Self-Publishing Will Never Be The Same as Traditional Publishing

 

Publish all the Books

No matter what you argue, self-publishing will just never be the same as traditional publishing.

In many instances, it’s far, far better.

For one thing, with self-publishing, it’s a lot more likely to actually happen. If you’re determined, it will definitely happen. If takes an awful lot of hard work, but that work is certain to result in the publication of your very own book. There’s absolutely no guarantee that the book will sell, but success is not guaranteed with traditional publication, either. I don’t care if your book is published by one of the Big Six with all the publicity they have to offer – nobody knows what’s going to sell. In fact, if your traditionally published book doesn’t sell well, you’re going to have a lot of trouble getting a second book published. With self-publishing, it could be your third book that really takes off. With the traditional model, nobody’s gonna give you three chances to be a success. 

Traditional publishing is a lot like winning the lottery. It’s fun to fantasize about, but it probably won’t happen.  Even if you are wonderfully talented it Probably. Won’t. Happen. That’s a very hard realization to come to when you are a serious writer. You can spend a lifetime working for a dream that has very little chance of coming true. Literary agents can reject up to 99% of the works submitted to them. They have to. It’s a numbers game that is very difficult to win. Unfortunately, hard work and determination won’t get you as far as pure luck when it comes to getting published. You have to catch the right agent at the right time to get them to give you a chance. Many agents will only talk to you if you are referred by somebody else. That’s luck, not talent. If your neighbor is Stephen King, you’ve got a much better shot at being traditionally published than I do even if I work ten times harder. 

Another great thing about being a self-published author is the feeling of empowerment. You don’t ever feel like you’re degrading yourself or begging for an agent or publisher to throw you a crumb of bread. Most professionals in the traditional publishing world really don’t treat writers that way, but it still feels degrading. You send out hundreds of query letters that are mostly met with resounding silence. The recipients aren’t being rude – they simply don’t have the time or the resources to answer all those letters. I don’t blame them at all, but it’s still quite demoralizing.. I’ve always felt degraded whenever I’ve gone to literary conferences. Good luck getting near anybody who could help advance your career. You just get caught in the stampede of other hungry writers and you almost always go home empty-handed and with a lighter wallet. Very, very discouraging.

In the traditional art-by-committee model, the creative person – the one who comes up with the actual product you are going to sell and profit from – is often treated as the lowest man on the totem pole. This is especially true in the case of screenwriters. They’re pretty much treated like dirt and their work will get re-written by a team of executives so the final product is so homogenized that most screenplays start to all sound the same.  I don’t think traditional publishers are quite as bad, but the fact is that they’re only going to select tried-and-true book ideas that have already made money and that they think are going to hit again. Good luck trying to shop anything even remotely original to a traditional publisher.

Enter self-publishers. We can write whatever the hell we want. If we want to write a romance about two robots from the planet Mercury, we can do it. If it doesn’t make money, oh well. There’s more ideas where that came from. We can write the most outrageous, most creative things we can think of and send them out into the world with very little risk. We can take control of our own destiny without waiting for external validation that may never come.

 So what are you waiting for? You’re in charge now, so get to it!

– Linda Fausnet

**Writers:

Join my WRITERS email list for Writing Tips and Book Recommendations!

**Readers:

Join my READERS email list to receive just the Book Recommendations!

Self-Publishing : Taking Our Power Back

 

Dont Care

So I sent out about 70 query letters to literary agents for my middle-grade novel, The Joyville Sweat Sox. The response has been less than stellar. It’s not that the agents don’t like the novel, it’s just that they’re not reading it. So far, only one literary agent requested to read the novel.

I heard back from her just the other day.

The query response rate is never great, but it’s usually better than this. Typically, I will send out 70-80 query letters and about 4-5 of the agencies will request a full or partial of the manuscript. Sure, those four or five will almost surely reject the manuscript in the end, but at least you get a few weeks to dream.

Not this time. This time, only one literary agency requested to read the novel. This was the same agency who said they loved my last novel, said it had a strong chance of publication, and that they were seriously considering taking it on. Then, after two months of radio silence, ultimately declined because they were “too busy”. Given my history with this agency, I didn’t know if was a good thing that they requested this latest book or not. Would they be impressed if they now read two novels of mine that they enjoyed? Would they brush me off again? Would they not like this book?

Oddly, I hadn’t really been giving much thought to this latest submission. Normally, I sit around on pins and needles, waiting to hear back from the agency who will determine my fate. Will this be it? My big break? This time, I found myself forgetting that I even had submitted the book for consideration. I had already kind of made up my mind then when the response came in –  I’d be upset about it for few hours, and then let it go. There was kind of a lot riding on this submission. I really like this novel, I’m proud of it, and this one was the only agency biting. It was either them or nothing.

