27 June 2012

The Difficult Decision NOT To Publish

I've been talking about, and working toward, self-publishing my first novel, Sorry's Not Enough, this fall. I've done a lot of research, learned a whole lot of things, tried my hand at creating an ebook cover, put my novel through several beta readers, and agonized over every word. My plan was to put together a few short stories as a collection to release for free a few weeks before publishing the novel, as a sort of teaser for people new to my writing. While doing all this, I was going to continue working on my WIP, Confessions of a Non-Believer, a commercial women's fiction story with a bit of religious debate. And THEN, when that was done, I would start writing my erotica series during the time it took to seek representation for Confessions, while hopefully making decent self-pub sales with Sorry's Not Enough. That was the plan, and I've put in a lot of work, so this post may come as a surprise.

I will not be self-publishing Sorry's Not Enough.

And no, it's not because I got an agent or anything like that. I will also not continue working on Confessions right now. I may tinker with it here and there, but it won't be my priority. This is a hard thing to say, because on some level I feel like I'm abandoning the love of my life. I love both of these stories, and it does hurt a little bit to say "Sorry, but I have to set you aside."

Anatomy of a decision

I'm not dropping out of the writing game. What I am doing is carefully selecting my career path. It has been in the back of my mind for a while that I have two separate audiences for my work. The dream would be that my fans would be my fans no matter my genre, but realistically I know that the audience for my women's fiction and the audience for my erotica are two separate market segments. There will be some overlap in the customer base, but sustaining a career in one or both genres means different marketing plans and, most importantly, a steady supply of new material for fans of EACH genre. My FTWA colleague Sophie Perinot wrote about author branding and genre in a post last August that really spoke to me. I think I've been mulling this over on a subconscious level ever since.

The bottom line in Sophie's post, and the reality of publishing, is that you will most likely mold your writing career around the genre you debut in. At least for a while. I'm sure you've all heard the saying by now that the best marketing for one book is to write (and publish) your next book. A solid career track depends on a writer being able to deliver a steady supply of writing that the readers are eager to gobble up. So it doesn't make sense to debut in one genre, then switch to another. Like I said, you might get some readers who follow you from one genre to another, but you'll essentially have to re-market and re-brand yourself to a new readership in the new genre. Career-wise, it just isn't a smart move. At least not for me.

Which is why my commercial women's fiction projects have to take a back seat while I focus on erotica.

I've had this idea for my erotica series for a couple years now, but I've always been waiting to finish (and hopefully land an agent/publishing deal) with the women's fiction first. Probably because that was the order in which the ideas came to me. If I am truly honest with myself, though, trying to break into the publishing world with my women's fiction is a BAD idea. Why? Because SNE and Confessions are the only two women's fiction manuscripts I have, and I don't currently have any ideas for more. Nor has any viable idea come to me in the past two years. All of the other awesome ideas I have are for erotic stories, starting with this series. The series idea was just a nebulous collection of scenarios in my head at first, nothing too concrete, so I kept working on Confessions. But now the idea is more fully formed and screaming to be written.

There's also another reason I'm shifting my focus to erotica: timing. I have a sense that right now - like, YESTERDAY! - is a prime time to launch my career as an erotic novelist. No matter how much I, or anyone, may dislike Fifty Shades of Grey for whatever reason, it has thrust erotica into the mainstream limelight. Do I think there's better erotica out there? Of course. I hope that mine can be counted in the better quality category. We'll have to wait and see on that. But there's a buzz around the genre right now, and it seems like there's no better time to step onto the stage and try to make a name for myself. The fact that this is happening now, and that my series concept has finally gelled into something I'm finally prepared to write, now, is immense stroke of luck. I mean honestly... the timing! I feel if I put it off any longer, I'll miss out on a great opportunity.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not hopping on a bandwagon. I've been interested in erotica for a long time now, and I've written short stories, and the idea for the novel came to me a couple years ago. Erotica has also been a very healthy genre, sales-wise, way before the 50 Shades explosion, especially in the indie and self-publishing realm. But now is just the right time for me. How can I say no?

But can't you just use a pen name for one genre and do both at the same time? Or even if you don't use a pen name, can't you STILL self-publish like you were planning to and also write erotica?

As I already mentioned, it just doesn't make career sense for me. Even if I use a pen name to keep the marketing/genre stuff separate, I'll still only have two viable women's fiction manuscripts. Why self-publish one, seek representation for another (or self-pub both), and then have nothing else in the pipeline? I feel I'd be doing a disservice not only to my readers, but to myself and those two stories. If I (fingers crossed!) build a readership and fan base with my erotica and it doesn't look like I'll have any more women's fiction stuff to offer down the line, maybe then I'd consider self-publishing SNE and Confessions as a little something extra to offer my readers. I think I'd have better luck getting fans of my erotica to read my non-erotic titles than vice versa. Not sure why. Just a hunch I have.

