From my Mission Statement 2.0:
To create a body of novel length works that reaches a large number of young readers, to provide the greatest impact on young lives.
Agent + Book Deal = Writing Happiness
Book Deal + 30,000 copies sold = Writing Happiness
NYTimesBestsellerList + Hugo Award = Writing Happiness
What is your equation?
For me, it looks something like this:
WriteBook + PublishBook + SellBook + WriteMoreBooks + PublishMoreBooks = Writing Happiness
It may seem silly, but it is true. Would I like an agent? Yes, please. Would I like a three book deal with Penguin? Absolutely. Would I like to win a literary award? Um, actually I would be shocked if that happened. Would I like to be on the NYTimesBestsellerList? Sure. But my writing happiness doesn’t hinge on any of those things. As long as I’m writing and trying to publish, I’m good.
The experience of publishing with a small press has taught me several things:
1) The work gets a lot more intense once you’re under contract.
2) Publishing a book is a heckuva lot of work, and almost none of it involves writing.
3) I like writing. More than I like selling books or marketing books or doing book signings. I’m a writer because I like to write, and I want to spend most of my time doing that. I do enjoy all those other things as well, but they are not my primary goals. If you look at my mission statement, there is nothing about publishing in there – it’s all about reaching readers.
4) Having people read your book, especially the target audience, rocks my socks. Getting feedback from readers is priceless. I heard someone say that the writing process is not complete until someone reads the work. This came home to me in a profound way at a book club meeting just this week, where a roomful of people had read my book and wanted to talk about it. Some had purchased signed copies, some had checked it out from the library (which has two copies, and still one of the book club members had to wait; I was strangely excited to have my book on hold at the library!), but all had read it and had their own reactions. Being erudite people, they had excellent questions about cruise ships and the Navy and how did I know so much about boot camp, because a military friend of theirs said my descriptions were dead on. They talked about the choices and motivations of my characters as if they were real people. One had publishing experience, so her questions went deep into character development and writing process.
My writing experience was completed by sharing my book with that roomful of readers.
Maybe you will only reach writing happiness if you have the cachet and reach of publishing with a large press. Or maybe happiness will come when you hit the bestseller list, or have sold enough books to quit the day job. Or maybe you will find your writing happiness as soon as you have a published novel in your hands or on a brick-and-mortar shelf. This you have to define for yourself.
If only a large press will do, don’t chase publication with a small press. But if it’s important to you to get your book in the hands of readers, sooner rather than later, then starting with a small press might float some writerly happiness as you continue on your journey. Just know that publishing with a small press is unlikely to land you on the bestseller list. Or garner any awards. (I’m not saying it’s impossible, just unlikely.)
Simply holding my book in my hands is fantastic … and insufficient. Calling myself a published author feels wonderful … and doesn’t satisfy my need for readers. As my mission statement says, I want to reach readers – not only that but large numbers of readers. This means I will strive for publishing through a mainstream press, not for the cachet or the advances or the book tour, but because they have the ability to connect with the most readers. In the meantime, I will happily pursue publishing through small presses (not least my publisher for Life, Liberty, and Pursuit), because getting books into the hands of readers is what drives me. It may take time to reach that undefined large number of readers, but if I keep on the path of writing more books and publishing more books, eventually I will get there.
And most importantly, I will enjoy the path along the way.
Discover what makes you happy, then go for it with everything you’ve got. (It’s worked for me, most of my life.)
What is your equation for writing happiness?