As a writer, I’m a sucker for stories about the writing process. As an indie writer, I’m even more interested in reading stories about the decisions that lead others to join me in trying to blaze a writing career without the structural support of a publisher or agent. Instead of scouring Facebook and other social media for such stories, I’ve selfishly decided to host a series of blog posts on this very subject. The first guest blogger for the series is thriller author, Darcia Helle. If you are an indie author, and you would like to tell your story, just click on the contact tab and drop me an email.
So, I guess I’ll hand over the keyboard to Darcia.
Why I’m Indie – And Proud Of It
I wrote the first draft of my first novel – Enemies and Playmates – about 18 years ago. At that time, the term ‘indie’ was not a part of the public’s vocabulary. Computers were in their fledgling years for us common people. Mainstream publishers offered the only path to becoming a published author and literary agents stood at the gates with the key. So I set out to get that key.
I bought a copy of Writer’s Market, which lists agents, their requirements, and their contact information. Then I got to work learning how to write a query letter and synopsis. I cannot emphasize enough how much I despise writing these two things. With the query, you get two or three paragraphs to sell yourself and your book. You have to be original, yet maintain specific formalities. And the two things that couldn’t be further from my personality are formalities and selling myself. (Makes me sound like a failed prostitute!)
The synopsis is flat out boring. You know those book reports you had to write in high school? A synopsis is the grown-up version.
Despite my innate aversion to these things, I managed to send out queries with a synopsis to a half dozen agents. Then I waited. Another thing about me? I’m not particularly patient.
Weeks went by. I received a couple rejections and thought my world would collapse. Tantrums might have ensued, perhaps tears. When the next envelope came with my handwriting addressing myself (the SASE required with all queries), I opened it with a mixture of dread and anticipation. This agent, whose name I’ve long forgotten, expressed interest! She provided a number and time, and asked that I call her.
We spoke for an hour. Her professional insight was invaluable. By the end of the call, I felt like I was floating on a cloud. Then it rained and the cloud dumped me on my ass. The agent offered to represent me, but I would need to pay for the editing service she wanted me to use. This would cost $1,000. I had two young children and was headed toward divorce. No way could I justify dumping $1,000 into something that still felt much like a hobby, particularly when there was no guarantee of a publishing contract. I probably had a tantrum and cried then, too. I’m sure I drowned myself in a vat of ice cream.
Over the next couple of years, I used that agent’s suggestions and rewrote my novel. I sent more queries, received more rejections. (Or no reply at all.) I pouted. Gave up. Life, work, children, divorce, hangovers, major moves, illness, PMS, the new ICQ chat program, and remarriage all got in the way. I stopped sending queries, but never stopped writing.
In 2000, I had to stop working. Chronic, advanced Lyme disease was wreaking havoc with my health. On the bright side, this provided me with a whole lot of alone time to write. Eventually I did the query/rejection dance again with about a dozen agents. A few expressed interest, but said it wasn’t a good time and suggested I contact them again in six months. Another liked the concept for one of my books (No Justice) but said it was too much like the Dexter series and he didn’t want to represent me for that reason. (I had to Google Dexter, because I’d never heard of him!) In my opinion, Dexter and my character Michael Sykora are not even close cousins. The agent might have realized this, had he opted to actually read the manuscript.
One day I received the reply I’d been waiting for. An agent requested the entire manuscript of No Justice! I’d finally gotten my foot in the door, with an agent willing to read beyond the query/synopsis. I immediately sent it, then sat by my mailbox awaiting the response.
Months passed. I think agents get paid to torment authors by reading no more than one page per day. Imagine how silly I looked, sitting beside my mailbox all this time. I’m surprised my mailman didn’t get a restraining order.
Eventually, the letter came. The agent liked No Justice, but wanted me to make changes that would have altered the main character in a way I was not at all comfortable with. Frustrated, I gave up the hunt once again.
By early 2008, I’d begun to read about the emerging self-publishing/indie movement. With encouragement from my husband, I decided to pursue this venture. I taught myself web design and created my website, researched on-demand publishers and decided on CreateSpace, taught myself formatting, learned the importance of cover design and editing, and, finally, ventured into ebooks.
Four years have passed. I now have eight books published and I am honored to be part of the indie community. The authors I’ve met are truly among the nicest, most generous and talented people I’ve ever known.
I love having total control over my work. In the mainstream publishing world, authors rarely have any say over things like cover design. Often even word count – the length of the book they are writing – is a prerequisite. (This explains why some books seem to drag on. As readers, we think, Why didn’t the author cut out 1/3 of this nonsense? ‘Word count’ requirements are likely the reason.)
For someone who hates to wait, as I do, the sluggishness of the mainstream world is completely unappealing. Once written, a novel takes at least one year to make it to the market. I’ve spoken to authors whose books were contracted to publishers and, five years later, still had not reached the market. As an indie author, I finish the final draft and send it off to my editor. Within a month, that same book can be available on Amazon.
One of the best things about being indie is the close connection I have with my readers. Many have become friends. I’m able to shed the phony formalities and just be me.
For some writers, independent publishing is a stepping stone they hope will lead them to a major publishing contract. For others, like me, it becomes a choice. A lifestyle, so to speak. While I would love to be a bestselling author, I wouldn’t give up my independence to reach that goal. I truly love the indie community. Both the authors and the readers offer me a place that feels like home.
Thanks, Darcia, for such a great first Going Indie guest post! If you would like to connect with Darcia, here are her links:
Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/darciahelle or @darciahelle
To support her indie journey, here are her purchase links:
Amazon Author’s Page: http://www.amazon.com/Darcia-Helle/e/B002LTMF7O/ref=sr_tc_2_rm?qid=1330281247&sr=1-2-ent
Barnes and Noble, for print and Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/darcia-helle?keyword=darcia+helle&store=allproducts