When I was younger, perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two (see: featured image), I had it in my head that I was going to be a big-time writer. I was working on a trilogy of YA contemporary fantasies that I just knew were going to be hot. A twist on zombies, mad gods, and reincarnation—who wasn’t going to love that?
I slaved away on this project for years. I’d started it a couple of months before my twentieth birthday (and I finally buried it in 2015 right where it belongs) and it was my baby. I was sure that a company like Penguin or Scholastic (y’know…one of the big kids) would pick it up and I would catapult to the forefront of YA fantasy.
I’m going to stop here for a moment. Let that soak in.
Good? Ready? On we go.
Up until December, 2012 I had never had a single piece of fiction published. Zero. Zilch. When people suggested looking into self-publishing I scoffed. That wasn’t for me. That was for the amateurs, the people who were so eager to get their work out to the public that they forsook proper editing and cover design.
Okay, Luke. If you’re not too keen on self-publishing, what about small presses?
“No. I want to be able to write full-time.”
Stop. Let that sink in. This guy, this writer with a single publishing credit to his name…he’s kind of a prick, right?
Over the next few years I maintained that attitude—quietly. Internally I had the mindset of a kid who’d had everything handed to him on a silver platter his entire life (not true, by the way; metaphor). Externally I saved face and kept quiet unless I had something to say. I would voice my (watered down) opinion on self-publishing every now and then, and I would explain why small presses didn’t interest me.
“I want an agent,” I would say. “I want to part of the Industry and neither self- or indie publishing is going to get me there.”
Basically: Big 6 (now 5) or bust.
Third pause. How fucking narcissistic is that? Do you want to grab my throat and lecture me? I sure do, fellow writers. And if you do too, I don’t blame you.
Even when I finished the rough draft of my current project, Shadow Twins, in October 2015 this unearned sense of entitlement; this snobbery, ignorance, and arrogance clung to me like a parasite. At this point in time I was a few months into my job as a bookseller. And it was around this time that things began to (slowly) change.
When you work at a bookstore you are presented with a great number of opportunities to participate in the publishing industry that you might not generally get. We host author signings, panels, and the like—events that let provide you with the chance to network with fellow writers, to ask questions to professionals who have been in publishing for far fucking longer than I’ve been writing.
I’ve met some awesome people while working at the bookstore. I’ve also been lucky enough to develop a friendship with a fantasy author published through Titan Books (an imprint of Penguin-Random House), and that’s been a huge key in helping me shed the mantle that I carried for so long.
Back to your regularly scheduled programming.
It took me years of writing and revising (and in a couple of instances, completely rewriting) Shadow Twins; of networking; of investigating publishing options to arrive at my epiphany:
I. Just. Want. To. Write.
I spent so much time worrying about the future that I deprived myself of the ability to live stress-free in the now. In retrospect, through sitting down and really thinking about how I got to where I am now, I would do things differently.
Or would I?
The answer: no. These last several years have taught me how to be a better writer, how to be a better person. Yes, there are things I would absolutely recommend not doing the way I did, but I won’t stand (or sit) here and say that it was all for nothing, because it wasn’t. In confronting my extremely unnecessary ego and destroyed the walls that were preventing me from doing what I set out to do from the beginning:
It’s absolutely okay to self-publish. There are so many fantastic books out there. The same can be said for publication through small presses. Refrain from doing what I did: don’t look at the Big 5 in New York and think that any other option to present your work is beneath you. Explore every avenue; do what fits you best.
Don’t be me. Don’t be an asshole.
Or if you were and are like me in some capacity, take a moment and reflect.
Destroy stigmas. Deflate your ego.
Just. Fucking. Write.
Author’s note: This year (2017) I received a request for material from an outstanding small press (California Coldblood Books) and am currently participating in #PitchWars on Twitter. If you’re an #SFF author I highly recommend looking into both.