I met Janci Patterson a few years ago when she was shopping her book Chasing the Skip to NY publishers. It’s about a girl named Ricki. Her mother flakes and runs off, and so Ricki goes to live with her estranged Dad who happens to be a bounty hunter. I was hooked right there. But it gets better. Ricki gets to ride along and help and, wouldn’t you know it, develops a crush on a guy the dad is chasing.
I loved the premise. Traditional publisher Henry Holt loved it too and thought Janci had done a great job telling the tale, so they made her an offer that Janci accepted. It was published in 2012.
Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?
Well, Janci just released another book called Everything’s Fine, a mystery about a girl named Kira. Her best friend commits suicide immediately after her first date with her longtime crush, Bradley Johansen. Kira’s devastated and wondering why. She’s sure the answers are in her friend’s journal. As she searches for it she quickly learns she’s not the only one who wants that journal. Someone else is trying to keep the secrets the journal contains hidden.
Another great premise. And this book won the Utah Art’s Council award for Best Young Adult Novel. Clearly, Janci can tell a story. But Janci didn’t take this one to NY.
She’s publishing it as an indie.
Here are her own words explaining what helped convince her going indie was doable.
A Paradigm Shift
For years I refused to think about self-publishing. This wasn’t because of the stigma, honestly, but because of all the work I watched my self-publisher friends put into creating, shipping, and marketing their books. I couldn’t do that! I told myself. I wanted to be a writer, not a publisher.
When it became obvious to me that self-publishing was the next logical step in my career, I was terrified. Having published with a big publisher, I wasn’t willing to skip steps in the publishing process–it was my editor’s keen eye and the rounds of revision we did together that transformed CHASING THE SKIP from a messy draft into a product I was proud of. I wanted to be just as proud of my independent work, and for that, I knew I’d need help.
I knew just enough about book and cover design to know that I couldn’t slap them together on my own and expect them to be instantly good. But when I did the math on what I’d have to pay an editor and a book designer and a cover designer to put out even one book (let alone the several I have waiting), I knew that I couldn’t afford it. Self-publishing felt even more impossible than selling books in New York–I knew how I wanted to do it, but I didn’t have the resources.
So it was with this trapped feeling that I attended the Precision Editing Group’s workshop on indie publishing last fall. The workshop was packed with great information, but the thing that impacted me the most was a presentation by Heather Horrocks. She was talking about the importance of editors, and as a side comment, said something to the effect of, “yes, all my books have now been edited, but when I first got started, I didn’t have an editor because I couldn’t afford it.”
It’s not my intention to suggest that editing isn’t important, because it is. But that one sentence blew my mind. I’d been working with the New York publishing paradigm for fourteen years. And in that world, there are very few ways to be published. You query agents. You send books to publishers. You do your very best to follow all of the guidelines and to do everything perfectly right, hoping to minimize the barriers that stand between you and success as a writer.
But this self-publishing thing was a whole different game. I sat in the audience at the workshop, stunned. That was the moment when I finally realized this truth: there are as many ways to publish as there are people who are publishing. There is no one right way to do it. There are so many things you can do that can help you succeed. It’s better to do something than nothing, because nothing is never the road to success. Even if that means you’re doing it wrong.
So when I got home, I made a list of my assets. Forget about what I lacked. Forget about what I didn’t know. What did I know how to do? What resources did I have access to? And, most importantly, who could I ask for help?
If you’re looking to self-publish, I’d suggest that you do the same. Because here’s the thing–your list of assets is going to be uniquely yours. You have a unique set of skills; you know a unique network of people. You don’t need to worry about who and what you don’t know. Instead, focus on what you do have, what you can do. If you’ve been writing for years, you probably have some book-related skills. If you’re part of a community of writers to which you regularly contribute, you probably have some friends who you’ve helped in the past, or can help in the present, who would be motivated to help you out in return. Start from there, and you can pick up the rest as you go along.
In the end, I did have my book edited (repeatedly!) and my cover designed by a graphic designer. I was able to do that because I had friends who believe in me who were willing to enter into financial agreements that didn’t involve them getting paid in full upfront. I wouldn’t have thought to work out those arrangements when I was focused on doing things right–it was only when I opened my vision to look at what was possible that I began to envision what shape my own unique path might take.
Each path to publication is different, not only for each writer, but also for each book. With all the options available to us, it’s not enough to focus on our feet, doing only the next “right” step. Opportunity is everywhere. Focus on what you have, and even if you don’t win the jackpot on the first try, at least you’ll be playing the game.