Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Long Sad Story

This year, I reach a major milestone. It’s the ten year anniversary of my first novel, a novel that was released at a time when e-readers were still the wave of the future. With the change in technology, and the improvement I’ve made in my writing, I thought it would be fun to release a revised version of my first novel, Letters from Linc. Revisiting the first novel I ever worked on has stirred up a lot of unexpected things, including memories of how I became an independent author.

I’ve loved writing since I was a kid. At one point during my childhood I’m sure I wanted to be an author. I wrote stories constantly, stories I bound into books using cardboard and a three-hole punch and ribbons. Instead of becoming a writer as soon as I left home, I married early and started a family and then a career to support that family.

Ten years after I stopped writing, I had the urge to write again. A story idea popped in my head and I went with it. When it was all finished, I thought it might be good enough to get an agent. It wasn’t. I got rejection after rejection. In between these rejections, I kept writing and finished my second novel. 

After so many rejections of my first novel, I thought my second novel might have a better shot. The theme was timely and something I felt strongly that everyone could relate to. So, you guessed it. I tried again.

I sent query letters and sample chapters and sometimes the entire novel to one agent after the other. Keep in mind this was in the days where many agents still hadn’t embraced e-mail. That meant paying postage for all these packages and opening my mailbox every day to find a stack of rejection letters waiting for me; rejection letters sent to me with my own self-addressed stamped envelope by the way. Something about that adds a little extra sting.

With my second novel having been as badly rejected as the first, I was extremely discouraged. I thought the novel was good and I believed so strongly in it. I just needed one person to take a chance on it. About the time I was ready to give up, I had an agent tell me she liked the sample chapters and ask to see the entire novel. Seeing that entire novel turned in to her offering me a contract to represent the novel.

I was elated when I should have been cautious. Being a green author, I did not know there were people out there looking to scam unsuspecting authors. I thought having a friend who was a lawyer review the contract was enough. I was wrong. My friend didn’t know much about publishing but thought the contact seemed like a standard legal contract that I’d be safe to sign if I wanted. It wasn’t, but not knowing any better, I signed the contract and thought it was only a matter of time before Letters from Linc was going to hit bookstores and make me a best seller and then be turned in to a movie. Yeah, I was dreaming big.

It goes without saying that’s not what happened. What happened was that my “agent” asked me to print and mail her several copies of my manuscript so that she could submit them to publishers or to send her a check for $250 to cover the cost of her doing the same. I’m sure you experienced writers are groaning right now. Reputable agents do not ask writers for money. In fact, the agent’s ability to make money depends on being able to sell the writer’s work. It’s in the best interest of the agent to sell that book. Having never had an agent and being new to the world of professional writing, I did not know this and it never occurred to me to question it. For the sake of convenience, I sent the $250 check.

Not long after that, my “agent” sent me a letter asking me if I’d like to be a featured author on her website. All I needed to do was send a picture, a biography and a $75 check. I opted not to do this. Since I hadn’t been published yet, I didn’t want to mislead people. Putting up my picture and calling me an author at that point seemed misleading, but I didn’t really question the practice. After all, the agent hadn’t mandated I do this so it couldn’t be wrong to ask. It was. No author should ever pay to have their name or photo listed on her agent’s website. Agents attract new clients by demonstrating success and sharing the names of the published authors they represent is the most common way to do that. By listing the names of clients that weren’t published, this agent misrepresented herself as well as them.

In between these request for money, my “agent” was sending me the rejection notices from the publishers she’d queried. They were all form letters; thanks for your inquiry, but we’re not interested. That’s how it went for the duration of the time I spent working with this agent. At the end of our contract, which was a mere six months, our arrangement came to an end. The agent hadn’t made a sale and didn’t offer to extend my contact because she didn’t think there was a market for Letters from Linc.

I was heartbroken. I’d come so close. I thought having an agent was going to get me in the right doors and get me that elusive book deal. At the time, I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that I’d had a poor excuse for an agent whose shady practices aren’t in compliance with industry standards. It wasn’t until much later that I learned the difference between good and bad agents, between legitimate agents and frauds. I was just focused on my failure.

Despite failing, I remained convinced the novel was well written and could sell and sell well. It was while reading a Writer’s Digest magazine that I saw an ad for a print on demand company. This was something else I’d never heard of, but I decided to look into it and I liked what I saw. They would format my novel, create a cover, and make it available on major online retailers, including Amazon. I would retain the rights and I would control the content. I had to pay for this privilege and register my own copyright, but it seemed like the solution to my problem. The only thing that I didn’t like was that they would set the price and it would be based on the length of the novel. I decided I could live with it and went forward with self-publishing Letters from Linc.

Self-publishing still had a pretty big stigma then. People didn’t take self-publishers seriously. We were called vain. We were accused of not having enough talent to make it in the “real world” and of putting out work not worthy of the readers’ time and money. These things may be true for some but certainly for not all.

I’m not sorry that I published Letters from Linc on my own. I’ve met some amazing people through this novel, including Congressmen. I’ve made new friends and connected with people that related to the story. An Army wife told me it was her favorite novel and it helped her handle her husband’s deployment. A friend told me it helped her understand the mental health issues her boyfriend faced after Desert Storm. Another friend recently told me that he was given an assignment in his college class to write a paper on a story that resembled his life and he chose Letters from Linc. Not only did this story touch lives but it gave me a fledgling following that has continued to grow in the last ten years.

There is is, my long and sad story of how I became an indie author. I will never regret the decision to release Letters from Linc on my own. I only wish the circumstances of its release were different.

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