I was having a conversation with writing colleague, Nisha Sharma, the other night. Nisha and I met through our writers group and I’m happy to say that, despite our publishing differences (traditional and self sometimes seems like Montague and Capulet, right?), we see writing and creativity in much the same light. It’s always fun to find a writer compatriot and I’m happy to call Nisha a friend. Her first novel, My So-Called Bollywood Life, will be published in 2016 (too far away!) and I’m positive more will follow. She’s got a lot of energy, a great way with language, and she’s writing in a vein that has the potential to explode. Be sure to check out her awesome website.
Now, where was I? So, we started discussing a YA fantasy project she’s been working on. A project, by the way, that’s made it into the top 10 finalists for Simon & Shuster’s SIMON451 imprint contest. Winners get an advance, a publishing contract, and a trip to Comic Con in NYC for the launch of the imprint (as well as a seat on the panel). Cool, right? So, most of us would just be thrilled to say we were a finalist, right? Not Nisha. She’s worried about not winning. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about a sense of entitlement. It’s about self doubt and not believing that her work can stand up to the other contestants.
“It’s not fantasy enough.”
So, we started talking about her plot. It’s very cool, and I can see it doing very well. Young adult, strong female main character (MC), and mythology most Westerners are unfamiliar with. Yeah, it could be a gold mine. There’s plenty of fantasy elements, without the reader being beaten over the head with them. And, like a lot of stories of this ilk, it takes some time for the MC to discover what exactly is going on. An element of storytelling that I’ve used in my own YA fantasy.
Me: “So, when does the reader get their first taste of fantasy in the novel?”
Nisha: “Page 80.”
Me: “There’s not even a hint before that?”
Nisha: “Well, the prologue has gods and goddesses…”
Me: “But you just said there was nothing until page 80!”
Nisha: “And that thing (that’s totally fantastical and pretty darn awesome that I can’t reveal or she’d kill me) starts happening in chapter 1.”
Me: “Who told you this story wasn’t fantasy enough?”
Nisha: “Well, my agent. This book hasn’t sold anywhere. No one wants it. They don’t know what to do with it.”
In the end, a friend and I were able to talk Nisha down from the ledge. Yes, she could add some fantasy elements to make the story richer, but only if that was part of her vision. Otherwise, we felt that there was plenty of fantasy for a YA fantasy novel. I said to her, “Honestly, if it doesn’t win, you should really consider self publishing it.” I’m not sure she took me seriously. She has, after all, already sold two of her books and has a steady relationship with her agent. And I’m sure that agent would try and quickly talk her down off of the self-publishing ledge.
In all, this reminded me of why I self publish. Yes, I may get good input from outside parties. Heck, it might be great input that totally shifts the story into high gear. But, in the end, it’s my decision whether or not to change the story and no one else’s. And, I can click publish and put it into the hands of readers without having a self-appointed gatekeeper tell me no one will read it. If the story is well written and error free, it will find an audience. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for what folks in traditional publishing are trying to accomplish. I believe that they are working to bring the best books to market, but the fact remains that good books will be held back by a preconceived notion about whether or not that book will make money. And that’s just a darn shame.