Thursday, July 28, 2011

Staci Stallings on Self-Publishing

Staci Stallings has been gracious enough to come hang out with us here on Go Teen Writers to talk about why she chose to self-publish and why she feels it was the right choice for her. She'll be around today to answer any questions you may have.

A little about Staci, in her own words:

A stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the side, Staci Stallings has numerous titles for readers to choose from. Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to full-out Christian and back again. Every title is a new adventure! That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading. You can find her online at StaciStallings.com and you can read some of her books for free here.

The Road Less Taken

Every so often the subject of why I choose to self-publish comes up. There are those who say such a road is foolish and only taken by those who can't endure the rigors of traditional publishing. There are those who say self-publishing is "vanity" and that those who take it are just not willing to work hard enough to get their work "really published." They complain that self-published work is riddled with mistakes, of poor quality, and not worth the time and money to read.

I suppose all of those could be true for some, but for me, I did not choose this road lightly. I did not go into it thinking it would be a one-way ticket to fame and fortune. As a former high school English teacher, I did not blithely think I would skim through the work once, throw it together, and put it out. I knew very well what went into making a manuscript print ready, and I had the skills to do so.

In fact, I have helped several other authors to become traditionally published, so it's not like I couldn't get my writing to fit inside the box traditionals want you to be in. However, for me, it's not about fitting into someone else's box. I'm not particularly worried about the money--if it comes, great; if not, that's not why I write anyway. I have no need to "prove" myself to anyone. I simply love to write. I love to write what I write and how I write it, and because of self-publishing, I've found many readers who love the way I write too.

Four Reasons I Choose To Self-Publish

One. My work is my work. I like my voice--the way I write and how I write it. I like the freedom to be able to explore issues that traditional publishers shy away from. I love to write characters who are lost spiritually and then brought back into the embrace of God. Often the traditional publishing route for a first-time author is to go through the lines, which is great if you like the lines. Me? I like characters who are really off-the-rails, who struggle--not against physical conflict but against emotional and spiritual conflict.

Too often the lines are simply too short of a genre to gently weave a detailed story. In them, you are limited by word count (nearly half of what my typical word-count is) and by editor's expectations. For example, you can never mention underwear, kissing has to be limited, and you can never mention showering or bathing or have two unmarried characters sleep in the same house. Not to even mention no drinking or dancing.

For me, these "rules" put all characters in a box I'm not willing to put them in. And so for me, the lines are not an option. That's not to say they are not for some people. I know authors who love those boundaries. I'm just not one of them.

Two. The first book I released, I went through a quasi-traditional publisher who gave me an editor. The editor was a wonderful, nice guy, and I was so eager to please him that I let him strip the life right out of my book. In fact, that was the sixth book I had written. A year or so later, I self-published the fifth book I had written, and I had a lady come up and tell me how much my writing had "improved." Now, really. I wrote the sixth after the fifth. How much could my writing have improved going backward?

But that's what editors can do--they can strip you right out of the book. They can actually make good writing worse and great writing not-as-great. Sounds strange I know, but I've seen it happen countless times. If you decide to go traditional, be adamant that they don't change you.

Three. With three kids, a husband, two businesses, a house, a full-schedule of fund-raising at two schools, and teaching Sunday School and VBS, I simply don't have time to be at the beck-and-call of an agent or editor. I have friends who send a manuscript in, don't hear anything for months, and then suddenly get it back with, "Can you make these changes by Friday?" My schedule right now just doesn't work like that. When I was first published, I got assigned a publicist who seemed to think that my life was now her job to run. She scheduled me for TV appearances (exciting, I know) at six in the morning. My husband had work, and we had little kids. One of those appearances, it was a huge deal for me to even get there, but when I got there, I found out I wasn't even on their schedule! It didn't take me long to figure out that I don't do well with someone else (other than God) running my life.

Four. I can put out what I want when I want. If it works to put out several at a time in various venues, I can. If it doesn't, I'm not locked in. I'm not on contract to "pump out" a set number of stories a year. So my writing is free-flowing. If an opportunity comes up for an article, I have time to write it. If I want to work on a book I've been working on for a couple of years, I write on it. If a new idea comes up, I'm not committed to other projects that have to go first. I can write what God gives me to write when He gives me to write it. That cuts down on the pressure to produce. And production for me is not a problem. I've written 30 full-length novels, two short story compilations, a twice-a-week blog, writing for other blogs, and writing for my church. Self-publishing just gives me the freedom to go where I'm needed at the moment.

