In the modern publishing era, there are many publishing options for authors, which is both a blessing and a curse. While we are no longer at the mercy of waiting to be “picked,” it can be overwhelming to have the power of that choice completely in our hands. The question of which route to take comes up a lot in my online writers groups, but it’s not a question that can easily be answered in the comments section of Facebook.
Last weekend, I drove the long, beautiful road out to Grand Junction, Colorado to speak about this very topic for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. It was an enthusiastic group and I had a blast discussing their career goals with them, and brainstorming their best publishing options. For some, the answer was already pretty clear, while for others their initial idea changed completely by the end of the workshop.
That’s because, while there are certainly pros and cons for each path that can be weighed and analyzed, the right answer is a deeply personal one that starts in the heart, not the head. Meaning that no one can know the right path for you, except you.
But where do you start when it all feels so overwhelming and the stakes seem so high?
The short answer is to trust your gut, but I understand that sometimes that voice can be too quiet to hear, and even harder to rest your publishing career on. We’re too used to basing all our decisions on logic and facts, but the most successful people in any industry are the ones who let their hearts lead the way. To do that, grab a notebook, a pen, and answer these questions:
Why did you first start writing?
It can be hard, once you get caught up in the noise of the industry, to remember what got you started writing in the first place–what your initial goal was. I would bet a lot of money that it wasn’t for a logical reason. I’m sure you weren’t calculating royalty percentages or sweating about your future marketing plan. Chances are, you did it because it soothed an ache in your weary bones, or because you had something to say to the world. Maybe you wanted to entertain others, or just wanted to entertain yourself.
Whatever it was, don’t forget to carry that with you into your publishing career. Don’t allow any business decisions to steal that from you. To have a successful career, you have to play the long game and if you’re not feeling the love on a regular basis, it will be all too easy to become bitter or give up.
What are you hoping to get out of being a published author?
The answer to this question will likely be a little different than the answer to your last one. We often write because of our internal goals, while publishing is an ambition is typically based on external goals. (We’re no strangers to internal and external goals, right?) So what are your external goals? And don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to be honest with yourself. If it’s about gaining fame, own it. There’s a little something in all of us that craves recognition and influence.
Is it money? Do you want to make enough to turn writing into a full time job? Do you want to leave a legacy or do you want the opportunity to touch readers with your stories? Some publishing paths will more likely support you in fulfilling your particular goals than others. So once you declare your motivation, you’ll be a lot closer to deciding on the right path for you.
What are your non-negotiables?
As much as I wish we could order up the perfect publishing career like a pizza–all the toppings we like and none of what we don’t–the fact of the matter is, some sacrifices will have to be made no matter which path you choose. The great part about being the CEO of your writing career is that you can choose which areas of your career you’re willing to flexible on…and which ones you aren’t.
For instance, are you okay with making some of your niche story elements more mainstream to reach a wider audience, or do you prefer having a more targeted readership that appreciates your unique character and story world? Are you happy to partner with an established editorial and marketing team, or would you like to create your own? Do you prefer to make every decision during each step of book production, or are you glad to hand over some of the control so you can focus more on the writing?
Rank your non-negotiables from highest to lowest importance to you, and then compare them to each of the publishing paths to start to see which would be the best fit.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your career, you have many more choices than writers have ever had before. But more often I hear writers talking like they don’t have any choices at all. The truth is, you have a lot more control over your writing career than you may be giving yourself credit for. Taking the time to sit down and get clear on what you really want will empower you to start making decisions–your own decisions–to design the writing career you’ve always dreamed of.