The Repossessed Ghost — Publishing Indecision 2021

It’s Sunday, which means I’m in a Starbucks getting ready to spend half the day working on writing projects. Today, I’m starting the day by talking about my “first” novel, The Repossessed Ghost. Actually, I’m going to talk about self-publishing, good versus good enough, querying, and a few other publishing related thoughts.

A Few Words about The Repossessed Ghost

I have talked about this story before. If you want to know about the story itself, the inspiration, and my writing process when drafting The Repossessed Ghost, please click the link at the beginning of this section. I’m sure I will talk about the story again, but not in this post.

Last weekend, I finished what I think of as the 4th draft. I had no intention of working on that story again unless I saw a path forward to publishing it. Recently, I decided to pursue self-publishing, which prompted me to look at the story with fresh, critical eyes.

The 4th draft did not involve a lot of major changes. I corrected a lot of passive voice and weird sentence structures. I fixed a few squirrelly bits at the end, paragraphs and sentences that didn’t quite make sense after I rewrote the ending. I punched up the prose a little bit and applied some of the lessons I’ve learned the last several years.

I think the story needs a prologue and an epilogue. If you scour the online writing community for any amount of time, you’ll find a lot of strong opinions about prologues and epilogues. Some people are absolutely vehement that they have no use. Other people are less passionate about it, but still suggest you take what would be the prologue and make that chapter 1.

I believe prologues and epilogues should exist if they have a purpose. What would a prologue do for The Repossessed Ghost? It would allow me to use a framing device to say a few things about the story on a meta level. Specifically, it would allow me to organically state that the story takes place in the early part of the 2010’s. This is important because a surprising number of things pertinent to the plot have changed in the last decade. For example, people don’t really talk about hurricane Katrina anymore, but it was still on people’s mind back then. Marijuana became legal in most states since I wrote the first draft. Cell phones became even more ubiquitous. The radio may still be playing music from 10 years ago (or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago… that’s an entirely different topic) but things are different enough that rereading The Repossessed Ghost now makes it a little bit strange, especially if you assume it it takes place today.

Also, the entire novel is written in first person which for some readers, lowers the stakes. First person means that the person telling the story survives to tell the story, right? In this prologue, I can artificially re-raise the stakes because I can establish that the story would be told whether or not Mel survived.

To Self-Publish or Not Self-Publish

This novel is the first I wrote that might be commercially viable. It is good! I’ll talk more about that in a moment.

Why self-publish now? I made it clear many times on this blog that I’m not interested in self-publishing. I want a team backing me that understands marketing. I can take the time to learn the marketing and business of publishing, but that’s time spent not writing. Also, being one person with a finite amount of resources, it is unlikely I’ll do as well marketing my book as a team of people with experience and access to information beyond my perception.

There are a few reasons to self-publish The Repossessed Ghost. First, I have an unexpected fan: my mother-in-law, Susan. Melissa shared her print out of Spin City with her and ever since, she’s asked about more books from me. I could probably print The Repossessed Ghost the same way I printed Spin City, but I think Susan deserves a real book.

Also, a number of people have asked me where they can buy my books. I tell people about my short story in Tales From the Goldilocks Zone, but it’s not the same. If you search Amazon for my name, it does not land on that book. I’m not paid for any of those sales and I have no idea how many copies of that book have sold. It’s great that it allows me say I’m a published author, but in all the ways that matter, it feels like The Goldilocks Zone is someone else’s book. I want one of my own.

Self-publishing makes sense for The Repossessed Ghost because it is an urban fantasy, and I have heard over and over again from agents and publishers that new authors are not landing contracts for urban fantasy. That subgenre has been gobbled up by indie publishing. If I want to see The Repossessed Ghost as an actual printed book, I will probably have to do it myself.

But is it Good Enough?

If you ask a writer about the quality of their work, you will get an answer that is a reflection of the author more than the work itself. It takes a tremendous amount of ego to create something like a book, a form of entertainment that requires a commitment of time and energy for the reader to consume. From that standpoint, one would think a writer will always say their book is good enough. In practice, many writers lose sight of what makes their story great in the first place, and will describe their books as trash or unworthy. Even Stephen King occasionally speaks in derogatory terms about his own body of work.

Is The Repossessed Ghost good enough? It is not the best thing I’ve ever written, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good enough. Logically, a writer should continue to improve with each story they craft, so their earlier work shouldn’t be their best. I’ve written two other novels and dozens of short stories since The Repossessed Ghost. It would be very disappointing if my first novel was my best.

It’s good enough to get positive feedback from the people that have read it. Those were earlier drafts, so most gave me feedback for how I could improve the story. The first 10,000 words made the top 10 in the Ink and Insights competition of 2019, in the master’s division. It’s generally well liked. With a good editor, I might be able to make it excellent.

Querying and Other Considerations

My story is probably good enough to publish, but is it the best story to start my career as a novelist? It’s a fun urban fantasy story, but most of what I write are intellectual SciFi, with an occasional dabbling in fantasy. If this is the first impression I give people of my stories, it might be the wrong impression.

On the other hand, my authorial voice is as present in this story as it is in my other stories. When you read a Chuck Wendig book, you get Chuck Wendig’s storytelling style, whether it’s a Star Wars book, a book on writing, or a story about people caught up in a wandering pandemic.

If I get past the idea that publishing this story will somehow setup my brand incorrectly, the next thing I have to consider is cost. I’m not going to just take this draft and toss it up on Amazon and hope for the best. I’m going to be a professional and hire professionals to help me make this the best book I can make. That means hiring at least one editor. It also means hiring an artist for cover art. It may mean paying for other services, some of which I haven’t discovered yet. Being the publisher means I am putting some financial risk into this story. How will I react if I lose money on my first book?

This last Wednesday, I wanted to work on my self-publishing plans and after taking all of these thoughts into consideration, I wound up searching Manuscript Wish List instead. I even found a couple of people looking for urban fantasy, so I sent off a query.

I’m not holding my breath on getting The Repossessed Ghost traditionally published. It’s a good story, but I believe the people that told me there is no traditional market for it. Then again, people told the author of Harry Potter there was no market for a story about a wizard school, so maybe the experts don’t always know what they’re talking about.

Final Thoughts

I still need to work on my self-publishing plan. It will take me a little while, so whatever querying I do this week has time to be rejected. I might get to the end of this pursuit and determine that it is too risky to spend the money on being a publisher. The future is uncertain.

I’m going to keep showing up and writing. I have lots of stories I still need to tell. As discouraged as I feel sometimes, I keep going, writing and pushing even when I’m not feeling very hopeful.

One of the best things I can keep doing is updating this blog. As an author platform, it is a full record of my writing journey over the last decade. As I put fiction in places where people can buy it or read it online, I can keep updating the links at the top.

In other words, if you’ve been watching this space already, keep watching. If you’re hungry for the kind of stories I have to tell, I will feed you more soon.