Since publishing my first two mystery novels as ebooks on Amazon.com and Smashwords.com, I’ve given a lot of thought to the whole digital publishing concept. Of course, originally I was trying to get published the way everyone else was doing it, back in the mid to late ’90’s when the Kindle was just a twinkle in cyberspace. My first novel got shipped to New York in manuscript form a number of times, and I was rewarded for my weeks of nervous anticipation with mild encouragement from a number of agents and publishers.
A few Bouchercons, writers’ conferences, and a weeklong novel writing workshop with Elizabeth George at the Book Passage in Corte Madera, California and it was back to the computer for a complete revision of Slow Curve on the Coquihalla, with a better understanding of how to construct scenes that rewarded the reader with enhanced entertainment. Off it went to a few more agents, with less enthusiasm on my part as I worked on my second novel. More rejection letters, but soon my second novel was also ready to be sent out into the world to seek my fortune.
Ice on the Grapevine, in my own humble opinion and that of most of my new readers, was better than my first novel, more dynamic somehow. (I owe that to Elizabeth George and Diana Gabaldon. Although I don’t always enjoy their books, they know the craft and teach it well.) Again, some encouraging remarks from some very successful agents: “I like your writing.” “I like your protaganist.” “I like your idea.” “You write good action scenes.” “I enjoyed reading your novel but I couldn’t sell it.” “I just don’t feel excited enough about it.” … but again, no takers. It made me wonder what I was doing wrong.
I’ve often seen it written and heard it said that fiction writers should write the kind of books they love to read, and also write about what they know. I’m a woman, but often feel that I was blessed with an androgynous life view. I write about characters and stories that appeal to me, and try to create mysteries complex enough to keep the reader guessing. That’s what I like to read. What do I know well enough to write about? I’m not a lawyer, I’ve never been a police detective or a private eye, but I did work in the transportation industry for a couple of decades and was married to a special man who, at one time, was an undercover operative for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Driving a truck was his cover. Great concept for a character! Or so I thought.
Perhaps it came down to dollars: a long novel is more expensive to publish than a short novel, and I like a novel you can sink your teeth into. Perhaps the truck driver character was too much of a novelty to take a chance on. Perhaps there were just so many other mystery novels that used a tried and true formula so were less of a risk. Perhaps the agents (mainly men) who liked the truck driver idea wanted more action, more of a thriller, and those who like character driven mysteries (mainly women) didn’t like the idea of a trucker hero. Perhaps I just didn’t get my query letter to the right agent at the right time. Or perhaps I just didn’t write as well as I thought.
Enter the Kindle and all the e-readers that have followed. There would be no expense to publish my novels, so no financial risk to take (only my ego). No trees will die in order for my stories to reach interested readers. My story and my characters have not been modified to suit the tastes of an editor (which may be a bad or a good thing) so they are mine all mine from beginning to end. I like that. I like it a lot. I am sharing something I have labored over and cared about with people who are like me, and who like to read what I like to read.
Do I care that my books won’t ever be published on paper? At first I did. I thought that digital publishing was a second best outcome, that it was an admission of failure. (Although my novels would still be languishing in my virtual desk drawer because I’d long ago grown tired of sending out query letters and waiting weeks for what would sometimes be no answer at all, and I’d stopped writing, which was truly a failure.) I do admire authors who have become successful in print, and the agents and editors who have carved out careers in the traditional publishing industry – they have paid their dues and they all deserve a cut of the $15 or so that a pbook costs a reader. However …
The more I think about it, the happier I am with being one of the legion of pioneers in the brave new world of digital self-publishing. Yes, there are many self-published works available on-line of the unpolished quality that used to reside solely in student notebooks. Yes, there is an ever swelling ocean of stories out there that will make it difficult for my novels to be found by the readers who will appreciate them. But when my books do reach the right readers, it’s a joy to hear back from them how much they enjoyed my novels and how much they are looking forward to my next one.
After several years of lying dormant, my characters are coming back to life and the joy of writing has come back to me. I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do, and I am grateful for the chance.