Over the decades, I’ve learned to listen to my subconscious, which is where all my best ideas come from. My subconscious communicates in imagery, metaphor, and music. In fact, I joke that there’s a jukebox in my head. What most people describe as earworms, I recognize as Ye Olde Subconscious sending me a message. I try to pay attention.
Almost two years ago exactly, I wrote a blog post called “Popcorn Kittens.” In it, I used a YouTube video to explain how, with the advent of indie publishing, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I’ve left unfinished due to the vagaries of traditional publishing.
I’ve included the link to that post here, but in short, when I realized that the rules of traditional publishing no longer applied to me, and I could publish whatever I wanted, all of the projects I had put on hold rose inside my mind at the same time, all demanding attention.
I compared the atmosphere inside my head to this video of kittens, which I had received from writer Dayle Dermatis. Times have changed so much that I can now embed the video into this post, something I couldn’t do two years ago.
Among my writing friends, the phrase “popcorn kittens” has become shorthand for feeling overwhelmed by good things—all of the possible projects, all of the time it will take to publish them, all of the things we want to do to let folks know the projects exist, and all of the things we need to learn to survive in this world.
Over the past two years, I thought I had found ways to corral the popcorn kittens, to put them in that caged area you see in the video, taking only one kitten out at a time. Occasionally, they’d all wave their little paws at me, but usually, I found ways to deal with them.
I did this mostly by making a pact with myself: I wouldn’t do some projects until I could do them better than my traditional publisher did. In some cases, that wasn’t a stretch. I could reach the same—or a greater—number of readers than my traditional publisher did just by publishing an e-book. Time has borne this out, and I have now sold, of several of my series, more copies than my traditional publisher(s) ever did.
In a few cases, I wanted to go all out with my series. I wanted the kind of attention that traditional publishers only reserved for the bestsellers. And I knew that it would take a coordinated effort of several people besides me to achieve that. This meant waiting until I understood the new world of publishing better, what opportunities existed, and how best to use those opportunities for my work.
I’m only now getting to that point.
Those rules—for the novels, at least—have helped keep the kittens under control.
I also learned that some subsidiary rights had to wait. I went with Audible for audio rights after a lot of research because Audible is 60% of the market. The projects Audible didn’t want directly went through ACX, but…even though I have the chops to produce my own audio books because I was a radio journalist for nearly a decade and I wrote and produced scripts for several national companies, I knew that audio took hours and hours of work. Not just the recording, but the mixing, the listening, the production itself.
If I gave those hours and hours to audio, I would write less. And so, for the first year of ACX, I ignored it.
Dean and I finally decided to start another publishing company—WMG Publishing. We’re owners of the company, but we don’t work there. And WMG publishes writers other than us. The company now has a staff of five, and is growing daily.
When WMG got an audio department run by the talented Jane Kennedy, I trusted her to do work I could easily do myself. She’s doing a great job, but she spends hours leaning over a computer, editing or listening or fine-tuning, hours I just can’t afford.
Audio was a single kitten, and it’s under control.
On the fourth of July, I blogged about another small family of kittens—rights in translation—and because of that post, I was able to set those kittens aside. I’ve decided that with the languages I’m familiar with, countries in which I know a group of translators and publishing professionals, I will eventually indie publish my work. I will sell my translation rights to any other publisher in countries that do not fit that criteria.
What does this mean? Someday WMG will have a rights in translation department, but not at the moment. In all but a handful of countries, traditional publishers can contact me directly about publishing works in a language other than English.
I was so proud of myself. I had set kitten after kitten aside, thinking I was finally getting them under control. I had a list of projects coming next, and I knew how to get a handle on them.
Then a few things happened simultaneously.
First, a surprising and almost forgotten side effect of success: when your name is out there and people are actually reading your work, they want you to do things—write articles, write stories, write novels. I try to accommodate all but the novel part (you’ll see why below), but I’m behind. I have quite a few short stories that I want to write for my favorite editors and for myself. I’ve written more short stories this year than any other year since 2005, and I’m still feeling behind. And no, I’m not complaining. None of this would be possible without the indie publishing. Well, some of it would be—the short fiction in particular—but the rest of it? Not so much. I’m grateful.
