I’ve had a conversation stuck in my head ever since Comic Con. A fan stopped by our booth and asked my friend and fellow author James what the difference was between traditional and independent publishing and why we decided to go the independent route.
There’s a fairly typical response to this question. Most of it truthfully comes down to rights and royalties. I love that Cemetery Tours and Boy Band are 100% mine. I guess I’m kind of a control freak like that.
But James mentioned something else, something that I really hadn’t considered.
“There’s more freedom in what we write. Many of the big publishing houses require a certain formula. They like books to fit their mold.”
I’d always known that from a business perspective, I had more freedom with independent publishing. I once read a book that ended with several cliffhangers. It was clearly not written to be a standalone novel. But it hadn’t sold the way that the publishers had hoped it would, so they didn’t order a sequel. I was distraught. There was no way those characters’ stories were over. Not even close. I love that with independent publishing, I have the freedom to give my characters the complete stories that they demand and deserve. But I had never stopped to think about how my independent books differ from the countless traditionally published books I’ve read.
And wouldn’t you know it? The more I thought about it, the more I read, the more I began to pick up on certain patterns. On little predictabilities. That’s not to say that all traditionally published books are the same book. Not in the least. But I suddenly became acutely aware of all the unwritten rules that do, in fact, exist.
The independent world is different. True, if we want to be taken seriously in the world of literature, we need to produce high quality books. That is non-negotiable. But as far as the stories and the characters go? We really do have a lot more freedom.
In graduate school, I was taught that everything that happens in a story is significant. The writer wouldn’t have written it if the reader didn’t need to know it. And in many traditionally published books I’ve read, everything eventually falls and fits together like a perfect puzzle. It’s excellent story-telling. But life, I’ve come to realize, isn’t really like that. And yes, okay, I realize my books are about ghosts and boy bands. Hardly representations of what real life is actually like. But I’ve always wanted my books to have some sense of flawed authenticity, if that makes any sense at all. I want my stories to play out as they would if they were happening in the real world and not in a book. And that, I think, is an advantage that independent authors enjoy. Because our stories and our characters truly can be anything we want them to be.