Novelist Charlotte Rains Dixon on Her Experience with Indie Publishing

I have a special treat today. Charlotte Rains Dixon, author of the recently published novel Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, has agreed to answer a few questions about her experience with the publishing process. Let me say I first discovered Charlotte more than two years ago through her fantastic blog. Let me also say that I am about 2/3 of the way through Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior–I’ve been neglecting my MFA reading to do so–and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Emma Jean is absolutely hilarious, but what is truly striking is that Charlotte has done what so few pull off; she has given the literary world a sympathetic protagonist who, by all rights, should not be sympathetic. Charlotte, when forced, describes this story of a novelist who has made a career out of celebrating childlessness only to find herself pregnant as “women’s fiction,” but to me it’s simply an enjoyable read with interesting characters and surprising turns of plot. Now on to the Q&A:

PR:  Charlotte, how did you decide to publish your novel with an indie press?

EmmaJeanCoverFinalIt was decided for me.  I had submitted my novel to myriad agents over the period of a couple years, refining and rewriting as I went.  I got a lot of encouraging responses.  But I can’t tell you how many times I heard the word “unrelatable” about Emma Jean.  One agent said she was unrelatable because she got drunk on a plane and another because she was a writer.

When I learned about Vagabondage Press from a friend who’d just gotten accepted by them, I decided to give them a try.  They’ve got an easy submission process on their site, and they wanted to see the whole manuscript.  That appealed to me—I wearied of the dance of sending a query, then waiting to hear, then sending the first few pages, then waiting to hear, then sending the full manuscript and waiting to hear.  One could be born, grown up, get married, have children and die in the time it takes to hear back from some of these people.

I was thrilled when they accepted me, and I have to admit, a little bit disappointed, too.  My lifelong dream has been to publish a novel, and the expectation that came along with the dream was that it would be with a big New York house.    But now I am so glad the way it has worked out.

PR:  Walk us through the publication process with Vagabondage, if you could.

It has been wonderful.   The novel was accepted in March of 2012 and published just last week.  So there was a year’s lag time, which is fast in the world of big publishing, though perhaps a bit slow for indie publishers.  One of my blog readers just got a novel accepted last month by an indie press and his book will be out in April, which I think is a more common timeline.  That’s actually one of the advantages of indie publishing.

But most of the work has been over the last six months.   I got the first round of edits in July.   There were a lot of little things to deal with to get my style in line with the publisher’s and one big scene to rewrite.   Funnily enough, this scene, which comes near the end, was one that my critique group had had trouble with but I had stubbornly left in.

After the first round of edits, it was sent to me again, so I could approve the changes.  Same thing after the copy editor worked through it.  (She had a field day with some of my made-up words.)  After that, I sent in my dedication and acknowledgments (I still live in fear that I forgot someone) then proofed a mock-up PDF of the final copy.  A proofreader also went through it. Finally, I was sent the Advanced Reader Copy and proofed it one more time.  So it was a rigorous process.

PR:  Did you consider self-publishing?

I did, briefly.  If I’d absolutely not had any luck in submitting the book, I would have gone toward self-publishing eventually.   There are significant costs to the self-publishing route if you do it right.  I think it would be important to pay for editing and that’s not cheap (rightfully so—a good editor is gold).  I was more interested in the old model of having someone pay me for my years of effort.  And my goal is to be a writer, not a publisher.  For my first foray into the world of publishing, I really wanted someone else to do it for me.

PR:  What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of working with an indie press?

One of the biggest advantages is that with indie presses, you get very personal attention.  My emails were answered promptly, and all my silly questions taken seriously and answered with care.  I also like their model a lot—no advance, but I get a very generous royalty on my sales and I feel like this ties my results directly to my efforts.

I’d say one disadvantage is that small presses simply have less firepower.  While the press sent me a lengthy Ebook on how to do publicity, I’ve had to accomplish nearly all the publicity myself.  This is where the advantage of already having an author’s platform set up was huge.   My blog was well established and I’m active on social media.  Well, Twitter.  I’m trying to get better on Facebook but it still flummoxes me. I’m not sure that brick-and-mortar bookstores takes indie presses as seriously yet.  This is changing, though.

PR:  What publishing route would you wish to pursue for future books?

I think it would be fun to experience having a book published in each arena.  I’m doing indie publishing with this release, so one goal for this year is to get a literary agent and see if I can get my next novel to one of the big guys.  And then I have the novel I wrote when I earned my MFA.  It needs some rewriting, but once that’s done I may just publish it myself, just to get it out there.

PR:  Any other options you’ve seen out there for would-be authors?

One new model I’ve seen grow recently is sometimes called cooperative publishing or subsidy publishing.   It’s when a publisher charges upfront costs for editing and getting the book ready, often payable out of the royalty stream.  But, and this is a huge but, these presses don’t just take on any writer who is willing to pay them the money.  There’s a vetting process in which manuscripts must be submitted and many will be rejected.  I’m very much interested in watching where this model goes.

