Following a bit of a hiatus, I’m back to blogging. In a previous post, I discussed my indecision about which route I’d like to take for publishing my HALOS manuscript. Sorry to say, I’m still undecided weeks later. But while I continue to toil away at edits and attempt to create a social network following, I’ve also been reading blog after blog, and discussing the pros and cons of each route with a variety of personalities. Recently, I came across this blog post: Don’t Throw In The Towel: E-pub/Self-Pub is Not The Easy Fix written by Scott Eagan, an agent of Greyhaus Literary Agency.
First, I want to clarify that I am not a published author and have not experienced the years of trial and tribulation that some writers have had to endure to earn a small piece of the publishing world. I’ve made a handful of attempts to garner the attention of literary agents, but nothing beyond a simple query letter that I probably had no business writing to begin with. However, I do have a problem with how self-publishing is perceived and I cringe every time I hear the term vanity publishing.
Admittedly, when I first read Mr. Eagan’s blog post, my blood pressure jumped a notch (though that very well could have been the 3 cups of coffee I had prior to reading it too). The biggest issue I had with it, was the assumption that self-publishing is based on a last resort for writers; or some debut author’s dream of becoming the next Amanda Hocking. Certainly any aspiring author would love to rake in six figures for publishing a book, and I’m not gonna lie, I’m one of ‘em. But those who have spent some time talking to other writers, reading blogs and books written by agents and publishers, and are serious about it, understand this is about the equivalent of winning the lottery. I don’t have to spend years in the publishing world to recognize an incredibly rare event when I see it.
The other issue I had with this blog post, is the suggestion that a manuscript that has been rejected time and time again might not be worthy of publication at all. This I feel I can speak to as a reader. I have held books written by NYT Bestselling authors, and those written by debut, self-pubbed authors. In some cases, I couldn’t get into the bestselling book if I’d have removed my eyeballs from the sockets and glued them to the page with cyanoacrylate. Those referred to as a must-read turned out to be nothing more than a must-not-drop-the-Kindle-on-the-floor-while-I-snooze.
Conversely, some self-pubbed books have kept me from eating meals with my family at dinner time because I was so engrossed in the story.
However, Mr. Eagan does raise some good points as well.
About three years ago, I wrote my very first novel after nearly two decades (ugh, did I just say that?) of writing short stories and poetry. It was a YA Romance that turned out to be about 140,000 words. Again, I’d never previously pursued publication, so I was completely unaware of what it entailed. My impression was: I finish a book, select a literary agent to send it to and voila! Book is published. Hahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahhahahahahah!!!!!!!!
Ahem, excuse me.
As if it’s not already obvious, let’s examine my mistakes here: first, trying to get a 140K YA anything noticed is like a teenager vying for attention at a Justin Bieber concert. Sure there are ways of going about it, but most of us like to keep our clothes on in public venues. Second, I had written this prologue that was described as beautiful and poetic (awww shucks), but an absolutely boring opener for a teenage audience (WHAT?!!!). It was WAAAAYYYY too long and FAAARRRRR too descriptive. I hadn’t learned much about my target audience. These days, young people want quick and immediately immersive. I’d set the tone for a very long haul, and not in a Stephenie-Meyer-esque way.
Thankfully, I had made a connection in the industry and this individual was gracious enough to run it by an editor for me. The feedback was priceless. And I would have never gotten it if I hadn’t received some rejections to the manuscript and sought out reasons for why I wasn’t getting past the slushy mess.
The second novel I wrote was an urban fantasy based on a boy with Kleine-Levin Syndrome. A while back, I had read a news article about a teenager with this affliction, who slept for days. DAYS?!! How incredibly interesting! So I took the idea and turned it into my own little fantasy. I was convinced this adventure would be a seller. What could be more enthralling than a boy who sleeps most of his life, living in a fantasy world that eventually seeps into his reality? Um. Well, apparently lots of other things were more interesting because once again, rejection followed.
What did I learn from this? A story about a boy sleeping half of his life is a hard sell. I needed to get in touch with the fact that, at the time, kids were gobbling books about vampires and werewolves. They're still gobbling them up.
So I decided to do a little research. And in research, I started to read more than I had been. See, for the longest time, I had this idea that if I read while writing, I’d somehow pick up another author’s style and begin to incorporate it into my own. Not true. In reading what’s out there, I have learned not only what others find interesting, but what I, as a reader, find interesting as well. And so my third novel was not only based on the hot, paranormal genre that seemed to be flying off the shelves, but also on what I enjoyed reading too – romance.
The danger in this is, had I pursued self-publication with the first novel and made my mistakes publicly, I may have ruined whatever reputation I was capable of establishing. I learned my lessons quietly from rejection and did my homework along the way. And I still have opportunity to learn. Quite a bit as a matter of fact.
Mr. Eagan wrote, “Maybe we examine that story and call it what it is. This is something that is not a strong piece of writing. This is something we can learn from so it is time to throw it out. Now, let's write something that is worthy of being published.” Though I agree with elements of his blog post, I don’t think any piece of writing is worthless enough to throw out. I believe they are all badges of accomplishment and should be held onto as a reminder of how far we’ve come in writing. But I do think authors need to exert some patience and observe before jumping into the digital realm. And that’s not because I believe it’s going to be inundated with a bunch of crappy novels. I have faith in readers and book reviewers. The truth is, it’s not often easy to find self-pubbed books – that’s part of the problem (and a blog post for another day). I think it’s important for a debut author to make a mark and make it good.
I might just query my latest novel, if nothing else, for the opportunity to learn something I haven’t already experienced. For me, the idea of self-publishing goes beyond a ‘last resort’ method of getting my book noticed. My reasons for looking at self-publication are a bit more personal than that. But no matter what route I decide to pursue, I intend to show a little respect toward the work that I’ve put into this baby, by being open to ways that I can make it better and recognizing that it may just be another stepping stone to the greatest book I’ve ever written.