Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why I Haven't Put Zombies From Space in My Books

"More and more I buy into the importance of pursuing one's own unique vision."

Ah, Davin, you are wise. Those are his words from his post on Monday, and yesterday Scott decided to share his own journey with following his unique vision. I appreciated Scott's honest words yesterday, and Davin's honest words on Monday, and I appreciate even more that they have both stuck by their unique visions - even what that meant losing two literary agents for Scott, and facing rejection from publishers for Davin. Ouch.

The truth is, I've never put zombies from space in my books, and I never will. What I mean, of course, by "zombies from space" is changing my work in order for it to become more popular with readers, more accepted by the publishing industry, or more importantly, PUBLISHED. The bare-bones truth is that when you write to your own unique vision, you might be sacrificing a lot of other things along the way.

I'm not sure how interesting my journey is to anyone, but I can briefly share where I've been. It's pretty simple. I started writing when I was a child. I went to college, intent on getting an English degree to better help me write novels for the rest of my life. What happened in college is the most interesting part of all of this, perhaps. About a year in, I got the idea that I wanted to be an editor instead of writer. I think I was intimidated, mostly. A few more years in, I decided to start writing short stories. I was inspired by Annie Dillard's writing, and wrote my short story, "Clover". It was definitely my own unique vision, and straight from my heart. I let two of my professors read it, and before I knew what was happening, they cornered me and asked my why the hell I was pursuing a degree in editing. They said I had to pursue creative writing or I'd be wasting a lot of talent.

So I changed my major, and I've never looked back.

What followed was a journey of figuring out what worked for me as a writer, and what I truly wanted to write. When I figured that out, my life changed, and I've been following that unique vision ever since. When my novel, Monarch, gained literary agent interest, I was so excited. I thought, "This is it!" Little did I know what would happen. I did not have an experience like Scott, but I did get feedback from a certain agent about what should change in the book. Did I change stuff? Yes. To this day, I'm not sure I should have at that point, but I do remember considering very carefully if what this agent wanted to change was in line with my vision for the work. I thought it was, so I revised. In fact, I pretty much rewrote the entire book, even after rewriting it earlier.

Did I get said agent? No, of course not. I probably remained much too close to my own unique vision, because the agent said the book was not what he thought it would be. Oh, well. I then received more agent interest, but it was the same reaction - too off-the-mark. I think all of my work is that way.


I did not let this stop me. I kind of gave up on the publishing industry at that point. I shut down my blog for awhile and wrote Cinders. It was completely 100% what I wanted. I didn't care how people would react to it. I simply did not care. This was freeing. In fact, I wanted so much for the book to be exactly what I wanted that I decided to self-publish it. I didn't care what people thought at that point, either. Something inside of me changed, then, and I'll never be the same. This is when Tinkers, a novella published by a small press, won a Pulitzer. I was floored, honestly. My understanding and vision of what "small press" means, changed completely. That's when I decided a small press might be what I want, and I opened the door to a new possibility.

The rest is history, I guess. I submitted Monarch to Rhemalda Publishing, and when they offered me a contract, I took it because they didn't want to change anything huge on the book. A miracle! I had found a publisher who liked my unique vision. Quite honestly, I got lucky. I could still be searching for an agent or still submitting to publishers, but I got lucky. Luck, however, doesn't happen out of nowhere. I think it was me opening my vision to the possibility of a small press that allowed me to find Rhemalda at the time I did.

We are all on our own paths. Some of us want to put zombies from space in our books - and not just to get published. Some of us really want to write about them. Some of us don't. It's my hope that we can all pursue our own unique vision. Heaven knows Stephanie Meyer followed her own unique vision. Anything can happen, but at the end of the day, I am a much happier person when I haven't compromised my unique vision for something fleeting.

What's your story?


  1. I for one am glad all three of you have not written Zombies in Space. I'm sure my zombie-loving son would disagree, but that's okay too. The biggest point you all hit on though (and one I agree with) is that we write what we want to write. My best writing has always come from the heart and I have no intention of changing that.

    YA for example, seems to be what so many people are writing these days. Myself, I don't think I could write that genre very well. I enjoy reading some of it, but I don't feel the call when I sit down to write (if that makes any sense). Furthermore, if I were to struggle against that feeling, I'm not sure that what I would be cranking out would be "my stuff" or have that same vibe as those moments when I've been really happy with a given work. Great post, and thanks to all three of you for being so honest regarding the topic.

