I recently facilitated a local book launch event. I was honored to serve in that capacity because 1)I’m excited about all things literary, 2) the event was sponsored by my sorority, so of course, I said yes, and 3) I take a guilty pleasure in believing I was asked because I’m a writer (slight stroke to my ego).
The featured author was promoting her debut, self-published memoir. As a writer who would love to have a novel published, I was intrigued at learning her process. How did she secure an agent? What publishing history does she have? Why self-publish instead of traditionally publish? What else is she doing to promote her work?
I was not surprised to learn that she chose to self-publish. With so many platforms available, it’s easier than ever to get a book published without knowing how to even form a complete sentence (have you read some of the stuff out there? I have. It’s not pretty.) That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, look at the publication journey of author Kimberla Lawson Roby. When the traditional route didn’t initially work for her, she set out on her own and is now a success with several titles under her belt, including the popular Reverend Black novels.
I was surprised to learn that my event’s author had no writing experience. Hadn’t had anything published, wasn’t an MFA graduate publishing her exit thesis. She just decided to write a book and put it out there.
Well so did I! Except the “put it out there” part. While self-publishing was the only option my event’s author considered, I’d done the traditional route: sending out queries, pitching to an agent. With a response to a full manuscript request pending, the amount of time my manuscript’s been in this particular publisher’s hands tells me it might be a “no”.
I used to think my reasons for traditional publishing were legitimate: a vetting of my work, an agent to guide me through the process, a publisher to do the bulk of marketing (well, that’s not true anymore!) because I know absolutely nothing about it.
But could I be wrong?
The author at the book launch seemed to have all of that… WITHOUT using the traditional roadmap! No critique groups or beta readers. No workshops or conferences. At the time of the launch, the manuscript was still in her editor’s hands. I was one of a handful of people who’d even read it. She had an agent, who appeared to be an entertainment publicist with connections. She already has engagements lined up throughout the summer to promote her book. In addition to the launch, she had a social media blitz where people could pre-order her book.
Well for one, she is a complete extrovert. Even with a gaggle of friends and family at the event, her personality sold it at the book launch. She also has a marketing background, something, along with an extroverted personality, can only benefit her with the promotional aspect of writing. And she knows people in other cities and states. People who believe in her work–even sight unseen– who would gladly host a book event in their area and/or spread the word to purchase the book.
So while I stood at the podium introducing this author and facilitating a Q&A during the night, I was both jealous and grateful. I’ve been working five years to get where she is, the whole time pounding the hypothetical pavement of getting shorts published, maintaining a social media presence and taking every opportunity to learn the craft. But I am grateful because I witnessed someone demonstrate the tenacity needed to be published. Forget having someone else judge whether her work is publishable. No middleman to vet her worth and talent as a writer. Just a desire to share her story with the world. I applaud her.
I’m not quite to the point that self-publishing is a viable option for me. But it could just be that I don’t know enough to actively pursue it. Maybe this event just could be the kick in the pants I need to start seriously considering an alternate route to joining Kimberla Lawson Roby on the best-seller list.