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Writers: Do you have time to get published? And can we dump the “self” from publishing?

P Harry Potter

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Wow. I just noticed that an author profiled on this blog, the great JE Knowles*, was rejected 100 times before her book Arusha, was accepted by Spinster Press. I’ll say it again: Wow. That’s common. Many authors who later went on to great success were rejected many times before someone in traditional publishing saw their manuscript’s sales potential. One day, JK Rowling will announce who rejected Harry Potter before Bloomsbury picked up the deal of a lifetime. (Then the tears, excuses and recriminations can really begin. That promises to be quite delicious, but I digress.)

The reasons for such rejection are many (and many of those reasons have little or nothing to do with any particular author.) I’ve delved into that reasoning elsewhere, so let’s talk about time. It takes you a long time to write a book and get your editor and/or beta-readers lined up. You comb and comb the manuscript and until at last you don’t find any typos. (As soon as you send off the manuscript, inevitably you will find a new round of typos and errors but just do what you can because that’s all any of us can do.)

You do your research and you send it off to editors or agents. You format your submission to the individual requirements of each agency or publishing house. Most just want queries up front and some want an outline, too. Others will ask for partials but the length of a partial can vary. If it’s non-fiction, you’ll need a business plan for all the marketing you intend to do to sell the book and evidence of your vast platform. You send it all off to five agents or houses and you wait. In the meantime, you work on expanding your platform and thinking happy thoughts and get all caught up in that positive thinking bullshit of The Secret.

Many agents and houses don’t actually do rejection slips anymore. No answer is an answer. The trouble with that is, you don’t know when they’re done with you. Next, after some undetermined time, you feel like your stress headaches will squeeze your forehead so hard your brains pop out through your nose. So you decide it’s time to decide upon the next five agents and you begin your research again.

And so on. And you begin to question your mission on earth and the need for your existence. And you get more of those brains and blood in the Kleenex headaches. And then you get a nibble. An agent wants a partial from a query you’d assumed had been forgotten. This tentative bit of interest can go south so many ways so quickly, I’m not even going to belabor those ugly facets here. Let’s just say, it’s a long road to getting an agent, and that’s no guarantee you’ll be published.

Once you get over the initial ecstasy of someone validating your wretched writerly existence (and that little orgasm is disappointingly brief) you start to get itchy that your book isn’t up for sale and won’t be for a long time.  “Patience,” you’re told. You’ll be told that a lot. Eventually you may begin to wonder if it’s just you being impatient. Then that will pass and you’ll start to wonder if there really is a flaw in the argument of  “This is how it’s done and this is how we’ve always done it.” The point is, after you’re accepted by a traditional publishing house, it still an 18-month wait until you hold a book in your hand. In most cases, unless you’re Sarah Palin (and thank God you aren’t!) that time-frame is a minimum.

So, how old are you? Do you have years to wait before you’re in print? There are alternatives. Smaller presses and POD publishers might have a shorter time frame to get your work in print. Using Smashwords, you could have your book out very quickly.  E-books are fast. Often, too fast.

If you’re not prepared to wait for the traditional publishing model, the deeper question is: Are you prepared to start your own business and become an independent publisher? I see a lot of self-publishers, but I see far fewer independent publishers who are prepared to dive in and get really serious.  The difference between a self-publisher and an independent, I think, is one of seriousness and commitment. You can get anything out there quick and awful. Any half-considered manuscript full of errors and dropped threads can be pushed on an unsuspecting populace quickly. (Of course, it won’t sell well, the word of mouth will consist of warnings and readers you suckered the first time won’t come back for your next book.)

I’d like to see more independent publishers who are ready to hire an editor (said the editor) and swim in the deep end of the pool. The stink on self-publishing is that the quality is atrocious. Eventually, I’d love it if the independent publishers who committed to quality outnumbered the self-publishers. In many people’s minds, “self” will always signify “vanity.” Those objections aren’t all wrong.

As creators, we must demand more of ourselves for emerging models to fly. We’re at the end of the beginning. Now let’s knuckle down.

And yes, you’ll see my first book, independently published, up and out there, later this year.


*See the first link below for that interview and more information about JE Knowles.

Filed under: DIY, ebooks, Editing, Editors, publishing, self-publishing, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

12 Responses

  1. shirleymclain930 says:

    Great informative post and gives me something to think about. I do have a question. You said not receiving a reply is an answer to your quarey. How long do you wait before you know the silence is intensional?

  2. Chazz says:

    Hi Shirley! Good question. I give a submission three months. Then I either send out a polite inquiry/reminder or send it elsewhere. Most I just send it elsewhere. One magazine took a year to send a rejection. It was so long I’d actually forgotten about it.

    We are finite creatures. Unless you’re starting and just learning the craft as a pup, I feel more urgency and time pressure than traditional publishing’s schedule allows.

  3. E. Harvey says:

    There are some indie publishers that bust their backs to put out good product – we’ve actually had people talk to us about our “editorial severity” and whether or not it’s any good. I was pretty surprised after some research to find out how little many small publishers (and absolutely the vanity presses that “self publish” books…) put into books. Not just in the interior content but in the cover and all the other details. So many small publishers have covers that look terrible – as though the outside is an afterthought.

    Also, some small publishers will send rejection letters (I know we do, and they’re even personal if we’ve read the full manuscript) and we do care about the authors and their work! I don’t understand people that don’t try and give books the best treatment possible because the publisher (and, subsequently, the author) won’t make any money at all if they aren’t putting out the best material they possibly are able to do. It does take extra time to edit properly and design quality covers, but it’s worth it for everyone.

    As far as self-publishing goes, if done right I think it’s the best way for an author to get their material out there. However, it does take a huge amount of work and the learning curve is nothing less than sinister. Not only that, it can be expensive (marketing, ISBN numbers, cover design, professional editing [which is a must if you’re self-publishing] and so on) and many authors just don’t have that kind of time or funding. But, if an author does? I absolutely think it’s the best way to go about things since the author will get the full profit and have complete control over their work.

    Best of luck to you in your writing, I hope your book sells well!

  4. Chazz says:

    Thanks for reading. Good points. I was a bit taken aback by a publisher I met who provided no editorial on the e-books produced and said rather blithely that some of “her” authors couldn’t seem to be bothered with their spell check. Clearly, her company was adding to the bad self-publishing pile.

    What you say about small publishers is also true. When I worked at Harlequin, there were five or six lines of defence between submission and publication. Few publishers can afford that degree of editorial goalie work and so now it often falls to authors and the editors they hire for themselves.

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