Maybe it was spending most of my childhood without a TV; maybe it was the books that offered escape from my loud and crowded family; maybe it was the way stories captured my feelings, reflecting them back to me in ways both magical and mysterious. Whatever it was, the written word has always held me in its sway, and there was no doubt I’d make my own magic with them at some point in my life.
That came some time into my young adulthood, after I’d left college for a life of rock & roll (a whole other story!), which led to Los Angeles in pursuit of a performing career. I started writing short plays to put up on the stage of my acting class and that exercise, and the creative exhilaration it inspired, convinced me that writing words was as powerful and exciting as reading them.
From there I began crafting song lyrics, which were essentially little stories (I never could write the simpler pop lyric!), and evolved later into writing full-length feature screenplays. Between my song and my scripts, I started getting professional feedback that was not only encouraging, but also career advancing. My songs were recorded (most often by me!), and my scripts were optioned, one being independently produced in the 1990s.
Throughout and during these creative adventures, I held high the notion of getting a novel accomplished. Having read thousands by this point of my life, many of which were so excellent I remember them to this day, the art form seemed an elevated one to me; challenging, idealized, and unreachable. I couldn’t imagine myself actually getting to a point where I could manage such a formidable task.
But I wanted to.
Over the next few years, as I continued writing songs and film projects, I held, in the back of my mind, the notion that I would ultimately get a novel written. It loomed large, in fact, that goal, but whenever I perused the various ideas I had tucked in my “to write” folder, none seemed to have the gravitas to warrant the heftier novel format… until one finally did.
It was a story that evolved out of a real family event: my father wrote journals all his life, which he shared with his children throughout. I’d read very few, but several years after he died, my oldest sister brought one to my attention that was particularly critical of me. While I was stunned to read those posthumous critiques, and surely they wounded as any criticism does, I had not been close to my father as an adult, and was well aware of his disapproval of the choices I’d made in terms of my education, my career, even some of my relationships, so this was not life-shattering information, given my father’s known worldview.
But when I shared the story with a few women friends, I was stunned by their reactions, every one of them asserting that their own finding of something like — something written by a father and found after his death — would be utterly devastating to them. With further conversation, often with men as well, I discovered this to be a prevailing theme. Which got me to thinking:
What if I used that event as a starting point, the “inciting incident,” to create a character whose reaction to finding her father’s journal was closer to that of my friends, a reaction that would impact every element of her life in a deep, existential way? I explored the idea over a period of months and then began writing what would become my first novel, After The Sucker Punch.
I had no deadline, no plan; I took the time I needed to get a good first, second, and third draft before I even considered the next steps. I knew nothing about publishing at that point other than there were basically two options available – traditional publishing or indie/self-publishing. By the time the book was ready for public consumption, I’d chosen the traditional route and started querying literary agents….
…and after almost three years and over 170 queries (I’m almost embarrassed to admit that!), I had to step back to reassess. Certainly the time hadn’t been completely wasted — readers had read the book, notes were exchanged, rewrites and edits were accomplished — but still. I was tired of waiting for approval to move forward, tired of what felt like “auditioning” for people who seemed deeply disinterested. I knew I had a good book, and I knew it was ready, so despite my desire to gather a team of collaborative partners, a circle of wagons to help me launch this golden thing I created, I jumped head-first into self-publishing.
That was over two years ago and what a journey it’s been! After the Sucker Punch has been a success by all measure of my modest standards: it’s garnered many positive editorial and reader reviews, won a number of awards, has had solid sales throughout, and just this month was awarded an “Honorable Mention” in the prestigious “Writer’s Digest 3rd Annual Self-Published e-book Awards.”
In the time since it launched, I’ve also published a dramatic short story about a hit-and-run event (“She Tumbled Down”), and my second novel, Hysterical Love, came out about a year ago and it’s also done well by similar markers. I call it a “bookend piece” to After The Sucker Punch, as it, too, follows the narrative of an adult child, this time a male protagonist who’s exploring his father’s past in ways that are funny, touching, and ultimately life-changing. I’m still exploring angles for getting it out there more than I’ve been able to so far!
And now? I’m on sabbatical. Well, sort of.
At the end of 2015, I had another “step back/reassess” moment: looking at the exhaustive marketing and promotional efforts I’d made over the last two years, reviewing the pros and cons of each, as well as the climate of the industry itself, I decided it was time to rethink.
This may not be a popular thing to say, but I believe the self-publishing industry has become a victim of its own success. The “open door” aspect of having no gatekeepers to quantify and qualify who will be invited to the table, as well as the reality of having a platform available but little or no assistance with marketing and promotion, have both contributed to what’s become an oversaturated market. With supply outstripping demand, with authors struggling to be their own marketers (and many lacking the skill or budgets), making social media the go-to method of promoting books, that medium has become inundated past the point of good sense. On top of that, a large cadre of readers has come to expect free or very cheap books as a steady diet, making it difficult for most authors to do well, to successfully and consistently get their book(s) pulled out of a very big pack to be seen, read, and promoted via word-of-mouth.
I’ve actually written a number of articles on the pros and cons of self-publishing (which can be accessed via www.rockpapermusic.com), so I won’t go into all that here, but as I work on my third novel, a dramatic piece titled, A Nice White Girl Like You, which explores social politics of an interracial relationship within a workplace, a family, and a community, I’m once again considering traditional publishing. While I have no delusions that it will be any easier or more successful this go-around, they say the third book’s the charm and, hey, I’m an optimistic girl!
Because as much as I love – given the hands-on perfectionist I am – the control a self-published author has over their title, edit, book cover, etc. (and I do love all that), I’ve learned, after 2+ years of being in the trenches largely by myself, that what I need/want is a team, a collaborative partnership, a “circle of wagons” with whom I can work to propel my career forward. I feel I’ve done well enough on my own, but “well enough” is not good enough. And given the genre in which I write (mainstream/literary fiction), one that is not necessarily the most viral in the indie world, the upward climb can be precipitous. I’d like to see what the journey is like with people clunking up that trajectory by my side!
So we’ll see how all that goes. My next book won’t be ready until early 2017, so I’ve got plenty of time to mull and ponder… which I intend to do a lot of!
If you’re interested in finding out more about my books, my social media, or my other work, you can pop over to my website, or access my author pages:
Wishing all the best on your journeys and thanks for reading!
Lorraine Devon Wilke