When the email response finally came in, the one from the agency with my novel’s title in the subject heading, I was overwhelmed with a sudden realization.

I don’t care.

Even before I read the email, I realized I simply did not care what they thought. That may not seem like a big deal, but I’ve spent my entire “career” as a writer living and dying by what agents, producers, editors, and publishers thought of my work. It was totally up to them as to whether my particular story would live another day or die a slow, languishing death.  And it was always death. Always. Over and over, I’ve been told I’m a good writer, told I have talent, and yet they always pass.

Things are different now. For the last year, I’ve been laboring to get my favorite novel. QUEEN HENRY, ready for self-publication. No, it’s not going to be on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, or on any library shelf. But it will be out there. If I get five readers, that will be five more than usually read my work. This time, there’s no maybe about it. As long as I’m still alive in 12 weeks, this is going to happen.

The same day I got the email from the agency, I’d spent the day making some final changes to QUEEN HENRY based on my latest editor’s feedback. I guess I was feeling especially productive and very attached to the material I was working on because I knew it was actually going somewhere come July. Suddenly, it just didn’t matter what the traditional publishing world thought of me because it was totally irrelevant.

The truth is that nobody knows what’s going to sell. Both traditional and self-publishers just make the best guess we can about what’s going to please the reader, but nobody knows for sure. The great thing is that, these days, a self-published author has just as much of a shot of being successful as a traditional published one. Sure, we may not sell as many copies as an author who’s backed by an agent and publisher, but we’re not forking over 80% of our profits, either. We don’t have to sell as many books to be successful. Since nobody knows what will sell, it makes sense for self-publishers to write the best book we can, release it to world, and then get to work on the next one. In the first one doesn’t sell, that sucks, but oh, well. There’s more where that came from. With traditional publishers, the door is slammed shut on 99% of writers before they even get a chance. Who knows how many bestsellers there could be in that large group of writers? It’s not really the publishers’ fault. It’s just business. It’s just not a particularly great business model anymore, which is why it’s failing…

Anyway.

It’s a good thing i didn’t care about what the literary agent thought of my work…

The truth is, they were actually quite complimentary. They said it was really good, funny, well-written, and so forth. They said, however, that it was in need of a “paid professional edit” to make it more accessible to middle-graders and they were more than happy to provide their special editorial services. A quick look at their website for such services revealed their prices were about $1000. At best, this is a conflict of interest. At worst, it’s a scam.

Which means that the best response that I ever got from a literary agent, the time where they “almost” represented my first novel, was a total lie.

I should be devastated.

I’m not.

It’s a combination of world-weariness (15 years as a screenwriter, 5 years as a novelist) and optimism as a self-publisher, but I just don’t care. This is not the first time I’ve been jerked around by a so-called professional in the biz, but it just might be the last. My plan was to query agents with my future novels, and then just self-publish when they all got rejected. Now, I’m thinking maybe I won’t bother. I just don’t really give a damn what the “professionals” think any more. It’s not that Joyville doesn’t need work – I’m sure it does. Being told by an agent that a book needs work is standard procedure. In fact, I would be suspicious of an agent that agreed to take on a work “as is” without suggesting any revision. However, I’ve never heard of an agent saying you must pay for a professional edit. I’ve been writing for a long time and have been read by many agents and producers – no one has ever said my work was not professionally written. This agency just told me that the book needed work in order to be more age-appropriate for middle-graders. This is probably a valid viewpoint and one that I will take under serious consideration in the future if I decide to go forward with publishing the book myself. However, any agency that tells you that you must pay for an edit – and that they would be more than happy to take your money – is not to be trusted.

I found it so liberating that my gut reaction to receiving the email – even before reading it – was indifference. It’s not that I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m in the process of having a couple of beta readers tear my second novel apart and for my own good. I care what they think because I care what my readers will ultimately think. It’s their ultimate opinions that matter the most. It’s just that the opinions of a few, highly selective traditional publishing folks stopped mattering to me somewhere along the way.

Cool.

I keep hearing Morgan Freeman’s voice in my head. “So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because, to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”

It’s time to let the readers decide.

– Linda Fausnet

UPDATE

QUEEN HENRY is now available at the following retailers:

Amazon eBook 

Paperback

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

* All proceeds net of taxes will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation **

**Writers:

Join my WRITERS email list for Writing Tips and Book Recommendations!

**Readers:

Join my READERS email list to receive just the Book Recommendations!

 

Traditional and Self-Publishing – There’s Room for All of Us on the Shelf

 

book-meme2

There’s no question that there are pros and cons for both traditional publishing and self-publishing. With traditional publishers, you have the validation of a big publisher and all the publicity and exposure that goes with it. However, you also have a very short shelf life. If your book doesn’t sell well quickly, it may be pulled from the shelves within a matter of weeks. Not so with self-publishing, where you have all the time you want for book to gain traction. It may not sell well at first, but within a year or more you could be quite successful as word of mouth spreads.