Even disregarding all of the above, I still couldn't do both. I. Just. Can't. Recently I did an interview for Matt Sinclair at The Elephant's Bookshelf (publisher of the Spring Fevers anthology) and he asked whether I tend to work on multiple projects, or one at a time. In hindsight I realized just how much my answer foreshadowed this very decision:
I attempt multiple projects, but usually I end up not making much progress on any. For several weeks now, I've been stuck in the "thinking and scheming" frame of mind for about three different projects. I have to buckle down soon and start focusing on one first, then another, so I can actually get something accomplished.
I simply don't have it in me to write this erotica novel in a timely manner while also trying to focus on self-publishing my first novel and all that comes with that - marketing, blog tours, monitoring sales, etc. And forget about trying to write the erotica, self-publish SNE, AND keep working on Confessions.  I get anxious just thinking about it.

I'm indecisive. It's one of my flaws. I'm paralyzed by choice. Having to consider and manage all aspects of writing two projects and publishing a third is just too much. In discussing this decision with a friend yesterday, I told him I have this thing where I have a hard time problem-solving by just taking things one step at a time. I see things in a very interconnected way, and when I consider even one option, I can't help but also see the myriad possibilities branching out from it, like a choose-your-own adventure on crack. While this ability is actually an immense bonus to me working in retail environments, it is crippling in my writing life. If I let it get the best of me, I'll end up doing what I've been doing for the past three months: wasting time on Facebook and Twitter or staring at mindless drivel on TV because the magnitude of so many choices, so many potential actions, results, and consequences is overwhelming.

This has been a gut-wrenchingly difficult decision. Partially because I've been saying I'm going to self-publish this book for a good while now, and seemingly at the last minute I'm pulling the plug. I don't like saying I'm going to do something and then not doing it, no matter the reason. Makes me feel like a flake. (Thank you to all my Twitter friends and the #goatposse for assuring me I am not a flake.) I'm not sure what else has made it so difficult for me... probably a little soul-searching and psychological analysis to be done there, but I won't bore you with that. :-)

I hope that by sharing my decision with you, maybe someone else who feels like they're floundering without direction or struggling with a decision that's been eating at them for a while will find the courage to really examine themselves and their goals. Writing is art, and I want to write the stories that I want to write. But I also want this to be a career, which means making tough calls about what I should be writing at any given moment. And sometimes it means going with your gut, even when you aren't sure, like me.

What's the hardest writing career decision you've had to make? How did you know you were making the right choice?


  1. Thanks for posting this. I faced a similar issue with my own writing, and deciding to focus on my series (with plans to publish the stand-alones later) continues to feel like the right choice. Hopefully, it will be for you too.

    1. Fingers crossed for both of us, then. :-) And thank YOU for talking me through this decision when I was drowning in a sea of possibility.

  2. Decisions are tough. My philosophy is to make them and not second guess them...keep moving forward. Good luck. I'm sure you've made the ride decision for you and that's all that matters. :-)

    1. Thanks Kay! I've been getting better about the decision-making thing with smaller stuff in my life... like, do I want to cut my hair, or do I really want to dye it that color and--aw, screw it, I'm doing it! haha and so far *that* has worked out well. I still struggle with some of the big-picture stuff like this particular decision, but I'll get there. Baby steps. :-)

  3. The first novel I ever wrote I decided not to self-publish as well, even though I really wanted to. It just wasn't good enough. I've edited it so many times that I know it's not going to get any better and there are parts of it I love and it fits the genre that I mainly write, but at the same time, it just doesn't feel right to self-publish it.

    So I'm going to self-publish (hopefully) my current WIP instead.

    That being said, I write speculative women's fiction (horror, fantasy, paranormal, sci-fi) under this pen name and am also going to have a separate pen name where I write romance/erotic. I agree that we need to brand ourselves and therefore, I want people to know what to expect from each name of mine. I will keep it no secret that I am both people, but will have to establish separate audiences for each.

    That being said, I refuse to make a second blog, twitter, and facebook or I'll never have the time to write EVER.

    And I think writing erotica is a good choice for you. The self-pub market for it is amazing (although I don't know if you want to head in that direction like I do.) I'm very excited to write it, partly because I'm going to self-pub all my stuff without seeking an agent first. I have no desire for an agent right now. I desire to have full control of my work.

    1. The erotica (and romance) market is definitely a lucrative place for indie and self-publishers, so I wish you best of luck! And knowing why you're self pubbing (wanting full control, etc) is key. I will be pursuing traditional publishing with my erotica for my own reasons, which I may get into at some point in a different post. :-) But I am absolutely open to self-publishing if that seems like the right choice.


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