Friday, September 7, 2012

Know What You Want, But Leave Room for the Unexpected

by R.C. Lewis

We writers face a lot of choices. First person or third? Past tense or present? Happy tied-up ending or gut-wrenching cliffhanger? Sympathetic antagonist or irksome-but-fascinating protagonist (or both)?

And that's just the writing part.

Once the writing (and polishing) is done, what do we do? Query agents in the hope of signing with a large publisher? Submit to smaller publishers on our own? Dive straight into self-publishing?

So many choices. Pros and cons for each. Well-meaning people trying to pull us in either direction. It's enough to drive us around the bend, like we're not crazy enough as it is.

It certainly came close to breaking my brain. I had people ask why I was still toiling in the query trenches when I was in a pretty decent position to e-publish. I came close so many times, but kept saying to myself, "Just one more manuscript. I'll try querying just one more. Well, one more after that."

Looking back, I'm happy with my decisions and how they're working out. At the time, however, I frequently wondered if I was an idiot. If I was blind to the possibilities, getting too stuck on one path. But deep-down, I knew I wasn't. As I queried, I actively made plans. Not so much a Plan B as an alternate route.

I educated myself about the traditional publishing industry and the burgeoning world of self-publishing. I worked on strengthening skills I would need in either case. In the end, that helped me hold onto my sanity and my hope.

So here's what I think. We need to know what we want. I want to reach teen readers, and that's a big part of why I stuck with querying agents. At the same time, we have to be ready for unexpected opportunities.

Maybe we're set on traditional publishing, but something comes up that enables self-publishing to achieve certain goals we have.

Maybe we're set on going it alone, but a traditional opportunity arises.

Maybe we're set on one type of agent or publisher, but we get multiple offers and have to rethink our options. (A situation that manages to be simultaneously awesome and awful.)

In an age with so many options and opportunities, I think we need to be more careful than ever about words like "never" and "only." At the same time, we need to do lots of homework to ensure we make informed decisions.

Are you set on a solid course? Flailing in the face of too many choices? What key "musts" give you direction as you navigate through your writing career?

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. You can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).


Jean said...

Solid course? Nope. Not me! It's always felt as though I've been nudged in good directions, so that's what I'm doing. Following the bread crumbs...

Jemi Fraser said...

I like Jean's breadcrumbs analogy - I haven't made any final decisions yet - still working on the learning curve :)

Angela Ackerman said...

I love that there are options now. I wish though that people would be just as patient as they must be in the traditional arena when they choose to self publish. I read some where that one's book is a resume...that's pretty apt. If your name is on something, it should always be your very best, right?

but it is great hat there are many paths to readers. I love that! :)


Debra McKellan said...

Actually, I never even thought about there being a difference in querying big and little companies, so I might want to look into some small publishers!