A Publishing Dilemma

I am just about finished with rewrites on my fifth novel (the first four are still in various stages of development, along with the sixth and seventh) and I’m now approaching the point where there’s little writing or editing left to be done with it. And in all honesty, I’m really happy with the way it’s turning out. My beta readers, for the most part, seem to have enjoyed it, too. By the end of March, it should be ready to go.

Image by j/k_lolz, via Flickr

Image by j/k_lolz, via Flickr

That leaves me with quite the conundrum. Anyone who reads this blog regularly or follows me on Twitter or Facebook is probably familiar with my support of indie publishing and authors taking charge of their own careers. You’re probably also familiar with the fact that I’ve already self-published my own non-fiction book, Internet Famous, and have my own publishing company set up.

When I decided to self-publish Internet Famous, I had very set reasons for doing so. First, I wanted to get the book out quickly. I didn’t want to spend six months to a year finding an agent, then another six months or more finding a publisher, and then another year or more getting the book into print. The subject matter was timely, and I was afraid that if I waited that long, there could be a dozen books on virtually the same topic out in the meantime. The other big reason was that non-fiction has an easier time in the self-pub world, as it’s often easier to reach your niche.

So self-publishing Internet Famous was kind of a no-brainer. And while sales have been much slower than I’d hoped for, I consider it an ongoing project, and one that will soon be seeing some big changes. But more on that in another post.

Back to fiction. I love the indie novelist/author/publisher movement. I think it’s wonderful and empowering and a great thing for both writers and readers. There’s so much possibility there, so much room for growth, and I want desperately to be there, to contribute to it, and to challenge the conventions the publishing industry has held dear for generations.

But, and this is a big “but”, I wonder if I wouldn’t be better served by a mainstream publisher. That was a very difficult statement for me to type. As I’ve said, I love indie. I love everything about it. It speaks to the control freak that lurks not-so-deep within me. (Unless you’re an agent reading this; then I’m not a control freak at all and am the easiest writer to work with in the world. Promise.) And my book isn’t particularly niche-focused. It’s contemporary women’s fiction. Pretty mainstream, pretty commercial.

The other drawback to indie publishing for me at this point is time. I don’t have a whole lot of it. I have full-time blogging/editing/writing commitments already, none of which I want to give up. I have one self-published book out there that needs further attention. And I also have a lack of access to large numbers of book buyers. I live in a small town, I’m not particularly involved in my community, and there aren’t any real cities nearby. While I do have a large number of people who are familiar with my blogging (even a few fans, I think, which makes me smile every time I think of them), they’re not really my target market for this book.

So, I think I’ve developed a plan. I’m going to try the traditional route with this one first. I’ve created a list of roughly forty agents who I both admire and who I think might be a good fit for this book. I’m going to start querying them in the next couple of weeks, now that my rewrites are basically done. If I get no bites, then I’ll go through every publisher I think might be interested. If I still have no bites (which will be really depressing, btw), then I’m going to self publish.

What I’m hoping is that by the time I’ve gone through all the agents/publishers/whatever, I’ll have my next women’s fiction book finished (this would be either the sixth or seventh). And then I’ll release this one, the fifth one, for free to build a platform for the sixth. I’m honestly hoping I’ll find an agent, land a decent publishing deal, and start a long career as a novelist. I’m also not holding my breath and realize it’s a tough market out there.

So, while I will continue to support my indie friends, I’m gonna sell out and try my hand at mainstream for the moment. I may rejoin their ranks before long, and I’m sure at some point I’ll have a novel or two that don’t fit into the mainstream and will better fit the indie mindset.

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10 thoughts on “A Publishing Dilemma

  1. I honestly think that being unable to get any bites from 40 agents is by far the worst reason to self-publish. It shows the book doesn’t grab, and the best thing you could do in that case is revise until it does. Keep submitting until you get some serious bites, THEN decide if you want the traditional or indie way.

    IMO, writers publishing when they can’t find a market for their fiction is THE singlemost reason so many self-published books fail to satisfy. Of course, it’s always everyone else’s book that’s not good enough and mine that’s great, but… I’d try to look at it from a more objective viewpoint. If 40 agents show no interest, then it’s not commercial, not good enough. Harsh, but true.

    • If I get no bites, then I definitely think I’ll set it aside for awhile and look at it again with fresh eyes later. But if it’s a matter of just not being able to find the right publisher/agent, I’d rather have it out there as a free ebook at least and use it to build up a platform for later work. It seems like half of what publishers want nowadays is a platform (the other half being the actual work).

      Also, I don’t want to go with a small publisher for this one. I kind of feel like I can do most of what a small publisher can (I’ve put out one book before), so why not just publish myself? And I’m realistic enough to know that I may not (ie, probably won’t) find a big, mainstream publisher. The last thing I want to do is have a bookshelf full of finished but unpublished manuscripts. I’d rather have them out there and enjoyed by a few than collecting dust.

  2. Supposing you get nibbles, but no actual bites?

    I’n just starting a second tranche of submissions for Heart of Rock. From the first two dozen or so, I had several personal rejections, and four requests for the full typescript – which led to four rejections, three of them rave rejections.

