My 2020 Pubwest conference experience took place on Friday, February 21, 2020 and was very much centered around the idea of growth.
Professional growth: I was roped into a publishing speed-dating circle which quickly stripped me of my fear of networking although didn't compel me to hand out any of the 20 newly printed business cards I'd brought along with me. Haven't yet perfected the skill to move from introduction and conversation to pressing a card into someone's palm yet. One of these days?
Platform growth: I sat in on a panel that quite nicely articulated the possibilities of growing audience platforms and really made me see that while my books continue to be downloaded at a steady trickle, I largely know nothing about the people reading them, what they think, or why the numbers keep going up. I'm ready in my author growth to start engaging with my readers in a more substantial way.
Publishing growth: I went to two different panels that gave me completely opposite feelings.
One, the Editorial: Own Voices imbued me with dread and frustration that important changes in the publishing industry are moving at a glacial pace. It felt like a reiteration of old conversations that I'd hoped the industry has moved past in the last few years. It also featured mostly cis-white individuals and that seemed like an odd choice for an Own Voices topic. I hope the conference planners take the feedback of the community and use it to a host a space for better conversations in the future.
The other, the keynote panel about "Ensuring a More Literate Future for All" on Friday featuring Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (Panorama Project), Andrew Proctor (Literary Arts), Laura Brief (826 National), emblazoned me with hope that books like American Dirt can start important conversations about how we can bridge the gap and start to address real solutions to the lack of diversity in the industry. Institutional change is slow and plodding, but individual change can happen at a rapid fire pace. Sometimes it's as easy as making a choice to change, and as hard as doing the work to implement that change.
The sentiments of that panel are nicely captured in this Publisher's Weekly article by Jason Boog: Pubwest 2020 Looks Forward to a Diverse Future.
Personal growth: On a personal level, as an author, I've recently begun asking myself an important question when it comes to writing and publishing: why are you the best person to tell this story? And sometimes I don't have a good answer and it's not problematic. And sometimes I don't have a good answer, and it is problematic. I've taken up various causes and lead the charge because I believed it was the right thing to do and maybe it was the right thing to do, but I wasn't the right person to do it. I think we could all benefit, especially white folks, from stepping back and asking ourselves that question more often. Are we the right person to do this thing or take up this space? And if we're not...then maybe we need to step back and give someone else that opportunity.
That all being said: I've been fortunate enough in my time at Ooligan Press to experience the hubris of fumbling through issues around authenticity and who gets to tell the story and I think some of the biggest takeaways for me as an author and editor are: do your damn research. The likelihood of getting something wrong statistically decreases the more work you do to really understand what you're writing about. ALSO: hire some sensitivity/authenticity/targeted beta readers.
Why are you the best person to tell this story?
At Ooligan Press we're working on some initiatives that reflect current publishing industry practices. I'm proud to be a part of the teams making those changes, and I'm proud to work alongside people who value those practices as well.
Little things add up over time:
1. We are changing our house style guide to foster more inclusive language in our manuscripts, marketing collateral and outward facing materials.
2. We are developing a database of sensitivity/authenticity/targeted beta readers who can assist in current and future Ooligan Press projects.
There are more things we could do to reflect the changes we want to see in the wider publishing industry, but we only have so much time in the program.
All the other change and growth is what comes after.
Following extensive revisions, cutting 30k words, and cleaning up the overall manuscript, I submitted Tin Road for consideration in the Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection. It was launched on Smashwords in December 2019 and without much marketing (digital or otherwise) it's been downloaded almost 200 times in the last month. Not bad for a sophomore effort. :)
After the last few weeks of professional highs and personal lows, and especially yesterday suffering a bleak morning of wallowing in my own failings as an author/writer who still has yet to be traditionally published...I received the heartening news that Tin Road has been accepted into the 2020 edition of the MCL Writers Project. I discovered this whilst riding on the MAX, so tears were most definitely shed on public transit. Hard to say at this point whether they were happy or sad. A little bit of both.
It's been a wild 2020 thus far.
It will be available for download in about a month, so prepare yourselves accordingly!
And really, this good news couldn't have come at a better time. I'm planning to re-launch a newly revised version of Metal Heart in the next few months, along with print-on-demand editions of both books available through Amazon. Literally just waiting on our tax return to make it happen.
I will take an audiobook production course this spring term, and hope to record these titles as audiobooks this summer (just gotta secure that MA first). Along with juggling finishing up/revising Iron Curtain and submitting Astrid and starting on a new WIP (Rosita Ruins the Heist).
It's taken me a long while to come to terms with the Metal Heart book series never being published traditionally, and I'm just happy to have the knowledge and skills to make this story available via different media. This doesn't mean I've veered completely off the path to traditional publishing. I'm looking forward to graduating soon and having time to properly submit Astrid to publishers, as well as work on other books that are currently rattling around in my head.
There should be room for individuals to both self-publish and traditionally publish their materials. Especially since the more I learn about publishing as a commercial enterprise, the more I realize the myriad reasons that Metal Heart would likely never be picked up by a traditional publisher, but at least will find some validity in being enjoyed through alternative means.
I've found incredible value in pursuing both routes and very much appreciate that they both exist.
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.