Monday, April 25, 2016

OCCWC 2016, Part III: What I Found Myself Saying Over and Over Again

"But it's my only line..."

Along with meeting and listening to some amazing people at the Orange County Christian Writers' Conference, I also got to take appointments with attendees who wanted to talk about small press publishing, queries or pitches, working with an editor, or publishing with Kalos Press.

Each appointment was different, but there were a few subjects that came up over and over again.

It's not enough to have a good story

Some people write because they're writers. Yes, they have subjects or styles or themes that they love and use over and over, but they write because they're writers. You just can't stop them. They're writers and they're going to write for the rest of their lives. They love books and words and hone their skill through hours and days and weeks and years of practice. They write. They always will write. That's just who they are.

But other people write because have a specific story to tell. They've had an extraordinary experience or God's taught them something they can't help but share. They might well become the first sort of writer eventually, but they came to the craft by a different path.

I spoke to quite a few people who were working on memoir, and I found myself, over and over, talking to them about the craft of writing. Many of these people really did have extraordinary stories or good and true spiritual messages to share.

But no one is ever going to hear those stories or messages unless these writers learn their craft. You can have the best, most worthy story in the world, but if you don't learn how to make the reader turn the page ... well, no one is going to keep reading long enough to benefit from your message.

(Btw, this isn't a comment on the skill of anyone I talked to. I read queries and proposals, but I don't believe I read any attendee's chapters. This was relevant to many of the attendees, but I'm not critiquing any of them here.)

Many memoir ideas, queries, and proposals I've seen over the years are so focused on the experience or message of the writer that they forget the experience of the reader. As a writer, you have to think of your reader. Even if you are crafting your book out of real experiences, you must use the skills of a novelist. You need to present those real experiences with an eye to story structure and character arc. You have to be mindful of tension - not the whodunnit? tension of a murder mystery, but the tension what-happens-next?, the tension of and-then-what?, that is, the tension that will pull the reader through chapter after chapter, all the way to the end of the book.

Non-fiction writers must make their stories as compelling as any novelist, or only the most motivated reader is going to bother to read them.

The difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing

There's apparently a lot of confusion about this out there. Here's your one, simple rule of thumb:

If the publisher pays you, it's traditional publishing.
If you pay the publisher, it's not.

Now, there are different kinds of traditional publishing, and different kinds of self-publishing. This infographic by Jane Friedman is a fantastic resource for understanding all the variations on the spectrum.  As you'll see, there are a lot of different terms in use, and so it's always important to dig a bit deeper and make sure you understand exactly what you're being offered in any given situation.

And that leads me to the second important point on this subject:

There is no one right form of publishing.

Over and over, I had people ask me which I recommended: self-publishing or traditional.  And the answer always was: it depends. It depends on you and it depends on your project. Do you want to do most of the marketing, all of it, some of it? Is your project aimed at a narrow niche or does it have broad appeal? Are you the super-organized sort who can handle all the bits and pieces of a big project? Do you want the support of a large publishing team? A small one? No team at all?

Those are just a few of the questions you'll want to ask yourself. The truth is, there are authors doing well in all of the channels you'll see in that infographic I linked. Find people who are flourishing in the path you're considering, and study them. Learn the best practices for whatever path you choose. And then, go for it!

What is Kalos Press?

This was maybe the best thing I got to do: I got to talk up Kalos.  :)

Here's the official description of our press off of our website:

Kalos Press was established to give a voice to literary fiction, biography, memoir, essays, devotional writing, poetry, and Christian Reflection, of excellent quality, outside of the mainstream Christian publishing industry. 

We believe that good writing is beautiful in form and in function, and is capable of being an instrument of transformation. It is our hope and ambition that every title produced by Kalos Press will live up to this belief.

I'd add to that: we want to tell the church's stories. We're a small press (we'd fit in that second column from the left on Friedman's chart: traditional, but no advance) and we have the flexibility to take on more niche projects, projects from authors who have stunning voices but maybe smaller platforms, projects that are lovely and innovative.

You should check us out.

And here ends my series on the 2016 OCCWC. I'm glad I got to go and I look forward to keeping in touch with folks I met there in the years to come.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


Anonymous said...

You missed 'co-publishing'. Its not self pup or traditional, but in between. A hybrid. You get the benefits of both. And there is a fit for many types of authors. I don't recommend self-pub or co-pub unless you are very savvy at marketing and promoting you AND your work. You also need to have a well-established platform and audience for this route as well.

ANY work should be professionally edited, no matter which route you take. Get lots of critiques from industry professionals and attend writers conferences to learn the craft.

Thanks for your blog!!

--Donna Stanley

Jessica Snell said...

Hi Donna -

Good to see you here! You'll remember that when you mentioned co-publishing to me, I hadn't heard of it. I enjoyed going and looking it up afterwards, to get a better idea of what it was.

It sounds like we might disagree about where it fits on that spectrum (which is fine - heaven knows the publishing industry is changing rapidly and there's lots of room for disagreement). I wouldn't put it on the traditional side, as the author has to invest money up-front. But it certainly sounds like a good option for some folks who (like you) are super-savvy at marketing and promotion.

Thank you again for stopping by!