Self-publishing is not for everyone. If you are not strong at editing, look for someone who is. Get help. Learn the ropes. Do your homework. Enlist your English teacher if he or she is willing to help. Write everything you can get your hands on. Do writing contests at your school to get objective feedback. Write a journal. Write poetry. Write your own stories. (The best way to learn to write is to write!) Join groups that can connect you with people who can help. Just don't fall for the lie that traditional is the only "right" option out there. Follow your heart. Consult God. See what makes the most sense for you, then do that.

I have taken the road less traveled, and for me, that's made all the difference.

10 comments:

  1. Wow this is a great post and I got so much info!I definitely want my writing to be mine and not sucked dry :) Thanks so much Staci!
    Sierra
    Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Cause You Are!)

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  2. All this information is so helpful. Thanks Staci!

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  3. Fantastic everyone! With the advent of e-books--Kindle & Nook, I believe more people will go the "self-publishing" route and fewer will go through the traditional agents/editors/publishers. That means more unique voices will get through. Will some of those voices need more polish? Certainly. Just as they would even if they went through a traditional. But overall, I think we are bound to find more diversity in voice than ever before.

    If you'd like to see how a writer's voice sounds when it isn't stripped of life, feel free to visit: http://spiritlightworks.wordpress.com The FREE novels of mine are listed along the right side.

    Enjoy! And happy writing!

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  4. I loved this post and it definitely gave me alot to think about in terms of publishing. I appreciate it!

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  5. Staci, which house(s) were you talking about when you said this: "For example, you can never mention underwear, kissing has to be limited, and you can never mention showering or bathing or have two unmarried characters sleep in the same house. Not to even mention no drinking or dancing."

    That hasn't been my experience at all with my publishing house, Revell, and I've seen a lot of the things you listed in other Christian books too. The first book in my YA series actually opens with a kiss ... following the night that she slept off a roofy in this guy's car. Revell was really open minded about plots.

    Sounds like you had a horrible experience with an editor! I don't understand why they would acquire you and then fuss with your voice. How frustrating!

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  6. Stephanie, then from my experience and others I've worked with, you're lucky. Maybe it's the line thing or the editor thing, I don't know. But I had a friend that I was working closely with who was asked to tone down several kissing scenes that I didn't consider even mild kissing. She had to cut a couple sentences--one referencing the heroine's need to go to the bathroom, one referencing her bathing.

    I have, myself, had several agents/editors/crit people who said, I needed to tone this down or take that out because it might offend some readers. I finally gave up trying to please them and went off in my own direction.

    I'm glad to know that not all houses are like this because wow, does that put a writer in a corner before you even start!

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  7. This is heaps helpful to me, thanks Staci!
    It seems like some editors are super-strict...

    Paige

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  8. As someone who has done the self-publishing route, the small-press route, and now the big publisher route, I can attest to the fact that each has its pros and cons. And when it comes to books that I know well are too big a risk for the majors to take on without compromising my vision, you can bet I place them where they'll work without all that change.

    But I've been very encouraged by how some of the big houses are relaxing some rules of old, and the editors I've been blessed to work with thus far have not only left my voice alone, the changes they asked for allowed me to deepen things I'd purposefully left out, thinking they would get nixed if I didn't, LOL. Now that's a great editor--one that encourages you to be MORE yourself! ;-)

    I definitely cringe at your experience--that kind of editor is what we all fear. Sorry you had to go through that. =(

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  9. Roseanna,

    The biggest thing I think is it makes you question your voice and vision on every subsequent book. In fact, the friend I work with very nearly got paralyzed by the "they probably won't accept that." Instead of writing her characters the way she saw them, she was trying to write them so the editors would accept them.

    I very nearly fell into this same trap, but going self allowed me to write my characters the way they come instead of fitting into someone else's boxes. I think this is can subtly change books before anyone gets a chance to even read them if we are not really careful.

    Also, another friend of mine just got "branded" by her agency. They think she can easily sell historicals, so now she should only write historicals although she's sold quite a few contemporaries also. Now she's struggling with what to do because she likes writing both.

    Me? I write contemporary/historical, adult/YA/high school, suspense/romance, Christian/inspirational/motivational....

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