Second, requests for personal appearances have gone way up. I’m still turning those down. My health limited my travel in the past year, and is still doing so, although things are improving. The requests, though, have surprised me and made me feel honored.
Third, in the spring, I finished my last traditional publishing deadline for novels. I have no more traditional publishing novels through major companies in the pipeline. It’s just not worthwhile for me to accept a five-figure advance any more. I can maintain my copyrights, do a better job than traditional publishers on each book, and make more money than I would with a traditional book publisher. In fact, I can make that five-figure advance on the book in the time it would take for the contract to pay out the so-called “advance” (which now generally takes about two years). There’s no reason for me to go into traditional novel publishing right now.
Please understand me: I’m referring to English language books only and books only. I’m still writing traditionally published short stories, and as I said above, I’ll work with traditional publishing houses in countries not my own. Not to mention other sub-rights publishers like Audible. So this is traditional book publishers.
What I didn’t expect from this is the amount of freedom I feel. I feel like a burden has lifted. I also feel like a woman who had a day job who is now a full-time freelancer: I’m responsible for my own schedule. I don’t have to build it around someone else’s timeline. And I’m having the same response early freelancers do: I’m stunned at how hard it is to organize my time without those benchmarks. (If you don’t understand what I mean, look at this Freelancer’s Survival Guide post.)
Fourth, last week, we hosted the Advanced Master Class. I say “hosted” because Dean and I didn’t teach all of it. We had ten instructors and 32 professional writers from all over the world attended. Dean and I designed this course as continuing education on the publishing business for professional writers only.
We hoped the class would be spectacular, and it was. We learned from the attendees; they learned from all of us. At any given moment, you could look around the room and see the instructors who were not speaking taking copious notes.
We had 10,000 words of bullet points to hit during the week; one attendee told me that she had typed 600,000 words of notes into her laptop.
That’s how informative it all was. From the presentation by Mark LeFebvre of Kobo discussing all the opportunities for indie writers that this Canadian company is coming up with, seemingly daily, to nationally renown bookseller Sheldon McArthur’s talk on how to work with independent bookstores, I learned tons and tons. And that doesn’t count the presentations Scott William Carter did on promotion or Jane Kennedy’s discussion of the still-untapped opportunities in audio. Nor does it count all of the things the attendees added from their experiences.
We did a lot of learning.
So…on Sunday, after the class ended, and I was so exhausted I could hardly stand, I walked into my writing office to drop off some documents when I got attacked.
Remember how crazy my brain is. It seemed to me that my office was filled to the brim with popcorn kittens, and they were singing—in unison (thanks to the jukebox in my head)—the first four lines from the Queen song, “I Want It All.”
If I had time, I would actually get permissions to use the song in a YouTube video filled with kittens singing. But I trust you all. You’re writers. You can combine the Queen video with the popcorn kittens video in your own head.
Welcome to my world.
All of those previously quiet kittens have popped back up. You see, we now know how to do all of this stuff I kept telling my subconscious that we didn’t know how to do.
And honestly, I’m overwhelmed.
In a good way.
This is one of those problems I would have traded up for 15 years ago, only this wouldn’t have been possible for any class of writer 15 years ago.
If I had become a JK Rowling level bestseller 15 years ago when traditional publishing was my only option, my traditional publishers would have fought me tooth and nail to write the same thing in the same way over and over again.
Even now, after I wrote last week’s blog about the pushback Rowling got for her courageous foray into pen names, idiots are still writing about the only way for writers to sell books is to have a platform. (Read: Writers must have a name before developing a name. How’s that for a Catch-22?)
I am so happy to be here, able to write what I want when I want to write it.
When I mentioned how buried I felt on my Facebook page this week, the always marvelous Pat Cadigan wrote this little gem:
Kris, you’re looking at it wrong. I see it like this: I was put on this Earth to accomplish a certain number of things. I am now so far behind that I can never die.
I love that attitude. (Just don’t tell the kittens…)
“Attack of the Popcorn Kittens!!!!!!!!” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch