Earlier this month I announced that I was going to publish a collection of short stories called “In Time of Need” and I received a lot of private messages asking me if I had found a publisher for my stories.
I had decided not to even approach a traditional publisher for this collection, and I must admit it was a decision that caused a lot of cognitive dissonance for me.
You see, although you read countless stories of successful self-published authors (and I know some personally), I still had that subconscious nagging idea that to be a “real author” you needed to be validated by an authentic publishing house. In fact, it was this nagging ideology that postponed the publishing date of this collection because I have had these stories wasting away on my computer for a very long time. Every now and again I would submit them to competitions and journals, and every now and again they may win a prize or be accepted for publication.
Everyday we fight mental battles of how society tells us something is supposed to be done versus what actually makes sense. Some members of society tell me that in order to publish a book, I am supposed to send multiple query letters to publishers or agents, hope that someone is attracted to my work and makes me an offer, and then wait a year (maybe even two) for my book to become available to the public. For this book of short stories, that simply didn’t make sense.
In coming to a decision, I had to determine the main reasons I wanted my stories to be published. Whenever I was a featured author or performed stories at events, people would always come up to me afterwards and ask me where they could read more of my work. I had to direct them to multiple websites, or online/print journals, and while talking I saw their eyes glaze over ie they were not about to go through all of that trouble.
My main goal then was to have all of my stories in one convenient place, and I didn’t need a traditional publisher to achieve that goal.
Previously Published Work
As I stated before, I submitted these stories to a lot of competitions and journals. Out of the collection of 16 stories, 8 of them have been previously published in 9 places. (FYI The story that was published in two places this year “We Always Smile For Photos” was first written in 2010, and was rejected by so many places that I had thought it just wasn’t good enough, BUT that’s another blog post :))
In my research I found that traditional publishers do accept collections with previously published work, but the general rule of thumb is that about 70% of the work should be unpublished. That meant that I would have either had to exclude some of my favourite stories from the collection [ie the ones that readers wanted to have] or write more short stories to add to the collection. In fact, when I was still undecided about whether I would self-publish or submit to a publisher, I pulled one of the short stories from an anthology, just so I wouldn’t have another published story in the collection – a decision that I regret.
Speed of Publication (Print and Online)
After having the stories on my computer for so many years, I just wanted them available to the public as soon as possible. I had no idea how long it would take for an agent or a publisher to bite, and then for the publisher to actually complete the process. It could have been years, and I wasn’t waiting around to find out. After the stories are edited, cover designed, formatted etc my book could be available to the public in a matter of days. Self-publishing kicked traditional publishing’s ass in this aspect.
One of the main benefits of being traditionally published is that some literary expert has validated your work. Some of my stories have been published in prestigious journals such as Arts Etc, Caribbean Writer, Journal of Caribbean Literatures and more, by editors and authors whom I admire and respect.
One of the stories “Sheep Doan Stand Still” was handpicked by George Lamming himself to be performed at his opening ceremony at EBCCI, a major turning point in my writing career, as back then I was under the impression that my writing sucked (another blog post).
I think I’m pretty lucky to already have this validation from authors whom I admire so much. I think it is this lack of confidence that prevent so many people from taking that vital step in revealing work to the public. Indeed, even though some of these stories were published in previous places, won awards, and were well received at public events, I was still a nervous wreck while waiting on my editor (Thank you Adonijah Alleyne!) to give me feedback about the collection.
Come November 30th, I know I will also be petrified at the idea of having all of my stories out there available to public, but I can rest with the knowledge that some literary expert has already validated some of the stories, and again I didn’t need a traditional publishing house to make that happen.
Sweet Mary, when people ask me what my stories are about, I have no idea what to say. You see, I could write an entire story about four men playing a game of dominoes, a girl on a plane landing in Barbados or a policeman waiting on an ambulance to arrive. How boring do those sound? lol What genre is that? I had to read at an event, and my nayborra and friend asked me what my story was about, and I responded “Uh, a teacher who is dead, but really not. It’s a life lesson.”
You should have seen their faces.
I gave them a challenge. I told them to listen to the story, and afterwards come and tell me what it was about. They listened to it, and liked it, and we laughed because – just as I suspected – they could not tell me what the story was really about. They both took away different things from it.
In my research I’ve found that I could put my stories under “literary fiction” or “mainstream fiction”. The problem is that I find my stories aren’t literary enough to be literary fiction, or are too literary to be mainstream fiction. Soon I could not even be bothered. I was wasting time trying to define what my stories were when I could be writing more of them.
So I could not even begin to think about how I would sell this collection to a publisher or agent. I had problems answering two of the most basic questions: What is the genre? and What is the story about?
I prefer to put them out there, and just see what happens. If I make the reader pause – just for one second – and think about the story after they’ve finished reading it, then I’ll be happy.
I read this brilliant article entitled “Self-publishing and traditional publishing: Enjoy the Best of Both Worlds” that I think every author, traditionally published or self-published should read, because people seem to think that authors must choose between the two.
This book of short stories is like my online portfolio. I have about three unfinished novels at varying stages and I intend to finish all of them. I decided to include a bonus sample of the first novel “Getting Back at Jack Taylor” in this collection, mainly to gauge public response, and add pressure for me to finish it. If I declare that I am going to do something publicly, and people are demanding it, then I will get it done.
If you already have a readership or fan base, it will be easier to sell other works not only to readers, but to publishers and agents as well. I prefer my novel “Getting Back at Jack Taylor” to be traditionally published, simply because my main goal for that story is for it to be available on a school syllabus, and being traditionally published is the best means to get there.
In this article the author stated, “It’s important to weigh all the factors: who your audience is, how difficult are they for you to reach on your own, what your financial situation is, how fast you write, and so on.”
I think this is excellent advice. Know your purpose for publication, and your goals and then evaluate the best medium for you to achieve them.
Apparently society tells you that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I say you can have your cake, eat it and have a scoop of ice-cream on the side if it suits you.
So I’m taking the big self-publishing step. It’s not as easy as people think it is, because baring your personal words to strangers is scary as hell. If it weren’t for the support by my family and friends, and inspiration by other authors, I would have never taken this step.
So here’s to all authors who’ve not only finished a novel or a body of work, but had the courage to put it to the public, not knowing if it would be loved or hated, but always criticised.
I’m honoured to join you.
TO BE RELEASED NOVEMBER 30TH 2013
A collection of award-winning Barbadian stories that showcase the controversial and often hidden aspects of the supposed Caribbean paradise. The themes of love and relationships, domestic and emotional abuse, politics in the rum shop, sex tourism and human trafficking and more, are narrated in a satirical and humorous style, often through the voices of innocent and naïve characters.