Publishing; Which Way?

Indie April

Self-Publishing and submitting; what I’ve learned so far, which admittedly, may not be much. It is what it is.

I’ve never considered traditional publishing, potentially because I can be a bit of a control freak (I hate waiting) coupled with a (sometimes stubborn) passion for self-learning and autonomy. In my view, it seems that there’s a lot of faff down the traditional route to wade through; from finding an agent and/or finding publishers that align with your style/genre/concepts. Jumping through many hoops for potential (likely) repeat rejection. Not that rejection is a bad thing, that too can be a very useful, if not utterly essential, learning and evolution tool. Then there’s if you’re accepted, you may have to change your writing significantly to fit into someone else’s ideals and target audience — a form of censorship and creative dilution, absolutely. Of course, I’m sure when (if) you get through the hoops, the potential for higher earnings and being considered a reputable writer because you’ve been approved and accepted by a higher power may well be worth the faff and hoops. Personally, all that feels like an elitist, bureaucratic headache for the most part.

Self-publishing has a lot of stigma thanks to the structure and standards set by publishing powerhouses. It’s a reflection of many of the institutions of life; be approved by the institution to be accepted by the masses, or you’re worthless. Music is like that too right. I don’t buy it, do you? I’ve read my fair share of tripe churned out by traditional publishers (sometimes due to who the author knows more than what they write), I’ve worked with highly educated fools who think their PhD gives them superiority even with a gross lack of real-life or business experience. They got approved, though. Better than you off the bat, right? Nope, I’m not buying that either. It filters right down through parenting as well — inescapable — must tick the boxes. All a despicable institutionalised, ritualised validation process, a façade that ignores the real nitty-gritty and that thing again — autonomy, passion, grit and authentic nurturing, in life as indeed art. Like the paper, age does not always bring wisdom, especially when one is stunted in their sole path and idealised view, selectively dismissing poorer choices. Or indeed highly institutionalised, even when it comes straight from the patriarchy (or matriarchy in some instances).

To self-publish, there are more and more platforms arising to help support and facilitate those with the desire to do this. There’s a load of work involved, even with a decent host. One must consider the writing, first and foremost, then, of course, there is editing, cover design (eBook/audio/paperback/hardback), book design, formatting, layout (yes, there are some basic standards for that, in respect of front-matter, back-matter, copyright declaration and numbering), narrator/producer (if producing audio). Sure some make it appear easy, but it’s far more involved than many may expect – it’s seen as the easy route to publication after all, right? Wrong. All of this takes time, dedication, learning and money. Of course, corners can be trimmed, but that will affect the end product. And we cannot forget attracting readers and reviewers to the work once it is out there — marketing really is another beast in itself. No, self-publishing is not easy by any stretch. Accessible — yes, easy — no.

I started self-publishing to get to know the process, and while I do love it, I’ve found much value to be gained in submitting pieces to small press and indie publishers. Gaining contacts, connecting with different audiences and driving creativity by rising to challenges I may not have considered solely. I’m not driven by pressure, and much prefer to go with the proverbial flow. There’s no cut and dry Pro-forma of right and wrong when it comes to art, creating it, and sharing it. It comes down to trying different things, and seeing which one resonates and fits with your flow best. In dealing with other publishers, I have quickly established in mind traits that I like and those which are huge turn-offs for me as a (submitting) writer. It’s fair to say once you begin submitting, you’d be mad not to have a ‘list’. Here are a few things that have landed publishers on mine after submission, which ultimately boils down to etiquette and communication:

  • Poor communication. Submission guidelines are not only a way for publishers to outline what they want and specify the format, but it’s also a key component for publishers to manage writer’s expectations upfront. What I find massively disrespectful is publishers who don’t respond to a submission – it doesn’t have to be big; a quick ‘thanks but no thanks’ is better than zilch. That’s just rude.
  • I don’t like arrogance and indie publishers mimicking traditional publishers – if I wanted that, I’d chase traditional.
  • When a call says ‘No simultaneous submissions’ but a publisher holds a piece too long, only to reject it, thus removing opportunities for the work to be considered elsewhere. If ‘No simultaneous’ is stipulated – considerations and responses should be swift.
  • Editorial changes and queries – I’ve had pieces published with errors that were not present when I submitted, and the queries ignored. Again, poor communication adds to the uphill battle many indies (writers and publishers alike) face. Sometimes support is as simple as acknowledging and owning mistakes.

While I can’t speak for traditional from any sort of experience, other than a reader, it is clear that one size does not fit all — in writing, publishing and indeed life. Sometimes one has to stop dreaming and just do it. Leaving expectations at the door. Jump in, flail around a bit, get over the panicked shock of ice-cold and learn to swim — however that looks. Jump back out and watch by the edge for a bit if you have to breathe again.

