this week I had the opportunity to hear two local authors, Ann Port and Steve
Ulfelder, speak at a small public library in the town where I teach. Both are novelists and both are
published. Ann Port went the way
of self-publishing, while Steve Ulfelder pursued traditional publishing through
a literary agent. I loved hearing
both their stories and respect their choices for different reasons. Listening to the motives each gave for
his or her choice of publishing made me think about my own reasons for writing
and my own goals.
spoke first about her journey in self-publishing. She is a writer who writes from her experiences and travels
and seems to enjoy sharing a bit of herself and her stories through her
fictional pieces. She admitted she
just wants people to like what she’s written, and as her friends and readers in
the small crowd attested, they do.
As an older writer she has the dream of seeing all six, possibly seven,
of her stories published. Though,
from what I gathered, all but that possible seventh have been drafted, she puts
them out one at a time, only publishing the next when the previous book has
paid for itself. She’s disciplined
in that way, but likes that she doesn’t have to be. She can publish on her own time schedule, and has a great
deal of control over everything from editing to cover design. Self-publishing works for her, and she
seems happy (happy enough to enthusiastically try to sell me on the idea). I admire Ann for doing it her way, for
creating her own goals, her own rules, her own opportunities. It takes guts to say, ‘I know what I’ve
written is good enough and I’m going to share it with the world, New York be
on the other hand, took the route of seeking traditional publication. He suffered through rejection letters
and rewrites until he found an agent who agreed to represent him and managed to
sell his novel to a publisher (a subsidiary of one of the big New York
publishers). This arguably more
arduous road was worth it for him though, because he had the goal of becoming a
novelist, one who could sell a book or two a year and make enough to live
on. He sought to become a writer
as a profession, not just a passionate hobby. Unlike Ann, he has deadlines and people whose editing
suggestions I’m guessing are at times more like demands. But he also has the support and
marketing of a major publisher.
His books are stocked in the “big” bookstores; his advanced
copies are sent to major book reviewers.
Traditional publishing certainly worked for Steve: his first novel
Purgatory Chasm was just nominated for an Edgar Award (the Oscars of mystery
writing). I admire Steve for
sticking it out and succeeding in a cutthroat world and for admitting he went
that route because he had bigger goals in mind. It’s easy to dream big; it’s harder to admit it while you’re
still on the road to success.
could oversimplify the choice by saying it comes down to why we write. If a writer writes primarily for
intrinsic reasons they should self-publish, and if they write for extrinsic
reasons they should pursue traditional publishing. But that would be implying that anyone who goes the route of
traditional publishing writes solely for money or recognition, and I don’t buy that. Sure, it would be nice to make a living from the thing I’m most passionate about, but that’s not why I started writing,
not why I continue to write despite not making a dime (actually, if you count
ink, paper, and postage, never mind time, I’m pretty deep in the red), and it’s
not why I’ll always write. Like
most writers, published or not, I write because I have stories to tell, because
I love the power of words and the process of piecing them together in just such
a way that lets you know you nailed it.
And yes, like Ann, and Steve, too, I’m sure, I like having people read
my work and hopefully enjoy it.
admit, ideally, I’d like to follow Steve’s path. My big dreams involve writing for a living, which will
probably require an agent and numerous books sold by one of the larger
publishing companies. But big
dreams and small dreams share the same seed: passion. If down the road I decide to follow Ann’s path and can do so
with the passion and joy she seems to have for her work, that wouldn’t be so