After I mentioned in Monday's post that I was planning a Reader Questions post this week, I was absolutely deluged with questions - so many that I can't fit them all into one post. Or even two! So I'm just going to deal with the first few today and work through the rest next Wednesday and the Wednesday after.
First up, then, an email question from Claudia, who says:
"I am a teenager trying to write a contemporary story. what keeps scaring me is that, because of my age, I might not have enough experience to write a believable story. Is this true, or am I just obsessing?"You're just obsessing. Next!
Seriously - of course if you're writing about topics that you've had no experience of in your real life, it's going to take extra skill, research and passion to make those seem realistic. But that's true whether you're eleven or one hundred and eleven. It's also true that some young people might not have the emotional maturity to write convincingly about the complex emotions of their characters, or the technical ability to create good prose - but again, that's true of adults as well. The only way you develop these skills is by writing, writing, writing, and being willing to revise and re-work stories to make them as good as you can, as well as the willingness to move onto new material once you've made the old as good as you can.
Do your research, do your best, and keep writing. That's all anyone can do.
The second question is from long-time blog commentor Alex:
"I recently made the decision to self-publish the first two books I wrote, one when I was 16 and the next when I was 17. I tried to get an agent for each in turn and piled up stacks and stacks of rejections. Each time I had it made clear to me that there was no problem with the stories or the writing themselves but they simply weren't commercially viable. But they are books I would have picked up myself, and would have liked to read myself, and they may be flawed but I am still proud of them. That's why I decided to self-publish. My question really is, do you think this was a bad decision? Do I lose integrity amongst other authors if I publish my work myself? Would it be more worthwhile persevering like everyone else? What advice would you give to an author who has to market herself?"This is really a tangle of sub-questions rather than one, but I'll do my best. The first issue I need to tackle here is the issue of 'commercial viability' - which I'm very suited to do, since when I started writing YA fantasies with girl characters (before the paranormal/urban fantasy boom) the UK publishing world was firmly convinced there was no market for such things, that girls simply weren't interested in fantasy. But The Swan Kingdom was published anyway. How did that happen?
Even though the book was different and strange and didn't really fit into the market place as the publisher saw it right then, it was still good enough to capture the imaginations of an editor and his boss. Good enough to make them willing to take a chance on it. Different, strange books get published all the time, and in fact those are often the books that surprise everyone by making their own market niche and becoming a success. So if these agents are telling you that there are no problems with your writing and stories, but that your work is not 'commercially viable'? What they're really telling you is that although they like your books, they're not quite good enough for them to take a chance on.
That's not what you want to hear, Alex, and I'm sorry. I know it's much more comforting to think that the problem is with the market rather than your books. But I was told the EXACT same thing about my first YA fantasy, that no one ever published, and looking back I can see that this was the way kind publishing people encouraged a young writer who had a lot of potential, but whose work just wasn't there yet. Because when I wrote my second book it still didn't really fit into the 'commercially viable' box - but it got published anyway.
Bearing that in mind, then, do I think you made the wrong decision to self-publish? No. Why shouldn't you get the personal satisfaction of sharing these books that you love with the world, design your own covers, and maybe even make some profit? In these days of ebook publishing and Amanda Hocking, the old stigma of being a self-published author is disspating fast. It's not necessarily a selling point when you approach agents or publishers, but neither is it a stumbling block.
But just because you've taken the step to self-publish these earlier books, that doesn't mean you should give up on getting books published the traditional way in the future either. Amanda Hocking herself, after making millions of dollars with her ebooks, signed a traditonal publishing contract with St Martin's Press. Traditional publishing gives you a security and a support system that self-published authors just don't have. You ask me here how a self-published author should market herself and frankly, I'm clueless, but I do know that Amanda Hocking said she was doing FORTY HOURS of promotional work a week. FORTY HOURS! Who can blame her for wanting to give that up and just be allowed to write?
I suppose my advice to you comes down to this - don't despair of ever getting an agent and a publishing contract just because your earlier books weren't successful. The only difference between a published author and an unpublished one is that the former never gave up. If you have the talent, the perseverence and the patience, eventually you will write the book which breaks out and makes your dream come true.
I hope this was helpful Claudia and Alex. This post has already run a little longer than I intended, so I think I'd better finish here. Sorry to all of who sent me other questions - I will do my best to fit them all in next week or the week after at the latest. If anyone else has questions to ask, drop them in the comments or send me an email and I'll add you to the queue!