September, 2018. I had been part of this writing group for about nine months at this point. I had been part of the secret, paid sister group that was all about really pushing writers to understand and love ourselves as women and writers but it felt more for the newbies than for someone like me who had first put pen (crayon) to paper during a “quiet time” session in the first grade.
I was six.
But I stuck with the open, free group because I did feel like I was getting some mojo from these other writers that I hadn’t had since long before the EditRed community folded in on itself. Then we were given a challenge.
Write a full, five-thousand-word short story in thirty days.
Easy peasy, right? I mean, NaNoWriMo is ten times that.
The parameters were focused but not so focused as to cultivate two hundred identical stories. So I pieced together a few thoughts and I put some creative energy into the work and on day 25, I started scribbling (I write a lot by hand; it changes how my brain processes information).
Fast forward another year and that story that I wrote for that challenge was published in a collection. By this time the group was being managed by a pair of group members who had teamed up to start their own publishing company. They had chosen twenty-four stories to divide among two anthologies.
But all of that is just backstory.
Somewhere in all of that, that one little, short story grew into a trilogy.
Three books following the antics of the main character I had met while working on the short story.
A trilogy, you will remember, plays by its own rules. Where books (or movies) in a series are expected to each have their own legs, a trilogy is, for all intents and purposes, one story broken into three parts. It is the three-act structure spread out over three books.
Which means, she says, circling the airport, they should be treated as one work.
So I had the idea to get them all finished, at least in second draft form, before ever going to print with the first book. That way, I wouldn’t have a lot of continuity to clean up and I wouldn’t have to keep people waiting with a long publication schedule. Eighteen months felt just about right to me.
But as I was preparing to DIY the whole project, the publishers approached me and asked if I would consider letting them represent my trilogy. They loved my main character, had had a lot of good feedback about her, and wanted to carry on with her story.
So, I said yes. I weighed my options and ultimately said yes.
I’m not one to turn down a learning experience for the most part.
I considered all I would have to do if I published on my own and all I would NOT have to do if I had a traditional publisher to support me.
It took me a long time to make the decision.
I was very committed to the idea of self-publishing. I loved the idea of every decision about the book being mine and no one else’s. I loved the idea of creating something and putting it out into the world, on my own. There’s a special kind of pride in doing it yourself.
I don’t, for a minute, subscribe to the idea that self-publishing means an author “wasn’t good enough for traditional publishing.” Many authors actively choose to represent themselves, knowing the stigma they face, knowing the cost and the hard work ahead of them. But they also know the level of control they maintain, the freedom to do what they need to do to be proud of their own work.
I wonder how many traditionally published authors—the small ones, especially—come out on the other side proud but also maybe a little disappointed in what they have shared with the world.
I was fortunate enough to have a lot of control over things like my cover art, my cover blurb. These are things that can often, in a traditional publishing setting, be completely out of the author’s hands. My editor, slash partial owner of the company, offered his two cents on the cover and blurb but most of those notes were technical, like where to put the barcode.
I was fortunate to have a good experience with my publisher this first time around. I learned a lot from the process and, honestly, I would recommend them to someone looking to publish a book that may not fit convention, in whatever way. They are actively seeking diverse writers and stories, but they are also looking for stories that may not be “written to market.” And I love that.
But one of the biggest things I learned through this process is . . .
It was not for me.
While I maintained a considerable amount of control, the elements that were out of my control were a lot to handle. From publication schedules to how my books were delivered, both to me and to my readers, were things that I would have done, and will do differently in the future. None of the things I will do differently in the future are things I would call negative. They were just not positive for me.
Do I recommend traditional publishing to other authors? Absolutely. If you have the opportunity and want to try it, try it. I guarantee you will learn from the experience.
Will I do it again? Probably not for a single author book. I am still submitting to anthologies to get my work in front of more people and in those cases I have to work with whomever is in charge. But for my own work, I really think DIY is the right choice for me.
And it is a choice. Not something I am settling for, not something I have been relegated to.
I choose into the hard work, the struggle, the cost, if it means I have total control over my work.
About the Creator
Author of the Fia Drake Soul Hunter trilogy
Search writerdgabrielle on TikTok, Instagram, and Patreon
I love coffee, conversation, cities, and cats, music, urban decay, macro photography, and humans.