Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reflection

The end of another year is rapidly approaching, and as I usually do at this time of year, I'm feeling somewhat introspective. I think most people probably do a mental review of their year, some more than others, I suspect. I've grown to be one that regards the year with a critical eye, and I've had some good years, some average ones, and some very very bad ones. The last few have been pretty good, all things considered. I had several "firsts" in the two years prior to the current one. I had my first hole-in-one in July of '04. I say my "first" because I confidently believe I have a few more in me. I bought my first home the same year, and this was a very big deal for me. And I started seriously working on my first manuscript. I have to say '04 was a pretty damn good year.

Last year, 2005, was a growth year. I finished the manuscript, queried a few agents and also began researching the self-publishing route. I decided to self-publish and submitted the manuscript for publication in December of 2005. I had a couple of reasons for self-publishing. One, I was anxious to get feedback from objective readers. People well outside of my circle of friends and family. People who paid good money for the book and would be pissed off if it sucked. After researching several of these publishers, including the scammers, I decided on a POD house that seemed pretty straight up. My other reason was somewhat misguided. I thought it would demonstrate to agents my commitment to my writing, and my willingness to promote my book. And it would give me an opportunity to get some experience in promotion. What I learned was, agents don't give a damn if you've self-published your book, undertaken that effort and expense. All they want to know is, do you have a manuscript they can sell, or not? If you've self-published it, they may take that to mean you didn't think it was good enough for a traditional publisher. I realize now that my manuscript was not good enough for a traditional publisher, but at the time I thought it was. It was a decent story, but the writing was in need of polish. A good bit of polish, actually.

This year has been another growth year, a year of learning, mostly. My book came out, and at the same time, some financial opportunities came through, and management changed at my workplace. So, the combination of these things allowed me to take time off from a job and get out and promote my book in the local market. The publisher did a great job on the book and the cover. There were a couple of editing flaws but overall it was a nice product. I had a little bit of success locally. I was somewhat prohibited by the stigma that is attached to self-publishing, but I still placed it on some store shelves and sold about 500 copies in a couple of months. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive from the people that bought the book and took the time to email me. It was as this effort was winding down that I began to turn my attention back to traditional publishing. I started researching agents, and I also began searching out books by authors that wrote in the same genre. I've been studying their writing, and reading books on the craft of writing. I started reading agent blogs, and reworking my query letter. In short, I'm learning about the profession and honing my craft. I feel like I've made great strides, and the most useful thing that I've learned is that I have much room for improvement, and I need to continue writing and learning and practicing. When I think I've trimmed a chapter down, it can still be tightened more. Subtlety is the sign of a true pro, and since I still struggle with this, it tells me that I need to get better. So that's what I'm doing.

If I look at 2006 from a financial perspective, it was basically a wash. I'm coming out slightly ahead of where I as at the beginning of the year, but I also went a few months with no income, and a few more with only a little, so theoretically, I didn't really make much forward progress. However, I'm certainly richer for the things I've learned.

I view this year as a building year. I've gained some wonderful experience, but the value of this experience remains undetermined, and the ultimate measure depends upon how I use what I've learned. Next year offers plenty of challenges, and if I put this experience to use, I see several opportunities for progress and maybe some achievements. Some more firsts.

I'm sure that I'll wax introspective again before the year is over. Some things I know for sure: it's good to be alive and sober and American. God bless the good folks who stumble across this corner of the net...

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