  2. Michelle- I think you know already your story was inspirational to me and influenced my own decision to self-publish "The Man in the Cinder Clouds"...a book my former agent told me was sure to be shunned by the publishing industry because they simply weren't looking for any form of origins-of-Santa story.

    Too bad for them, in my opinion, because I think my book rocks. While I didn't hit any best-seller lists this past Christmas, I still have 2012 (provided the earth is still intact when Dec 25th arrives), and I'm happy enough with the feedback I've received to know that I don't need the industry's stamp o' approval to know I wrote a good book.

    I think the times are changing, slowly at first, but the transformation of who-buys-what-books-and-why will continue, opening more doors for small- and indie-publishers to reach their intended audiences.

    Quitting is the only surefire way to fail, and the only thing that happens overnight in publishing is writer's block...

  3. My story -- 25 years in the restaurant industry working 70 hours a week. A devastating accident. Two years in bed. A conversation started between two people in my head that wouldn't go away. A pen and 15 legal pads later, a story was born. Two years later, a computer and and entirely different story gleaned from the pages of the legal pads.

    A blog, some internet writer friends, a quest to query, agent interest albeit no takers because "sex sells". Another book, again no takers, no sex.

    And then one day my friend Michelle got up the gumption to write a story and self-publish it, which led to a whole new feeling. I might be able to do it too. So I did. And here I am.

    My unique vision was to write about love without pandering to the market. Without changing my ideas of what a story should consist because that's what New York says is out there. Who cares what New York thinks anymore. There are a gagillion people in the world who read and if only a minute portion of them read my book, I'll be a happy girl.

    It was never about the money, (but it does help I won't lie) it was always about getting the stories out there and read. I mean, why bother writing stories if no one will ever read them but the dust bunnies.

  4. Eric: Yes, it's good to remind ourselves that trying to write something which doesn't resonate with us probably isn't going to produce the best quality product. For sure. My best stuff (in my opinion) are things I've written and was afraid to share because they felt so close.

    Rick: I think your book rocks too! I really enjoyed it, and would have enjoyed it just as much if it was published by any publisher. I, for one, am happy you have not quit, and I hope you keep writing and publishing and going after your dreams. :)

    Anne: Wow, both you and Rick say I inspired you. That seriously makes me stop in my tracks. Your own path has been inspiring to me, honestly. I think you've stuck to your guns, and you will continue to do so, and you will be successful beyond what you ever imagined. I'm really happy to be your friend and we can travel our unique paths and wave to each other along the way. :)

  5. I will always remember how happy and excited you were when you were working on publishing Cinders, Michelle. It struck me that your mindset then was where I wanted to be, and you helped me want to self-publish.

  6. When I get my novel finished to a point where I'm satisfied, I intend to try to find a major publisher for it (and if I can't I'll decide between small house or self-publishing). But y'all's testimonials has confirmed for me that I will not go with any agent/publisher that makes me compromise my vision for my book (though improving the realization of that vision is a totally different matter). After all, I want to publish THIS book, not A book.

    I'm going to try not to get too emotionally invested in the publishing process,though it's easier said than done. I think it's important to realize that publishing professionals aren't interested in rewarding quality; they're interested in finding something they can sell--as much and as fast as possible. And they tend to follow the market rather than shape it. They get deluged with manuscripts from previously non-published authors, so they can afford to say, "X has been selling, so I'll pick the best manuscript that looks like X" instead of this "better" manuscript that isn't like what's been selling. I don't blame them for that (much), but I need to remember that their interests don't always align with that of authors as artists (who need to create something they're passionate about).

  7. Davin: Thank you! I always remember that you were happy for me, too, and that helped a lot in my journey. I'm glad I had an impact on your decisions. Many of yours you've made have impacted me, as well.

    Jabez: Great way to put it that you want to publish the book you've written, not just any book. That's a great way to look at it. And yes, the interests of publishing are far from aligned with the interests of authors. Sad, but true.

  8. I'm still preparing to get my first finished WiP out there, but I'm reading all of your posts and learning from them. :-)

  9. Michelle: One thing about you that's always struck me is that, even though you have some frustrations with life as an author, you are always happy with how your books come out published. Your self-publishing and traditional-publishing experiences have all been happy ones. I think about that a great deal and I envy you.


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