PR:  Any words of advice for Artist’s Road readers?

I know this is a cliché that your readers have heard a million times, but things become clichéd because they are true.  Here it is: this is a fantastic time to be a writer.  The fact that we have more than one choice is amazing, and has only existed for the past few years.  Ten years ago, if you had a book that wasn’t picked up by the major houses, you were out of luck.  Period.  Sure, you could self-publish, but in those days (a few short years ago) it was very much looked down upon and not taken seriously.  And the indie presses did not exist in the breadth and depth that they do now.

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Charlotte Rains Dixon

Charlotte Rains Dixon

Charlotte Rains Dixon mentors creative writers from passionate to published. Charlotte is a free-lance journalist, ghostwriter, and author.  She is Director Emeritus and a current mentor at the Writer’s Loft, a certificate writing program at Middle Tennessee State University.  She earned her MFA in creative writing from Spalding University and is the author of a dozen books, including The Complete Guide to Writing Successful Fundraising Letters, and Beautiful America’s Oregon Coast.  Her fiction has appeared in The Trunk, Santa Fe Writer’s Project, Nameless Grace, and Somerset Studios and her articles have been published in Vogue Knitting, the Oregonian, and Pology, to name a few. Her novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, was just published.  Visit her blog, where you can find tips and techniques on writing and creativity.

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

10 Responses to “Novelist Charlotte Rains Dixon on Her Experience with Indie Publishing”

  1. First off, I don’t believe I’ve had the opportunity yet to say CONGRATULATIONS, CHARLOTTE! <- This is me jumping up and down and hollering! So happy for you!

    Second, your words of wisdom about what a great time it is to be a writer are as true as you claim. My father worked for Prentice-Hall for 35 years and did have articles and stories published, but he got a lot of rejections too, despite his understanding of the publishing industry. He has been retired for almost 30 years now, and at 90, he can barely believe it when I tell him that we could publish an anthology of his work and sell it on Amazon without much trouble. He's even more amazed by the fact that anyone can start a blog, develop a readership that way, and publish regularly without any gatekeepers. Talking with him helped me appreciate the current writing landscape even more than I already did!

    • Thank you, Sue! You and I have not connected much lately–we need to rectify that. And I love this story about your father. He must be an amazing man with wonderful stories. How great that you can return the favor with your glimpse into today’s publishing world.

  2. I too have gone the indie press route and have been very pleased with it. I write Childrens Books and my first publisher did an awsome job on my books. They were beautiful, the drawl back was I made no money because I really had no confidence in myself as an author and was afraid to get people to buy them. Now I have inproved as a writer and feel great about my stories. I have gone the indie way again and hope to have 2 more books out this year. I don’t regret going indie at all.

    • I wish all the best for you! I’m also finding that there’s a whole new level to stepping out as an author. I’ve been a writer for years, but with this book, I feel I’m really putting my whole self out in the world and it can be a bit nerve wracking, so I understand what you went through.

  3. Hey Charlotte, in my travels across the interwebs, I came across an author whose novel was published last year by your publisher, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize: http://kristipetersenschoonover.com/ A strong testament to your publisher!

  4. Thanks for the interesting interview, Charlotte and Patrick. With a short story manuscript in hand in 1988, I read that the average NY-published collection of short stories sold about 2,000 copies. That seemed awful–the economics entirely disadvantageous for me so I published my book independently (a word I have always used instead of “self publish”). “What Became of Them” sold 2,200 (and I am now preparing it for epublication after all these years. There will also be a hard copy.) I felt I had beat the system and I developed a community to support me. I have since gone on to publish 6 other books–one of which has sold 35,000 copies. So the economics of independent publishing are clearly in the favor of an active author who dos not mind marketing. My publication experience has produced much ancillary income–some of that experience has drained time from writing but it has supported my not having to hold an outside job to support my family. I have lived as a writer since 1988–not bad at all, if I may say so. Good luck with sales, Charlotte.

    • Wow, those are some amazing stats, Denis, thanks for sharing them. That’s one of the best things about indie publishing–the control we writers have over our own destinies. I recently met another self-published author who also supported herself through her novels–in good enough style that a bank gave her a mortgage. It is so wonderful to hear these stories and realize that it can be done!

  5. Congrats Charlotte, what an excellent post filled with helpful tips for writers considering that avenue or those like Inion and I who haven’t and want to know more. We wish you great success with your book. Once again Patrick excellent post which we will be sharing with all of our friends. And by the way, Inion and I have nominated you for “The Reality Blog” award which we feel is perfect for you. It’s posts like this one that help writers and keep them informed on the many aspects of publishing. Just head over to our blog for the details and congrats my friend!

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