Welcome back friends, my apologies for the delay, but here at last is our final installment in the three part series, “The Ten Commandments of Independent Publishing. The first six covered most of the technical issues involved when you choose to publish your own work. These cover the practical and a bit of the philosophical, so let’s dive in:
Thou shalt understand your rights and the rights of others.
Copyright. Yes, the all-important issue that every author must face before, during, and after you launch your publishing career. Once you have written your book, in fact as soon as you have created anything, you own your rights. And the beauty of independent publishing is that you still own them and you make money by selling your work. And that is as far as I am going to go because I am not an attorney and I don’t want to say anything that could very possibly be wrong. In fact, when it comes to the subject you want to talk to experts. First off, the United States Copyright office website. Once your eyes glaze over, and you want to know how it works in the real world, “Writer’s Digest” has a very good FAQ section.
Susan Spann is a great writer and an attorney who speaks on the subject of publishing law. In fact she has a hashtag: #publaw. Follow her, read her blog posts and if you come across a sticky wicket she will help you.
Now the law works both ways. You need to familiarize yourself with what works you can quote or reference or borrow when it comes to the works of other artists. Saw a really cute photo that you want to use on your blog? Hold the phone, don’t end up like Roni Loren who paid — real money — because she didn’t understand that just because it’s on the web it’s not free.
Thou shalt find thine own voice (but listen to those who came before you).
Everyone talks about “discovering your own voice.” How do you translate your particular DNA — that double helix of polynucleotides that makes you who you are — onto the page? Everyone comes back to the old saw, “Just keep writing.” Which is true, but let’s take a different stab at this issue. You began your writing career before you ever picked up a pen or sat at a keyboard. You began your writing career when you first learned the alphabet and when you first learned to read. At first you did it because you had to — they forced you to do it in school. But somewhere, some rainy afternoon, you opened up a book and the magic took over. You were transported to Narnia, Neverland, Middle Earth, or any number of magical places.
Ever since then you have been listening to countless voices, the voices of all your favorite authors that have come to you since humans started scribbling things down. And I bet you every single one of them was told to “keep writing” to discover their own voice. Every one of them struggled with the same things you are struggling with: How do I do this? How do I create something others want to read? Do what all great writers have done before you: find a writer you admire and use their work as a template.
Yup, you heard me. That’s why I began this with a discussion on rights, so you don’t plagiarize anyone. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find another story and re-tell it. Shakespeare did it all the time. The entire Disney vault is filled with re-told children’s stories from around the globe. “West Side Story” is “Romeo and Juliet” in New York City. Austin Kleon wrote a book called “Steal Like an Artist.”
You can use these influences to help you get over the hump of working out your story structure, or learning how all these various parts come together. I referenced this concept in the first commandment about not publishing crap. I bring it up again in reference to voice because right now your voice is jumbled up with the voices of the authors you admire. Right now you’re trying to recreate scenes that you loved from previous books that you loved. It’s part of the process. Think of the way the old masters learned how to paint. They started with drawing sculptures, and then they went to galleries and copied the works of other painters. Why? To understand composition, line, harmony, all of the component parts of what makes a great work of art.
Your first few books are your apprenticeship. Once you get the workings down, slowly but surely your books will sound like yours and not like your hero’s books. Slowly but surely your vocabulary will shift, your sentence structures will change, and your voice will emerge. But with that come the crazies….
Thou Shalt dwell in the house of crazy and learn to love it.
There will come a time when your ideas will take on a new twist. When you have stuck with it long enough, some of your ideas will seem so farfetched and so out of whack that you think you are losing your mind. Or maybe that’s why you started writing — all of those whackadoodle characters started talking in your head and you discovered that writing was cheaper than therapy. Don’t be discouraged and don’t quit. In fact, this is a very good sign that you are onto something. Something…. original. The first few cracks may have produced something derivative of your hero’s work: a Stephen Kingesque murder mystery set in Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles. But now you are in new territory. It’s because you have written so much already, you’ve made new neural pathways in your brain and you are reaching deeper into your personal subconscious. That’s where cuckoo lives, but it’s also where new, original thought lives.
Fear not. This is a key turning point on your personal journey as an artist. This is a new path that will take you to new stories, and your voice will become more and more distinct. You will look out on the current state of publishing and see that no one is writing anything like what you are seeing in your brain. That is good! Keep going. Sure there is no market for your brand of crazy… Now. But there will be. There will be because of the heart and care and energy you put into creating something the world has never seen before. You will be translating your DNA onto the page, and you will be surprised. Let it through, let it happen.
The final commandment: Never, never, never give up. You have come too far to give up now. Yes it’s hard, yes no one understands you, yes, yes, yes. Say yes to it all. Sure there are those days when you’d rather have someone pull your toenails out than sit at your desk and write. Yes, everyone says the market is glutted. Yes, the sayers of “nay” will bitch and moan. Yes, EVERYTHING IS WRONG in the world of publishing. Yes, yes, yes.
Two years ago I came up with the title, “The Writer’s Coloring Book®” And yes, my attorney husband told me to get the name trade-marked. It was my whackadoodle idea on how to help you guys write better books. Lo and Behold, today coloring books for grown-ups are everywhere! I get emails and Facebook posts every day asking “did you see this?”
I know you are harboring your very own version of crazy and I tell you, go for it. Keep it close, work it out. Take that idea and run with it as far as it will take you. One book? Two? Ten? Whatever it is, do it. If the only people who ever read it are your mother, your next door neighbor, or your garbage man, that’s OK. Do it. You don’t know who will end up reading your work and be touched by it. Because we do this for the crazy in everyone. You do know what will happen if you don’t. Regret. And I can tell you regret sucks. So keep going.
What did it feel like when you first “heard” your own voice on the page? What did you do when the crazies hit?