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L.T. Suzuki

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Blogs by L.T. Suzuki

The Happiest Indie Author (me) in the World!
6/29/2010 8:21:22 AM

Find out why this author is proudly indie!

Since I began blogging last summer, it was a chance to network with members of the writing community. It had also become an opportunity to showcase the talents of debut and seasoned authors, both traditionally and independently published, as well as share in their writerly wisdom on the road to publication.

One of the fun aspects about featuring these authors has been sharing in their joy. It was most evident when they spoke about their agent selling their manuscript to a traditional publishing house or when the indie author received the proof copy of his or her book for the first time.

Whether it is an ARC from a traditional publishing house or the proof copy from a small or independent publishing company, the response has been consistently the same. Once that book is in the author’s hot, little hands, there’s that sense of euphoria. It’s probably much like the feeling that comes with the successful completion of running a marathon. You’ve finally crossed the finish line!

Some authors very calmly described the moment they first held their newborn; I mean their new book. Others were downright hilariously detailing that exuberant moment, bouncing up and down while having one of those Tom Cruise couch-jumping episodes. Whether staid or excited, there was a satisfying sense of accomplishment that all the blood, sweat and bucket of tears finally paid off.

However, what is different is how people respond to the author/book and it seems to be dependant on the manner the book is published. Some will be open-minded enough to eagerly pick up a self-published book if the cover and storyline intrigues them, while others will automatically snub them. These literary connoisseurs will only touch a self-published book if you arm them with a 10-foot pole and they can use it to push the book into a bonfire!

With the growing popularity of self-publishing, it has given rise to thousands of new titles, of which includes my epic adult fantasy series. Admittedly, there are books out there that would never be considered by a traditional publisher, and for good reason. There are also many that deserve to be published, but would never see the light of day if it were not for self-publishing.

In my case, since I dove head first into writing a few years ago, I’ve had two literary agents, one was based in New York, and the latest was based in Los Angeles. Both had read one of the novels in my fantasy series, falling in love with the characters and stories.

Both times, I had not deliberately set out to find representation. I was at the conference to hone my writing skills, better understand the business of writing, and to network with fellow writers as well as participate in the book fair. I just happened to have a printed book available to offer when these agents asked to have a peek!

It’s estimated that only 1% of conference attendees walk away with a contract from an agent or editor. So, of 700 conference goers, only 7 will hit the jackpot, so to speak. Oddly enough, I’ve won the agent lottery twice, but it didn’t help me.

The first agent quit the business to return to university and it was only a fluke I found out he had passed my book on to his partner who happens to hate fantasy.

The second agent, as lovely as she is and how wonderfully we hit it off, failed to launch when she basically fell off the face of the earth. Yep, she had plans to fly up to meet with me and take part at the next SIWC, only to fall below the radar two months prior to this event.
Poof! Gone! Website’s still up, but ain’t nobody home…

Sadly, I put a lot of faith in her and it got me nowhere fast. I suppose that was when I lost all faith in the traditional publishing system. I know firsthand how difficult it is to acquire an agent with a great track record, but when I succeed twice and things fall apart that were beyond my control? It gives me the sense that maybe I was meant to go it alone.

Many writers will say that to earn any credibility as a writer, one should have an agent and must be published by a traditional publishing company.

Some authors who are traditionally published as well as some who are aspiring authors fighting tooth and nail to become traditionally published feel that writers who self-publish demean and devalue their works by ‘jumping the queue’ to have their books published by other means.

Once, I’ve heard three young ladies in their late teens-early twenties speak about their views of those who self-publish. It was at a writers conference and I was on my way to a workshop when I overheard these ladies walk by the meeting room where a workshop on self-publishing was taking place.

There were a few snide comments about how pathetic it is for a writer to resort to this. It was followed by ‘if you’re good, you’ll get published’ and ‘only an author whose writing is so bad a publishing company would never pick it up to begin with, would stoop this low’.

Little did these girls know that many of the writers at this conference are self-published and many of them have produced wonderful stories, but perhaps their ability to pitch or write a query letter was their only undoing on the road to traditional publication. Anyhow, I chalked this up to the fact these young ladies had only recently immersed themselves into the business aspects of writing, not fully understanding how truly difficult it is to become traditionally published.

