention is upsetting, vanity press. Well, damn it, I’m not self publishing because I’m vain. I’m self publishing because I’m a writer and if you’re a writer you know what I’m talking about. It’s a drug and you need to spread it all over the planet because it gets you high, must be others out there who will want to get high on your drug too. Again, forgive the analogy.
When I published my first novel with a POD I felt so damn powerful I almost exploded. I really hadn’t expected it to feel this good. It was an incredible experience to be able to see my book in print and to know that there are people who are going to get the opportunity to enjoy the way I tell a story, people just like the audience on Oprah’s show, average readers who can go home and weep and laugh over what I’ve written. People who appreciate good writing even though it isn’t published by Bantam or Dell. Oh, and just for the record, I don’t know of anyone who goes out looking for a publisher, readers go out looking for a book. They might get attracted to the book because it has a great cover, or it’s got great word of mouth, but they’re not buying it because they like the publisher. They don’t give a damn about the publisher.
If you are thinking of self publishing I would recommend checking out POD companies who will retail your book for a decent price, offer a return policy and offer the same kind of distribution as a major publisher. Also make sure they’ll give you a library of congress number, and of course, an ISBN. Check their covers on line to make sure you feel comfortable with their work, and try and find a self publisher who will work with you directly and not be a non identity, some phantom at the other end of cyberspace.
Publishing is an incredible process. Do not let anyone dictate your place in it or your novel's value to the general reading public. Your voice is unique and if you wait for Penguin to send you a contract, you might forget how good you are. Write, publish, promote. If you can do all three, you just discovered that success is something created through your determination to be heard. Oh, more on promoting later. That’s the next layer of hell to experience before emerging victorious.