A couple of years ago, I figured it was time to clear out the decks. I had a novel; it had done okay, published in excerpted form in a few places, shortlisted for an award. It was as successful as a novel gets without actually being…you know…published, at least as a complete work in its own right. Like many a worthy story before it, the novel had fallen at the final hurdle and landed with a thud in the proverbial bottom drawer. A few years passed before it came to this, but I eventually decided it deserved publication, even if in a small way. Plus I wanted to figure out how out print-on-demand services worked.
And after going through the entire publication process more or less on my own, I released the final book Here Today to the world. It was nice. It moved from the bottom drawer to a shelf and I’m glad it’s there.
But here’s the weird part: when it came out, people congratulated me. My immediate response was, “What for?” The whole idea of congratulations seemed a little jarring. Despite the book’s demonstrated success as a manuscript, it was only now a book because I said it was a book. For a long time, I gave away the electronic editions. But this unexpected reaction was a good demonstration of the changing pathways to publication.
Authors everywhere harbour fantasies of how this career thing goes (go on, admit it). You complete your manuscript, you pass it on to a publisher (who? It doesn’t matter yet, these things will sort themselves out), the publisher goes bananas and offers you a deal. Something happens in between (yaddah yaddah). Then it’s posters in bookshops, brainy festival gigs, and television interviews centred largely around your genius.
It’s a perfectly acceptable daydream and, even in a pre-digital world it was nothing more. Success has always looked different for every author. What digital media has changed is that, more than ever, publication looks different for every author. Sometimes it doesn’t look like publication at all.
Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. And some opportunities you even make for yourself. You may be acknowledged, even celebrated for something you feel deserves nothing of the sort. Everyone’s pathway to publication is different. For authors today, the best approach is to keep an open mind and don’t get too hung up on any preconceived notions of success.