There are some in the traditional publishing world who look down on self-published authors, while there are those indie writers who think traditional agents and publishers are snooty and antiquated. My feeling is that there really is room in the book market for both types of writers and publishers. Traditional publishers are very much bestseller-oriented because they have to be. It’s the nature of the business. After all, they have to pay the agent and the distributor and shoulder the costs of cover design, multiple edits, publicity, and so forth. If they don’t sell an awful lot of copies, they will simply lose money. That being said, just as not every Hollywood movie is destined to be a blockbuster hit, not every book is going to be a bestseller. A bestseller has to appeal to the masses, and not every book is designed to do that.

My debut novel, QUEEN HENRY is all about LGBT equality. Sadly, an awful lot of people aren’t going to like that topic. Certain types of Christians and super-conservative people aren’t going to want anything to do with my book. If you watch the news, you’ll see that number hovers close to 50% of the population at times, though support for equality does continue to rise. Still, traditional publishers wanted no part of my book because they knew it was not likely to be a huge bestseller.

It’s unlikely that I will sell millions of copies of QUEEN HENRY, but as a self-publisher I don’t need to. I don’t have anywhere near the overheard for my book as big publishers do. Sure, I paid for a professional cover and an editor, but I don’t have to pay for a bunch of copies of a book that may or may not sell. That’s what POD (print on demand) is for. I’m not paying an agent (sorry ladies and gents. You had your chance…) and I will keep a far higher percentage of the sales than I would with a traditional publisher (though in the case of QUEEN HENRY, all of the proceeds will be going to the Harvey Milk Foundation).

The fact is, there is room on the virtual shelf for both the James Pattersons, the Danielle Steeles, and for my little gay book that nobody wanted. There are lots of LGBT people and allies out there who would be happy to read my book (I hope).

Ideally, both traditional publishers and self-publishers can learn to coexist peacefully. The best advice I can offer is to respect traditional agents and publishers because they’ve been doing this a lot longer than we have, and for the most part, they are quite knowledgeable of the literary field. For self-publishers, commit yourself to excellence. Don’t be a hack. Study. Learn the craft. Revise, revise, revise. Respect traditional publishers, but don’t sit around waiting on them to tell you that you’re good enough to publish your work. 

– Linda Fausnet

 

**Writers:

Join my WRITERS email list for Writing Tips and Book Recommendations!

**Readers:

Join my READERS email list to receive just the Book Recommendations!

 

 

On Finding the Energy to Deal with Traditional Publishing

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation.

34 Weeks Until Publication

Right now I’m wrapping up the final query letters to agents and publishers for my middle grade novel, RAIN ON THE WATER, and I’m about to start rewrites on another middle grade novel in January. Of course, I’m still working on getting my novel, QUEEN HENRY, ready to self-publish in July. Though I know it’s possible to self-publish middle grade novels, it seems to me that it would be extremely difficult to market to nine-to-twelve-year-old kids online. Yes, I’m sure there are nine-year-olds are Twitter, but they shouldn’t be! Essentially, I feel like it’s traditional publishing or bust when it comes to my middle grade stories.

It’s amazing to me how different my experiences are with self-publishing vs traditional publishing. When I’m working on my self-publishing project, I feel excited and invigorated. I feel like everything I read, everything I learn, everything I write, everything I DO goes toward the final product. With traditional publishing, I often feel depressed, even hopeless sometimes. So little is up to me with that process. I work extremely hard, but I always hit a huge wall that separates me from the Traditional Publishing World. I’m not allowed in there. That wall is guarded by Agents and Publishers who keep telling me, no matter how hard I try, I do not have permission to enter. For the most part, they’re nice, reasonable, professional people who are not out to get me. It’s just that there are hundreds of thousands of us writers, like peasants, who are begging to get past that wall and they have to tell most of us NO. That’s just the way it is. It’s not personal. They don’t even know who we are. We’re just faceless peasants trying to get in. They don’t even look at us, so they’ll never really know how good or bad we are. We’re just bodies in a crowd.

