For a writer, there is nothing quite like the feeling of having a publisher accept your manuscript — especially the first time. For decades, this has been a sign of “acceptance” as a writer in the literary (and wider) community. Publishing contracts have led to a sense of the ultimate accomplishment, the dream-come-true feeling of becoming a published author.
Like any other business, however, publishers have to make money to survive. What sells, therefore, becomes critically important to publishing decisions — although sometimes, of course, just-too-good writing wins out. The evolution of modern technology, shorter attention spans, and a new generation with perhaps less literary tastes has meant changes in the likelihood of some types of writing getting “accepted.” If you’re writing memoir when memoir is a hot seller, fantastic. But if the public’s taste for memoirs wanes or the market is flooded with similar works, you might find it harder to land a contract.
Many great writers get rejection letters, and it’s hard not to interpret those rejections as quality judgments. Quality could of course be the problem, or part of it. But the publisher might simply be concerned that your manuscript won’t find an audience, especially if you’re not well known.
Enter self-publishing. When technology and the Internet made it easy to self-publish and sell one’s own work, new avenues for getting writing in front of an audience emerged. Suddenly, there was no need to compete for an agent or a publisher. Instead, you could sell your work yourself. So could thousands of other writers, however, and what emerged was not only a lot of difficulty getting work noticed in the crowd, but also a lack of quality control. Books and stories of all kinds began to appear — largely on Amazon — and it became harder for readers to distinguish quality writing from something someone slapped together just for fun. Self-publishing was also somewhat looked down upon, perceived as something “writers who can’t get a publisher” did.
Today, both readers and writers are more savvy. Reviews help readers distinguish high quality work. Publishing services can assist with editing, layout, and proofreading, leading to higher quality stories and books appearing in the independent or self-published category. Many talented writers — some of whom initially published with publishing houses — are now self-publishing their work. The process is usually faster than traditional publishing, and authors, who often make little money from their books, receive a significantly larger percentage of the royalties from sales.
The thrill of getting published by a publishing house is still cherished, and the support a publisher usually offers — from experience and prestige to reviewer connections and marketing support — is invaluable. Few writers would turn away the opportunity to experience that still-sought-after publishing contract.
Still, self-publishing is no longer frowned upon. It is increasingly accepted as a professional way for authors to get their writing to their readers. Some writers choose this method for one basic reason — they are artists, and they want to have control over their work.
Christina Irace is one of those writers.
When I read Christina Irace’s “Angel: A Short Story,” which she self-published on Amazon under the pen name Erica Christian, I was struck by the artistic way she told her tale. The story, a page-turner about a young man struggling with his sexuality and high school angst, was told in the second person, an unusual choice. The “voice” of the narrator was also unexpected – so not the Christina I’d met in person when we were both MFA students.
So who is Christina Irace, and why did she choose to self-publish her work?
Christina lives in South Portland, Maine. She majored in Media Studies at the University of Southern Maine and received her Master’s in Fiction at the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College. She currently works in the insurance industry and shares her home with a rescued calico cat named Izzy.
Christina has been writing for years. I knew she was talented because I had heard her read her work, so I was curious to hear more about this short story and how the self-publishing option had worked out for her.
Let’s find out.
FRD: Before we get to the writing, I have to mention that we share the experience of rescuing cats. One of the things I admire about you is that you have adopted two senior cats in a row. I think it’s wonderful that you gave them a home in their later years. How old were they when you adopted them, and what has that been like?
CI: Thank you for your kind words. I love reading about your rescues as well! Stella and Izzy were both 12 when I got them. I was steered toward Stella at the shelter because she fit my specifications. I’d never had a cat of my own before then and wanted to start with one who was low-maintenance. Izzy belonged to a friend who couldn’t keep her due to allergies. She reminded me of Stella. It was shortly after Stella passed. It felt like fate. I love older cats. They know who they are. And it’s a good feeling to be able to give them the home they need.
FRD: OK, now to the writing. Where are you in your writing journey? Beginning? Middle? Do you have a particular goal in mind?
CI: I suppose, in a way, I’m just beginning. I’ve only been published for a couple of years. And there are so many stories in my head I want to get out. I’m working on a sequel to “Angel” right now. It’s a full-length novel that explores the fluidity and complexity of human sexuality and intimacy. Or that’s my goal with it. It’s almost done. But I’ve been serious about writing for about twenty years. My goal is to one day be able to live off of my books. Or, at least, to turn writing into a legitimate second job. It may seem ambitious, but I figure it’s good to aim high.
FRD: You wrote “Angel: A Short Story” in the second person, addressing the central character as “you” throughout the narrative. Why did you make that interesting choice?
CI: I just started writing a scene in second person for a flash fiction piece. It felt so natural and evolved into a story. Once I figured out the basic plot, it was some of the easiest writing I’ve ever done. And I think it works on another level because it gives the impression that the main character is having his past experiences narrated to him. Which he is, in a way — the experiences being retold through the filter of an omnipotent, spiritual perspective.
FRD: A lot of writers struggle with the question of whether or not to self-publish their work. Why did you choose self-publishing, and how has it worked for you?
CI: It just made the most sense to me. Not only is the option available to me and extremely user-friendly through Amazon’s KDP, but also, as someone with diagnosed OCD and anxiety, I like having control.
FRD: How easy or hard was the self-publishing process?
CI: I found KDP to be very easy. It walks you through the process and you fill in the blanks. I was lucky to have a professional photographer help me with the cover, and KDP’s covermaker was very user-friendly. Formatting the inside was the hardest part. But I was determined to do it on my own. I will have a professional help me with my next book. I will probably stick to self-publishing for now because of the control it gives me.
FRD: How did you market your story once you published it on Amazon — was it a challenge to get it in front of readers?
CI: I created an author page on Facebook and paid for some ads on FB and Amazon. They brought people to my author page but didn’t translate to sales. Taking advantage of the free giveaways on Amazon really helped get me attention. But not really money. I’m planning on building a website and making “Angel” permanently free once I publish my sequel novel. If people buy the story for free, they may become interested in the sequel. That’s the hope. I just need to write a satisfying sequel.
FRD: Why did you publish your story under a pen name?
CI: I like the semblance of anonymity it gives me. Maybe that’s naive in the internet era. Also, when I came to the realization that Erica Christian was an anagram for Christina Irace, it was too perfect to pass up.
FRD: Is there anything you can tell us about yourself that would surprise us?
CI: Here are a couple of fun pieces of trivia. I have an aunt who’s also a writer. She wrote for television. She worked on Nickelodeon’s The Amanda Show starring Amanda Bynes and published a book called Amanda Please. And a second cousin of mine on the same side of the family made it to the second round on The Voice. He was on Blake’s team. His name is Christian Porter. He’s teamed up with a woman named Regina Sayles, and they’ve written some songs together since then.
FRD: Those are things I didn’t know about you! Thank you for sharing and for telling us about your writing life. I look forward to the sequel to “Angel: A Short Story.”
Christina Irace’s blog is located at: https://chmirasblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/.