Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Plethora of Publishing Options Perpetuates Panic

Okay, maybe panic is a strong word, but it's perilously close to it.  I feel gridlocked because I don't know what I should/shouldn't do in terms of how to get my name out there even further.  It's a chess game, one that gives me a headache, as I've never been that glorious at the game.  Yes, I know the basic rules and the objective, but actually executing a plan leaves me very perplexed.  So, I have all of these completed manuscripts that are languishing on my hard drive.  What to do?  I could either send them out to publishers and agents or I could just skip those middle men and put them out myself.  The obvious pros of self-publishing is I keep the lion's share of the money and I can put out whatever I want whenever I want.  But publishers have resources that me and my lonesome do not; and I have many people constantly encouraging me to get my stuff out there.

Yet when I do, it's a whole lot of "thanks, but no thanks."

I'll admit I don't write for a particular market, although I would say I'm a romance/women's fiction writer.  I can stand by that; however, the "rules" of those genres leave me, if I admit it, a bit irritated.  It doesn't allow for diversity, to the point I've read the same story by different authors (or even sometimes the same author!).  It gets a little stale; and if I'm at the point I can write the story in my head before I even read it, that's a problem.  I want fresh, and so do the publishers and agents, if you read their submission guidelines, but maybe they don't want it too fresh.

Which begs the question:  what is too fresh?

I have at least four manuscripts I'd love to submit, and I have, but I've gotten replies back: "It's too sad; too heavy; too controversial."  I know I'm a new author (does that still apply even though I have five credits to my name), I thought those things sold.  I guess if you follow the "romance is an escape" paradigm, I'm not your woman; but I like my romance tempered with reality, and I've found a nice niche of people who seem to as well.

My plight is further complicated because I primarily write about interracial themes.  Not only that, many of my heroines aren't typical heroines even in same-race romances.  They are thick women; short women; not society-branded "beautiful" women, but they manage to capture the interest of a very attractive, usually white, hero.  There have been plenty of honest readers who've admitted they cannot buy into the BBBW/WM pairings, thinking it's unbelievable.  I mean, clearly I don't think it's unbelievable--whether that's me wanting to sell my books or my own personal wishful thinking--but if I, as a black woman, can relate to and empathize with a white heroine, why can't a slim woman not empathize with and relate to a bigger heroine?  The primacy on the physical is a bit disconcerting, and isn't that what we as women fight against during the everyday?  Or one step further, is it really that impossible for a big woman to be absolutely stunning?  I present to you Queen Latifah and Jill Scott as examples that it is most certainly not impossible.  Yes, I did touch upon it in The Beauty Within, but clearly this is a topic that should have continuous exploration.  We don't want superficial men in real life, so why are they acceptable in our fiction?

Though that little rant seems tangential, it really isn't.  Maybe those agents and editors to whom I've submitted believe the same as those honest readers.  Maybe they really want a fantasy and don't want any sort of reality incorporated.  But I want to be inspired, I want to learn something no matter what I read.  No, I am not trying to be some lofty writer, but I guess I'm as cerebral in my entertainment choices as I am during other endeavors.  I know I'm not everyone's cup of tea, nor do I expect to be, but I do think there are more readers like me than many people think.  I appreciate a real struggle, an internal struggle, because I want my hero and heroine to live up to those labels.  I want to see growth out of my characters, not just the ones I write, but the ones I read also.  I want to feel like I've overcome something, not read a soap opera time and time again.  Look, I can appreciate the melodrama as much as the next person, but if that's my only option, it's boring.

Anyway, all this to say, I don't know what to do!  The immediate returns versus the long toil of submission-rejection-ignorance-rejection-ignorance-rejection...maybe full manuscript request...maybe full manuscript acceptance.  I gotta make money now because I need to eat and pay rent and wear clothes, etc.  But the payoff patience could possibly bring, I shouldn't deny myself that, either, right?


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