As an aspiring author one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s easy in this writing/publishing industry to feel like you’re at everyone else’s mercy.
This isn’t new territory for me after living in LA for years. Whether you’re a writer, actor, screenwriter, director of photography, costume designer, or almost any other creative profession you’re waiting for that agent to sign you – hoping that director notices you – wanting to be a part of that studio.
And just like in the movie business, authors have the choice to step outside that system and do things on their own. Everyone I mentored in LA, anyone who asked for advice actually, I would tell that you have two choices:
You can choose the traditional path, work within the system, pay your dues and work your way up to achieving what you want.
Or you can choose to work outside the system, create and distribute your own product.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both (which are really another post) but if you choose outside the system it’s incredibly difficult to then step into it at some point. If you choose inside the system – you can step out whenever you want and probably retain some leverage to step back in. You have more options starting from within than without.
But that isn’t as true in the publishing world. Again, there’s of course advantages and disadvantages to traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. But the barriers to traditional publishing are the same whether you’ve self-published previously or not; they’re the same no matter how old you are; they’re the same whatever your prior experience is.
And even though that’s true – it’s still easy to feel like you’re at the mercy of agents or editors or even readers to share your story.
Which is why I like authors like Jen Minkman so much (other than the fact that she’s enthusiastic and she’s nice). Shadow of Time was published traditionally in the Netherlands and Belgium. Jen worked within the system and found success there. It was unconventional success, because paranormal romance is an untapped genre in those countries. So, even working within the traditional system, Jen wasn’t content to let it define her.
My favorite part of Jen’s story, though, is what she did next. She translated her book into English and expanded out into other countries by self-publishing. Granted, Jen is probably not the first author ever to do this. But I still enjoy her initiative. I love that she decided what she wanted and put in the work it required and took a risk instead of letting anyone else decide what was possible for her.
And, on a side note, it wasn’t a small amount of work. Her English translation is spot on. There’s some noticeable differences in the vernacular but those are cultural things and not linguistic. And they’re not distracting. Most notably, though, is how well she captured the area and the setting. I grew up near the Four Corners surrounded by Ute, Pueblo and Navajo reservations and as I was reading I was convinced she’d traveled in that area because of how seamlessly she got so many things right. She didn’t just show the initiative to do something out of the box – she did it really well.
Any of us can self-publish and we know that, and we each have to decide if that’s the right choice for each book. But to take it a step farther, to expand into unfamiliar markets and new languages is exciting and bold and something to remember when it feels like trying to be a part of the system is everyone’s decision but yours. The truth is, you’re only at your own mercy.