Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TrAuSt Tour #4: Kevin McLaughlin

Weblings! It's time for another TrAuSt post, and today we have the privilege of Kevin McLaughlin gracing our page. He's written a very positive and uplifting post, which is fantastic because I like to keep my space as good karma as I can ;)

Please give it a read, and leave any questions or comments for Kevin in the comments below!

Dream a New Dream
by Kevin McLaughlin

A lot of people talk about fear when they discuss self publishing in this era of writing digital books. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of making a fool of yourself. Fear of ruining your chance at a “real” writing career. A number of people have discussed fear as one of the main barriers to writers making the jump to self publishing.

I'm not here to talk about fear today. I'm actually here to talk about hope.

You see, I think that there's another barrier, one which doesn't get as much press time, and that's the hopes and dreams writers have internalized over their lives. I'll use myself as an example. When I was six, seven, eight years old I used to fall asleep listening to my mother tack-tack-tack away on her electric typewriter. She'd work on a novel while playing a tape of Masada, Conan the Barbarian, or others of her favorites. She talked to me about writing, gave me my first typewriter (her old manual from college), and encouraged me to write. I was hooked.

So off and on over the years, I tried to get my work published. Had a few bits in print here and there. Never was able to join SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), though, which at seven seemed to be what “real” writers got to do. A bit of that seven year old's daydream still lingers.

I think a lot of us have dreams like that. We've been raised to understand what “success” means for an author. Write a book. Have it published. Go on book tours. Sign books for fans. Write more books, maybe break onto the NYT bestseller list. For the last decade or so, add “get an agent” to the list. I hang out on writers' groups where getting an agent is awarded the acclaim and congratulations that once was reserved for signing a book contract with a publisher.

Writers we love have told us how they got there. They've described their path, and that path has become The Path – the dream which aspiring writers, well, aspire to. Companies like Writer's Digest Inc. have set that standard in bronze and placed it upon a pedestal for all aspiring writers to admire. That path, those dreams, have become self-sustaining as writers who originally grew up with them have gone back to write books about how to write, encouraging new generations of writers to dream the same dream.

Writers today dream of getting an agent. I'm on a LinkedIn group where the group's founder referred to getting an agent as the “Holy Grail” (caps his, not mine) of writing. Writers dream of being published by someone else – validated that they do indeed have talent. Writers dream of being in big chain bookstores, of walking into a Barnes & Nobles and seeing a display of their books at the front of the store.

Self publishing changes all that. When we self publish, we turn away from those dreams. And giving up a dream is a hard, hard thing for many people to do.

A self published writer might not ever use an agent. Might not ever get validation from anyone except readers. Might not ever see a print book in a physical bookstore. And so for many of us, there's a sense of loss associated with self publishing, a feeling that we're “missing out”, or “giving up”.

But it's not about giving up on old dreams. It's about finding new dreams. Some of mine...

I dream about writers feeling the freedom to experiment. I can write a short story that is being donated to an anthology for RIF, like “Twelve Worlds”. Or I can spend time seeing if readers would enjoy a series of episodic science fiction novelettes, like I've been working on lately. There's a ton of different ways we can experiment with the new digital media, and I'm looking forward to checking a lot of them out. That's something I can do as an independent writer/publisher that I could not before.

I dream about writers having control and responsibility for their own careers. There's just a lot less luck involved in indie publishing. Some luck, of course – but mostly, it's about your skills, and your dedication, and your discipline at doing the work. There's something about being able to take charge of your own career from top to bottom that has incredible appeal.

I dream about writers being able to get together in new groups and organizations to educate and encourage each other. These new groups will be what we make them, because we'll be the ones making it happen.

I dream about digital media bringing storytellers and readers together more closely than they've been in many decades. Where writers can react to readers almost in real time (or even in real time, perhaps, through the internet) and tell stories that interact with readers in a way that literature has never done, and storytelling has only rarely done outside of campfires and childrens' bedtimes.

I dream about writers who can worry less about their next advance, because they already get a monthly check for sales all of their previous books – so while new work is important, there is a sense of stability which most writers have never been able to find in their careers.

For me, a big part of this shift is about changing the dreams, and dreaming new ones. There were many things to which we writers aspired under the old style of publishing. But under the new, there's a host of great things we can aspire to and dream about as well. Freedom, control, financial stability, and accountability for one's own success are just a few of the things we can look forward to.

The challenge for each of us is to look at the future and see the opportunities for new dreams, and to seek out and grab those chances. What will your hopes and dreams be, as an independent writer?


JEM sez: I agree with Kevin that writers will be able to find a comfortable life amidst all the upheaval in this Indie Flood. The chance to write without living royalty check to to check, six months apart - as opposed to ONE month apart, is a real lifesaver for a lot of writers.

Thanks for stopping by, Kevin! Also check out the "Twelve Worlds" anthology in the TrAuSt Tour widget. Kevin submitted a piece named By a Whisker and is the LEAD STORY in the anthology! When you download the sample, you should get his whole story for FREE, plus the beginning of the next story :) (I'm number 4 in the anthology, for anyone wondering.) Please check out 12 Worlds if you haven't!


  1. Nice blog post! I agree with Kevin on many points.

    My mother is an English teacher, so reading was always a staple in our house. We went to the library every few weeks and check out new books. Sometimes I read them, sometimes I just looked through them. I was a picky, picky kid.

    Another thing that she helped me do was appreciate literature. Fiction can just be fiction: forgettable and meaningless. It can also be something deeper, greater than the sum of its parts, more than just a ballet between plot points and character traits.

    That depth is something I try to bring to my writing. I suppose only time will tell.

    Anyway, thank you for the guest post and thanks Kevin for bringing back some memories of my own revolving around the music from the Conan soundtrack. ;-)

    One More Day: A Modern Ghost Story

  2. Our twins just turned five last week, and had a little rite of passage that evening. Five is the youngest age our local library will allow them to get their own library cards.

    So we brought them down, let them pick out a couple of books each, and then had them sign their own names for the cards, and get their own library cards.

    Reading at a library was an incredible boon to me, growing up. I poured through enormous quantities of books...!

    As for depth in fiction, I think part of that is the craft. As we learn to write better, we're better able to add that sort of deep meaning to our work without sounding like we're preaching to the reader. It has to flow naturally from the story... And in the best works, I think that's what happens.

    Best of luck!

  3. I think all the new dreams are even more exciting than the old ones. I especially like the part about writers being able to experiment. Who knows what new ways of storytelling will be (re)discovered?