From personal experience, I’ve learned that stories with potential are turned down all the time. In my case, Tor editor Kristin Sevick took the time to read Imago Book 3, A Warrior’s Tale. She actually read the entire book and was so kind when she emailed me back a few weeks later stating that it was “great stuff, but it doesn’t fit our line”.

I was satisfied with her response, after all, she didn’t say it was absolute crap! But when you think about it, does a Tolkienesque fantasy with an Asian flavour fit in any traditional publishing house’s line?

I even had the good fortune of having the president of a Canadian publishing company pursue me for two years to acquire rights to the Imago series, and if not this, then my new YA series.

And having Jessie Finklestein, editor of Raincoast books (yes, the publisher of Harry Potter in Canada) ask if I’d be willing to rewrite the Imago series to appeal to YA audience was a huge boost to my confidence as a writer. It gave me the sense that there really is an audience for my fantasy, if I’m willing to seek them out.

The thing is, self-publishing is perfect for some authors and many resort to self-publishing because they couldn’t acquire an agent, but still firmly believe in their manuscript, enough that they would turn to self-publishing.

“Legally Blonde’, ‘Eragon’ and ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ were self-published before being picked up by traditional publishing houses. Even international bestselling authors and authors of American classics like Mark Twain & Edgar Allen Poe self-published. John Grisham, the author of courtroom thrillers, was turned down by at least twenty literary agents. He resorted to selling his self-published books from the trunk of his car in parking lots before being offered a book deal with a traditional publishing company.

I know some agents will not touch you if you’re self-published, while others like Robert Mackwood of Mackwood Publishing Consultants and Daniel Lazar of Writers House welcome an author who is able to prove sales with a self-published book. In my case, it seems that the quality of my novels spoke for themselves. When I was first picked up by my agents it was because they took the time to read my books. They believed in the value of my works than in sales numbers, as they knew I did not actively market.

And this brings me back to the title of this blog and why I’m ‘the Happiest Indie Author in the World’!

Though I don’t recommend it for all writers, the joys of self-publishing are many! I am not being held to traditional publishing standards in terms of word count, so my novels are as long (or short) as they need to be to tell the story. I have absolute creative control in terms of the characters, plotline, etc. I am not under the gun to meet a publishing deadline. I don’t need to wait 18 months to two years to hold the finished product in my hand (standard waiting period from the time your agent sells the book to the time the publisher has it ready to sell to the public).

But what about the HUGE advances paid out by the traditional publishing companies, you say?

The days of large, six-figure advances for unknown, first-times authors are basically gone, and royalties are not received until advances are paid out. And by far, most traditionally published authors I know personally must keep their day jobs while they write their next book. The advances they received do not allow them to write full-time.

Most received a modest four-figure advance, but some have yet to receive a dime of royalty money. These authors have their books pulled from the shelves (average shelf life of a book in a Chapters bookstore: 6 weeks) once it’s obvious they were not meeting sales targets. Many are doomed to be back-listed and never seen again!

Some publishing houses will continue to hold the rights for years, even if they don’t print the books anymore. This means that if you do have another publishing company wanting to pick up your novel, the legal entanglements to acquire the rights and the cost involved could be exorbitant, so much so the interested publisher will back away instead.

With self-published authors, we own our rights. Royalties are viewed more as profit and there’s no sharing by paying commission to an agent (Canadian agents tend to charge 20 to 25% while American agents usually charge 10 to 15%). We can set our own book price, thereby determining the profit level. Plus, profits are generally greater than the percentage a traditional publisher pays.

Gone too are the days of extensive book tours and grand marketing programs to push sales. These are usually reserved for the publisher’s bestselling authors who can basically guarantee sales, while debut authors struggle to generate interest and push sales on their own, out of their own pockets.

One of the things I’ve learned from authors who have been offered multi-book deals is that contracts can be broken. Because shelf life in a bookstore is so much shorter and authors have less time to prove sales, if specific targets are not met, the book is pulled from the shelves.

