So this is a question many writers have, to self-publish or to go the traditional route of looking for a mainstream or small publishing house to accept your manuscript?
Here is the reason I chose self-publishing over the traditional way: Many of you may have read my post about grief (and if not, here is the link) and you may have read about my interaction with my once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the literary agent of my dreams in my post about “other Shakespeare authors,” but if you have not read either of those posts, here is a summary of why I chose self-publishing.
First and foremost, I love the idea of going the traditional route. I have many friends who I met during the writer’s retreat I attended who are published authors and secured their book deals from publishing houses. I say, more power to them!
I attended the Writer’s Retreat Workshop in Erlanger Kentucky in 2006 and found myself completely inspired and on fire to finish my first novel and find an agent and trudge through the mire of the publishing industry. Honestly, I was excited and very naive. Two years after that I attended the Writer’s Conference in Myrtle Beach South Carolina where, as I mentioned before, I had the chance to sit down with the literary agent of my dreams. I found her online and researched her background before I went, so I knew what kind of books she took on, but I never in a million years would have thought she might pick me out of the thousands of people at the conference to sit down and have lunch with. But, she did!
What I learned from the talk with her? I have to be honest, I left the conference very dejected and disillusioned because I learned that sometimes you have to learn to be commercial to be accepted rather than rely on your heart, which is hard to take as an artist and writer. I know this isn’t always the case because there are numerous writers out there still making a living on their art and some are far from commercialized.
I continued on after the conference, another two years went by and I finally secured an agent in New York. Again, the naivety on my part blasted me full in the face. Although my agent loved my work and claimed to have sent out my manuscript to numerous publishing houses, every time I asked for verification, well, needless to say, I never got a letter, an email, nothing to confirm what he told me he was doing. All his emails ever said is “St. Martin’s” said no, “Doubleday” said no, and on and on and on…
By that time, I already started work on research for my second and third novel, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I shelved everything from 2011 to 2015 and took up another of one of my favorite hobbies – photography – and my husband and I moved to the Georgia coast. We became wedding photographers and within three years we were voted #2 best wedding photographers in Jacksonville Florida on Thumbtack.com! I also took my artistic and love for storytelling into my photography and started delving into conceptual work. One of my photographs was accepted into an outdoor exhibition in Lithuania, two of my pieces were mounted in a gallery in Houston Texas, an another in Orlando Florida.
And the bottom fell out of my life. February 2, 2015; the most horrible day of my life. The day I lost my daughter and her husband by the hands of a drunk and drugged driver running from the police. They were only one mile from their home. The 20-year-old idiot traveled at 85 miles an hour down the wrong side of a four-lane highway and took them in an instant. He walked away with a scratch on his leg and is now serving 30 years in prison. But my life changed forever. My life, my husband’s life, my son’s life, forever snatched away and we now serve a life sentence of pain and sorrow.
Now it is 2018 and I am slowly climbing out of the despair and depression hole. I don’t think I will ever fully recover, of course, and I acknowledge this fact. I acknowledge that no matter what I do from this point on, nothing will ever return to normal. I am a part of “that group” now. I am now a mother who peruses the MADD website and who will forever carry a hollowness in my heart.
This brings me to the final reason I chose to self-publish. Disillusionment with the whole publishing industry to begin with, and now, grief overtakes me. We are not promised tomorrow. None of us know from one second to the next if we will get that horrible phone call or have a police officer walk up and knock on your door at five o’clock in the morning with a box of your child’s belongings.
I am content to write for my health and sanity and artistry and love. Whether I ever sell one book or a million matters less to me now. Death brings things into perspective in the most tragic way. I choose to do what makes me happy for I have so very few happy days now. Writing makes me happy, or rather a distracted peace I should say. Anything which distracts me from this hole in my heart and life I soak up like a sponge.
And why am I sharing this? Because as writers we often look for acceptance through our writing. We look for another person to connect with, someone who sees the world as we do through our words, and when another person does that there is a measure of joy and happiness which links our art to the world. My advice now to my younger self and to any other young (or old) writers out there looking to plunge into the mad mad mad world of traditional publishing? Let me first say that I am not against it and if you are one of the fortunate ones to hook a deal from a major or small publishing house, yay for you, but for the vast majority of writers who will never see a book deal I say: write for you. Write for your own heart and write what you love.
That literary agent told me no one reads anything having to do with Shakespeare and to a major publishing house, oftentimes, Shakespeare is taboo, but this is what I love. Writers should write what they know and what they are passionate about. I love all things Shakespeare, so this is what I write. I am not a commercial writer and I never will be, for I refuse to become a lemming writer who runs headlong into the ocean of erotica, or gore, or horror, or vampires, or werewolves, or whatever trend moves the reading nation.
My daughter would have loved my novels, and for me, that is enough.
Thanks for reading!
D. K. Marley