But don’t be afraid to at least try. As a good friend of mine often says — fuck it!

The Junk of Magic

*Warning, this is a rant*

I was out walking this week with my children. Armed with bags and litter-pickers because rather than ignoring the problem and walking by in anger, we each have a responsibility to do something about it. And I’m not just talking about littering; I am a strong advocate in speaking up against injustices – whether to each other, other living beings or the environment. Keeping quiet and keeping the head down isn’t good enough. It’s cowardice, it’s weak, it’s a problem. There’s way too many of us that do that; if you are not proactive in becoming part of a solution, you are part of the problem; of that, I am a firm believer.

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I recall an incident in early high school whereby a particularly nasty individual took it upon himself to verbally abuse and threaten me across a classroom of about 20 other kids AND a teacher. I stood up for myself, I was terrified, but I couldn’t wilt and cower as this bully wanted me to, even with the fear and terror coursing through my blood. I welcomed his challenge to action. This little dweeb loudly threatened to come after my friends (who were not in this class) and me after school. He threatened to stab me. In front of a teacher and class full of pupils – loudly – he said he would STAB me. The rest of the class sat silent. Witnessing and entirely inactive. The teacher sat silent – with her head down, the fear I could see coursing through her meek body. As my eyes pleaded at her to help in some way – she didn’t. I was a child, and I was appalled. If that mouthy Ned came at me in that room and stabbed me, as he threatened, I do not doubt that no-one would have ‘helped’. It would’ve just been a story they’d mouth off about after the damage was done. That’s only one highly snipped account of many from the glory days of childhood and the wonderful ‘safe’ public schooling system. If I had been attacked that day – every single student in that class and that teacher would have had my blood (or his) on their hands. Just as every one of us who walks past carelessly discarded rubbish, or ignores other acts of cruelty and abuse (for a quiet life, self-preservation, or because it’s not our business) — we carry the responsibility for the damage caused — especially if you choose to do nothing. The bird that chokes, it’s chicks that die, the domestic abuse victim murdered, the bullied kid that turns to suicide for an end.

It’s sad to say, for the most part, what I’ve witnessed in my time on this poor, messed up and abused planet – it’s all just talk and not enough doing. 

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Anyway, when I was walking with my kids, picking up rubbish as we went, we passed through an abandoned fairy trail. Last summer (2020), in the midst of a pandemic, lockdown and folk rushing around to be seen to care, this fairy trail was one such endeavour. I have no connections to the creators. And I know my realist attitude to such things is ‘negative’ to superficial types. But, none the less, when I heard about this and saw it for myself last year — these little areas within some woodland were taken over with ‘cutsie’ painted signs and an absolute barrage of plastic toys. I did snort that this was someone’s ‘great’ idea of collecting and getting rid of unwanted toys, but dressing it up – you know for the ‘magic’, for the kids! I wandered through the wonderland of trash – I mean the delightfully lovely community fairy trail. I couldn’t help but think, I really hope they have a plan to collect and remove all the ‘decor’ which included glass items, tinsel, dummies hanging from trees, plastic blocks, plastic slides, dollies, lights etc…

Maybe I’m a pessimist, some would say, but I’ll stick to realist…

This was last summer, it’s coming up almost a year later; all of that junk is still there, and thanks to the elements, it’s strewn around the surrounding area – dumped, left, abandoned, trashed. My daughters and I collected and disposed of some little pieces that we could today, including a fair amount of broken glass, but couldn’t manage much given what we had with us – there is so much there – caught up in trees, polluting the nearby water. It’s utterly appalling.

It looked ‘good’ at the time, though, at least to the bright sparks who came up with this idea for ‘the children’. It’s a shame it wasn’t used as a follow-through learning opportunity about our responsibility to the environment and cleaning up after ourselves. Another half-baked idea. Broken glass, plenty of plastic to kill and injure the wildlife – it’s fucking magical alright. There’s obviously much more to this, but this really summed up the ‘community’ spirit littered through this pandemic year (for me) – all these fools rushing to appear to be ‘caring’ ‘do-gooders’ doing their bit to get a pat on the back but leaving a trail of mess behind for someone else to deal with. The neighbours banging on pots and pans, clapping for essential workers one night, then throwing get-togethers and making many non-essential trips between the applause. Hypocrisy at its finest. Creating magic and the pandemic buzz of positive ‘wellbeing’ in the community, for a quick-fix feel-good factor, then discarding it carelessly – the trauma and hazard left behind will far outlast the so-called magic. The fairies must be sleeping, indeed.

Beta Call

If you’d like to be a beta reader for the next Concoction anthology release, scheduled for this Winter 2019, drop me a message via the contact form on this site.