I know of one author who landed a two-book deal with a traditional publishing house, but on the first anniversary of the initial book release, the publishing company reneged on the deal. They told the author they would not be publishing his sequel.

Sadly, for some authors, to be dropped by a publishing company can be like career suicide. Once you’re dropped because your book doesn’t meet sales targets, it’s like announcing to all other publishers that your books lack public appeal, and the financial risk of offering you a literary contract might not be worth it.

Do I need this stress? I think not!

I’m happy to write because I’m not under the gun to produce the next book within a certain time frame. I’m not constantly worried if my books are going to be back-listed or if I’ll fail to meet targeted sales.

I never intended to write fantasy novels to become rich or famous. I wrote for my daughter and to see if I had what it takes to write entertaining, compelling fantasy. It was only because the fans kept asking for more did I take the time to write nine novels to complete the Imago fantasy series.

Writing a biography that was good enough to air on the Biography Channel and writing scripts for the TV series, West Coast Adventures has been fun, but there’s nothing more satisfying when fans of my fantasy series show up each year for my book launch to pick up the latest installment in the series.

Though my style of publishing is frowned upon by some traditionally published authors or those striving to be published this way, I feel the wonderful reviews the readers of my series send to me or the blogs they take the time to post validates my ability to write entertaining fantasy.

And nothing pleased me more when a community of readers and writers headed up by Jessica Brown, Layna Pimentel and book reviewer, Joanne Chase started up the #Naylafans stream on Twitter! (.JaySubject, .LaynaPimental and .Joanne_chase on Twitter in case you’d like to follow.) Here, those who have read or are reading my novels discuss all things relating to my fantasy series, from characters and plotline to reviews and even the possibility of a book-to-movie deal. I was amazed when it started and within the first 24 hours, the #Naylafans stream was already seven pages long!

Nothing makes an author happier when their protagonist develops a following like this. Why?

Because supporters like Jessica, Layna and Joanne become the lifeline tossed to the author struggling to stay afloat on the choppy seas of the literary business. These are the people that compel you to write, inspiring you to make the next story as good, if not better, than the last. And in case these ladies didn’t know it, their words do carry weight!

This is because the book buying public should never take the word of the author whether their novel is good. This is up to the readers to decide, and if it is good, they will help spread the word. And in this business, word-of-mouth endorsements are more valuable than paid advertising in a popular newspaper. (I would never take the word of a publisher about how great their latest title is, however, I will listen to a fellow writer or a friend if they make a recommendation of a book they’ve read.)

Being self-published allows me to focus entirely on the creative writing process. And whether it’s my book or anyone else’s, no matter the method of publishing, it is the quality of the book and the words contained within that will speak to the readers.

In my case, two agents were happy to accept a completed book, reading it during the plane ride home. I also have those in the film industry interested in my fantasy, so if anything, self-publishing certainly got me noticed.

Speaking to authors on line and at writing conferences and checking book reviews, I discovered that there are traditionally published books from major publishing houses written by well-known authors that did not fare so well, receiving scathing reviews! Friends who are avid readers do not hesitate to complain to me when they’ve purchased a novel by one of their favourite authors, only to be greatly disappointed. A couple even went as far as telling me they believed the publishing company must have attached the name of the bestselling author to a book they felt was absolute trash because the publisher knew a well-known name would guarantee sales!

I’ve also discovered that some of these same people have extolled great praise on a self-published book, if the story and characters are compelling. I’ve also seen indie authors whose sales have exceeded those of mainstream published books in the similar genre (i.e Paranormal romance writer Zoë Winters).

Bottom line? Whether the book is traditionally published or self-published, the cream always rises to the top. If the book falls flat, you’ll hear about it. If it is well written; the pages are alive with unique, colourful characters the readers can relate to and cheer on; and it provides a thoroughly entertaining read, the book buying public and those who post book reviews will praise its virtues, usually on the Internet for the whole world to see. And if it’s poorly written, you’ll also hear about it too (for an eternity)!

So for now, I will happily return to the business of writing in my own indie way, knowing there are those waiting for the next adventure!

Comments (1)

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