We’ve all faced this situation before: You’ve finished your novel or short story. You’ve taken those first threads of an idea and fought your way through the first draft. You’ve edited the project multiple times until it is as clean and polished as you can get it. You’ve gotten good feedback from those who have read the work and you’re ready for that next step. Which is…?
You want the story published, of course. It’s why you wrote it in the first place. You had a story to tell and you want to share it with the world. But…how?
My experience over the years leads me to believe there are basically two ways to go.
- There’s the traditional routes, print magazines, and brick-and-mortar publishing houses. Many, if not most, have an online presence which can lead to an even larger audience. The advantages include professional editors and proofreaders to back up your own editing and proofing efforts; formatting and production of the book are taken care of. The downsides are word counts (traditional publishers have convinced the reading public that length equals quality) and the extra, frustrating steps of having to appeal to editors who have to decide which story to publish. If you’re trying to publish a novel, you have even one more step; you have to find an agent before you can submit the manuscript. Most book publishers won’t accept a novel manuscript unless it comes from an agent. (This may have changed. It’s been a while since I last researched submitting a novel to traditional publishers)
- There’s the way of the independent author, the way of self-publishing. You can do both print and online so you can potentially reach the same size audience. Without a publishing company behind you, it’s all up to you. You’re the editor, you’re the proofreader, you’re the cover designer. (Yes, there are professional editors, proofreaders and cover designers out there but they can get expensive. If you’re like me, living paycheck to a couple of days shy of paycheck, this is not much of an option.) You have to do all your own marketing, getting the word out and bringing your work to the attention of potential readers. The upside is word count. There is none. If you have a five thousand word story and want to publish it…great! A twenty thousand word novella? Perfect! A hundred thousand word magnum opus? A bit daunting but just as good!
For me, the word count is a big plus. For the most part, novels are a minimum of fifty thousand words in length, though most mainstream novels are at least eighty thousand words. Of my books, only Campfire Stories is at novel length…but it’s an anthology, so it doesn’t really count. My stories mostly end up in the novelette/novella range, about seventy-five hundred to forty-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine words. Currently, the longest single story is On A Cold Wind at a little shy of thirty-four thousand words. Could I have extended it to at least the fifty thousand word length? Of course I could’ve added those extra sixteen thousand words but they would’ve been obvious padding and might not have added anything to the story. As it stands now, On A Cold Wind is a tight little book. I feel the story moves along at a good pace without passages that might leave a reader to wonder why the scene is in there.
A story should be as long as it takes to tell the story, whether it’s five thousand or five hundred thousand words.
I’m not concerned about the editing and proofreading. I have a routine that I go through that works well for me. Usually it’s at least four edits spaced six weeks apart. I’ve also gotten good at making my own covers. I’ve found sites that have public domain images that are free to use, and I can usually track down images that, once combined and filtered, adequately represent each book.
The freedom of being an independent author is what I find the most appealing. I can tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them. Do I wish the books were selling better? Of course I do. Would the resources of a traditional publisher help? I’m sure they would. But I don’t have to worry about trends or what’s hot at the moment. I can tell whatever story I want. There’s an audience out there…I just have to find it. (But that’s a post for another day.)
Maybe it’s my growing Libertarian streak but I don’t think someone should tell you how to tell your story. Being self-published, you’re getting the stories the way I want you to get them, presented in the best way I can.
And in the end, isn’t that what we all want?