A guest post by our founder, Lyssa Chiavari
Starting this year, we’re giving our authors an opportunity to share their stories here on our blog. These could be stories related to their books, or about writing and craft, or about their publishing journeys. I thought I’d kick that off with a little story about my own publishing journey and the founding of Snowy Wings Publishing.
Every author has a different story, and every indie author has a reason for going the route they chose to go. I think over the last several years the industry has a whole has really moved beyond the stereotype that indie authors only self-publish because their books aren’t “good enough” for a traditional contract. Five years ago, when I published my first novel, Fourth World, I wrote a blog post about my reasons for going indie, and when I look back at it, I see a very marked difference in the publishing world than there was at that time. Traditional publishing, while it still has work to do, has thankfully gotten a lot more diverse. I don’t think Fourth World would be as hard a sell now as it would have been then. But I’m also very glad that I didn’t wait five years. That books is out there now, and I’ve already seen it touch teens’ lives in the ways that I wanted it to, something that wouldn’t have happened if I’d gone a different route.
That’s not the only thing that’s changed in five years’ time. You are seeing many more hybrid authors now than back then, including many of the authors in Snowy Wings. At our SWP author Zoom chat a few months ago, our authors were talking about our publishing journeys, and how we think as time goes on, more and more authors will be joining the ranks of part-indie, part-trad. As S.E. Diemer once remarked, “Self-publishing is no longer the island of misfit toys.”
I had no way of knowing how the industry was going to grow and change back in summer 2016, though. That was when I had the idea to try something different. Fourth World had been out for about six months at that point, and in that time I’d struck up friendships with other authors on Twitter, including a number of indie authors. I was thinking to myself how frustrating it was we were all going it alone. And then I happened to see an indie author—I can’t remember who it was now—posting pictures of the hardcovers that they’d gotten from IngramSpark. And I thought:
And that’s when I had an idea: ISBNs are expensive. What if a few of us got together and bought them in a batch? Then we could get shiny hardcovers. That was the idea as I pitched it to my friends Jane Watson, Selenia Paz, and T. Damon. They thought it sounded like fun. Jane started brainstorming imprint names. Finding a name that hadn’t already been taken was hard, but she knew she wanted an owl for the logo, which made a good starting point. (The origin of Sylvia! Maybe Jane will tell you all about it sometime. 😉)
Even then, though, nothing really became concrete until something big happened in the publishing world: A mass rights-reversion that affected a number of my traditionally published friends and left them and their books without a home. Many of them were looking at self-publishing their returned books, but they weren’t sure how to go about it, and they were daunted by the idea of having to go it alone.
That’s when it was decided to make the Owl Logo Daydream into a reality. Why go it alone when we could all go it together? The name of Snowy Wings Publishing was finalized, the website was registered, and we started planning on launching our group and building a team together. We weren’t really sure what shape the co-op would take and how everything would work out. We’ve gotten a lot more structured than the original “hey let’s all buy ISBNs together so we can get hardcovers” plan. and these days our co-op is a lot more “publisher-shaped,” but our foundation philosophy has always remained that a rising tide would lift all boats.
I could have had no clue just how much that philosophy would prove true. If you’d told me four years ago that we’d have a group of almost thirty authors and almost a hundred books in our catalogue, I think I would have fainted. I would never have believed that a group of indie authors could have come up against gatekeepers of the traditional publishing industry like trade reviewers, librarians, and literary awards committees. and been welcomed in by them. But one other thing unites our Snowy Wings authors, and that’s professionalism. Every single one of them is committed to writing the absolute best books they can, and to the professional editing, cover and interior design that the industry expects. And the industry recognizes their professionalism, and I could not be more freaking proud every single time I see another Snowy Wings author get a glowing review, an award. a spot on a best-of list, a feature in a subscription box, or an orange bestseller flag on Amazon. It absolutely makes my day.
One of my favorite Snowy Wings moments was when we were at Portland Book Festival a few years ago and an excited teenager raced toward our booth. He said, “Snowy Wings Publishing! You publish Dorothy Dreyer, right? Do you have the new Curse of the Phoenix book?” I was so thrilled and happy. He stayed and looked through our entire catalogue for other books to buy, and wound up leaving with a stack. Not just of Dorothy’s books, but half a dozen other Snowy Wings authors as well.
A rising tide lifts all boats.
On a personal level, I also can look back on the last five years and see how indie publishing and Snowy Wings has benefited my own life and career. Back in 2015, I had no way of knowing that my health problems were going to get a lot worse than they already were. In a lot of ways, indie publishing is ideal for chronically ill people like myself. Being solely in control of my career means that I am able to work at my own pace and not have to worry about needing to meet a publisher’s deadlines in order to fulfill my contract. But there’s a tradeoff to that—you have to do all your own marketing and all the other behind-the-scenes stuff, and that can be really hard when you’re not feeling well.
Because of this, earlier in my publishing career, before SWP was as established as it is now, I thought, “This is just too much. It’s too hard.” So I did wind up seeking out and getting a traditional publishing contract under another pen name. This was definitely a double-edged sword. Even though I no longer had to worry about marketing or up-front expenses, meeting the publisher’s deadlines was much more difficult than I expected. The workload was a lot heavier than I thought it would be. In the end, though I was offered a contract for another series with that publisher, I opted not to take it.
Because in the interim, Snowy Wings had been growing. And I’ve discovered over the last several months, with no extra marketing work on my end, my books on this pen name have been earning just as much as my traditionally published book. The tide has been rising, and it’s been lifting all the boats.
My favorite part of Snowy Wings is the community we’ve built. From the authors to the Snow Angels, everyone is so nice and the interactions are always so positive. No matter what someone’s reason for self-publishing is—whether they’re hybrid authors, or authors who were agented but whose books didn’t find a home at the Big Five, or someone who queried but just never had luck, or someone like me who decided to publish Indie First from the get-go—everyone is welcomed with open arms, and treated both professionally and like a friend. I absolutely love it, and I’m so, so proud to have been a part of its inception.
About the Author
Lyssa Chiavari is an author of inclusive speculative fiction for young adults. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including the anthologies Magic at Midnight: A YA Fairytale Anthology and Perchance to Dream: Classic Tales from the Bard’s World in New Skins, both which she also edited. Her first published story, “The Choice,” was named one of Ama-gi Magazine’s Best Fiction of 2014. Lyssa lives with her family and way too many animals in the woods of Northwest Oregon. Learn more about her at her website.