In the Guide to Literary Agents, there are hundreds of literary agents listed. Out of those hundreds and hundreds PLUS the huge listing of agents listed online at the Association of Author’s Representatives, I found exactly 87 agents who were willing to consider new, unpublished writers and who happened to be interested in my genre. So I queried those 87 agents. Of those 87 agents, 5 of them requested to read a full or partial manuscript. Four of those agents rejected the story kindly and actually had some good things to say about it. In a particularly heartbreaking gesture, one agent said she wanted to represent me and then changed her mind…

It took weeks to pore over all those agent lists. You can’t just go by what’s in the book. You have to go look up the agency online and see what their submission guidelines are and if they are still looking for work in your genre. It’s very frustrating to find an agency that is actually seeking books in my specific genre, only to go online and find out that their policy is to only consider people who are referred by a published author or if they’ve met you personally at a conference. To me, this policy is infuriatingly unfair. Remember the image of peasants trying to get past the huge wall? That’s what it’s like to go to a writing conference. I’ve only been to a few conferences, and I’ve left each one in tears. I found the whole experience frustrating, demeaning, and demoralizing, not to mention it cost me a lot of money that I simply do not have to spare. One conference actually had a session on “How to Make the Most of Your Relationship with Your Agent”. I’m sure the select few who are lucky enough to get an agent might need this session, but for me it felt like a painful slap in the face. That’s like going to a matchmaking conference and having a session for brides on “Planning Your Wedding”.

Now I’m sure there are a lot of warm, wonderful literary agents out there, but I will never forget a comment I overheard from a speaker at a conference. She said “I like doing these things, but you always wind up with a whole line of people who want to talk to you.” I will never forget how small and insignificant that comment made me feel. I didn’t bother to hang around to speak to her. She may be one of the ones whose submission guidelines say you must have met her personally to submit, yet she doesn’t want to talk to you at a conference.

And I don’t care how much social networking you do, most writers DO NOT know traditionally published authors personally. Their virtual peasant line is probably longer than the one for Agents and Publishers. Even the kindest authors do not have time to get to know a bunch of wannabe writers, let alone will they vouch for them. And why should they?

Even when you do find an Agent who is willing to read a query letter from someone she doesn’t know, the odds are still pretty infinitesimal that she will be interested enough in the story to actually take the time to read it. This is totally understandable, but discouraging nonetheless. They may get hundreds of queries every day and they’re looking for a reason to get your query out of their inbox. Wouldn’t you?

If you think getting an Agent is impossible, the odds get worse when you try to approach a Publisher. I pored though all 230 pages of publishers listed in the 2014 Writer’s Market to find publishers in my genre who were willing to review manuscripts of unagented writers.

I found thirteen.

There are thirteen small publishers who will consider my book even though I don’t have an agent.

Several of the listings who refuse to consider me actually state “We suggest you find a literary agent to represent you.” Like I hadn’t thought of that and already been through hell and back trying. That’s like telling someone who lost their job “We suggest you go out and win the lottery”. Sometimes I feel like lottery odds are better than winning the publishing game. I really do.

Of those thirteen listings, two of them require an exclusive of three months. Meaning if I submit my manuscript to them, I’m not allowed to send it anywhere for three months. At that rate, I could submit to four publishers a year. One publisher stated that they required a three-month exclusive “For obvious reasons”. Yes, it’s obvious that you want the odds weighted squarely in your favor and you don’t mind tying the writer’s hands for three months. PASS. Yes, even we peasant writers have a choice when submitting and I’m not wasting my time on YOU.

So. You can see where the feelings of hopelessness come from. You can’t help asking yourself – What’s the point?

I’m wrapping up queries on RAIN ON THE WATER now, so the agony is almost over for this story. But what about the one I’m supposed to start working on in January? I’ve finished the first draft, but of course there’s a lot more work to be done on that one. I’m finding it very hard to summon the energy to start the whole process over again. I can’t help but think that the only thing the future holds for the next novel is more frustration, rejection, and hopelessness. You try to be optimistic, but the harsh truth is that hard work and perseverance really might not be enough, no matter what it says on that inspirational meme.

A wonderful agent recently wrote an article essentially stating that fact. You can have a great query AND a great book and STILL get rejected. Repeatedly, and maybe forever. WHY YOU’RE GETTING REJECTIONS.

I know I’ve painted a rather negative picture of Agents and Publishers here, but the truth is that I’ve encountered a lot of kindhearted professionals in this business. Traditional Publishers really aren’t out to get you. It’s just a numbers game that even really good writers have a very small chance of winning. It’s NOT just about talent. It’s talent and hard work, but it’s also about luck, who you happen to know, and who has enough money to attend lots of writer conferences.

So why try?

It’s getting harder and harder for me to answer that question, especially with the advent of self-publishing. Still, if I want to write middle grade, its keep trying to scale the Agent/Publisher wall or quit altogether. So for this next novel, it’s going to be Traditional Publishing or nothing.

Want to lay odds on which one will happen?

Why am I doing this again?

That’s a hard question to answer right at this moment. But I’m betting that when I open up that first draft I wrote, read it, and start walking in the footsteps of my characters again, I’m going to remember all the reasons why I do this.

-Linda Fausnet