Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: Some thoughts on self-publishing---for kids

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Some thoughts on self-publishing---for kids

As I plow doggedly through my backlog of publishing industry news, I came across this article today. It struck a chord with me because, when I was 15, I finished writing my first novel. It was called Seals of the Dragon. It followed two boys named Litnig and Cole as they and their friends tried to stop some necromancers from releasing a dragon that would destroy the world.

To any of you who have read Soulwoven, that will sound pretty familiar.

There are a lot of incendiary quotes in that NYT article. I disagree with most of them. I do not think writing books is any harder than rocket science, and I do think that literary prodigies probably come around about as often as prodigies in other areas, which is to say, very, very rarely. I still have a big problem with parents self-publishing their kids' books. Here's why:

It's a shortcut that could very well end the journey.

Part of being a writer is chasing a dream that is ever-changing, constantly out of reach, as simultaneously constant and ephemeral as the stars. Every success comes in half-steps. Every reality feels just a little bit less vivid than what you imagined. And that keeps you moving. When I was 15, I went to the library and checked out a copy of Writer's Market, then submitted my novel to seven or eight agents. I got a bunch of rejection letters and one phone call from an "agent" who just wanted to sell me some editing services.

So I went back to work. I wrote the sequel, at least until the wibbly-wobbly-endy bit where I realized I wasn't quite sure where the book was going to end. Then I went back and rewrote the first novel. Somewhere in all of that I graduated from high school and went to college, where I rewrote some more, did some internships in publishing, and finally discovered why I had been trying to tell this story about these brothers for so many years. And once I learned that, everything clicked into place.

Seals of the Dragon did not deserve to be published. It was poorly written. Being rejected by the publishing industry told me that in pretty clear terms. But at the time, I didn't know it. If my parents had said, "Wow, that's amazing. We'll publish it for you," instead of just "Wow, that's amazing. We're incredibly proud of you," I would have gone to bed every night with dreams of eclipsing Christopher Paolini the next day (actually, I did that for a while anyway...). And I probably never would have rewritten Seals of the Dragon into Soulwoven. And as a result, something I'm very, very proud of now never would have come into existence.

Not seeing my writing in published form left me with the space to rework it, and to continue to tell myself that the story I was trying to tell was one that other people would love. If it had come into my hands as a book, and then other people had not liked that book, I probably would have abandoned it. In all honesty, I probably would have abandoned writing novels completely, and right now I would be writing software somewhere, trying to break into a different creative industry. My self-published copies of Seals of the Dragon would most likely be sitting in a drawer, gathering dust and occasionally making me feel slightly nauseous in that "This was a childhood dream of mine that never worked out but I still sort of want" kind of way.

I suppose a lot of parents wouldn't see that as a bad thing. After all, most childhood basketball players don't try to make a career of it, and if I was a software writer I'd have a job with a salary and benefits.

But if you genuinely want to encourage your children to write, don't give them shortcuts. Point them to an online venue like Wattpad, instead, where they can get all the validation of sharing their stories in a supportive environment without setting them in stone forever.

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