    This makes me think the book’s of publishable standard; but it’s a matter of chance whether I happen on an agent who likes my book, is looking for a new author, believes it fits her list, and thinks she can sell it.

    So I’m not sure forty is enough to try before self-publishing in today’s climate. But I totally agree with you that a small number of readers is better than none at all…

  3. I have very set ideas about where I want my career to go. Small press isn’t on the list (again, I’d rather just self-publish). Building up a platform is an important part of my plan. Having a big publisher is one way to go about that, but the other is to do it on my own. And people are more likely to give a debut author a chance if they don’t have to shell out any cash. Hence the free ebook if it doesn’t find a good home.

    I view writing as a business. There are certain things I want to accomplish in this business, and not every publisher or agent out there is going to fit with what I want. I think as authors sometimes we get so wrapped up in getting published by anyone (legitimate, not vanity publishers or anything like that), that we don’t take a minute and step back to look at how our career will benefit from that arrangement.

    Honestly, I wasn’t even going to go the mainstream route at all with this novel initially. I planned on releasing it as a free ebook to build a platform for my next novel. But, considering the next novel is still about six months from completion (or maybe more), I don’t want to release it yet. So why not try to find a mainstream publisher? If I don’t, I’m no worse off than I was to begin with. And if I do, maybe I’ll be a lot better off (or maybe not).

  4. I struggled with this, but ultimately decided to self publish after considering the risks and rewards of each, as I see them:

    If I self publish and fail, I’ve lost the time I spent producing and marketing the book, and a relatively small investment. Obscurity would also mean that I could try the traditional route as a new face.

    From what I understand of the current fiction market, a mediocre response to my book (for whatever the reason) would mean failure, and publishers would be unlikely to give me another shot. I would lose the rights to my book, and if I later developed a successful following through my own effort, I would make a fraction of that revenue.

    It’s really deciding which way to gamble.

    My understanding could be wrong, of course, and I would prefer a career as a best-selling author over the prospect of doing it myself with no promise of success, but from a few blogs I’ve read, large advances (over 10K) are the exception these days, and it seems that much of the marketing and brand building is still put in the hands of the author. So either way, I’m going to be responsible for my own success. I figure I have a better shot at making a living from it if I take the attitude of the little red hen.

    I published my book in late January, and I’ve sold about 75 copies, with really no personal brand and a tiny network. My current goal is 5,000 copies, so I need to pick it up.

    Good luck, whichever way is right for you.

    • I definitely know what you mean regarding advances and not getting another contract if your book doesn’t do well. The good news about that, though, is that once your book goes out of print, you can (usually) terminate the contract and take your rights back. This is true (in most cases) even if the publisher keeps it as a POD title as long as sales are low. The main thing is to go over any contract with a fine-tooth comb and try to keep as many rights as possible.

      The other thing that is often a good idea for debut authors is to negotiate a higher royalty rate and a lower advance. This way, it’s easier to sell-through, which makes you look better to other publishers down the road. If your book is a success, you get the benefit of a higher royalty rate down the road, and if it isn’t, you’ve still got a better chance of at least earning out your advance.

      I’d say 75 copies in just over a month is a pretty good number for a first-time, self-published novelist. Are you only selling paperback or have you also put out an ebook version? If not, I’ve found Smashwords is a great way to publish ebooks, and I’d highly recommend them.

  5. I think the fact that you view writing as a business bodes well and will put you higher in most agent/publishers’ estimation than many writers they encounter.

    Have you thought about tracking down your top picks (agents) and trying to meet them in person at a conference this Spring/Summer?

    Usually, if an agent is at a conference, they offer one-on-one critique sessions, where they will look at a few pages of your mss. I’ve spoken to agents who say it’s absolutely the best way to get a foot in the door with them; that they’re quite likely to ask you to send a chapter if they’ve met you — and remember you when it arrives.

    Best of luck!

    • I’ve considered going to conferences, but between work and family obligations, don’t really see it happening this year. Although I am hoping to attend at least one workshop that editors and agents generally attend (if I get in, which means I should probably hurry up and get my application all set since it’s due next week). Thanks for the tip, though.

  6. Hi Cameron,

    I have no idea why I’m just getting notification of this blog, 5 months after it was posted. But I wanted to comment on it nonetheless.

    The decision to go the traditional publishing route or self publishing is difficult and really depends on your goal. Since you want to be recognized as a published author, it seems that the traditional route is the one to try first … as you stated above. Then there’s always the small presses too, if you can’t find an agent to represent your book to traditional publishers.

    Now that 5 months have passed, how have you fared with your search.

    I look forward to your current information.

    • Recognition isn’t really that important to me. I’m more concerned with readers. With all the options available out there now, especially when it comes to ebook publishing, I don’t think traditional publishers are necessarily the best way to connect with readers for a lot of authors. I know of a number of people who have self-published ebooks and have gained quite a readership doing so.

      That being said, I still have plans to try the traditional route. I’m working on revisions to the novel I started subbing at the beginning of the summer (based on some agent feedback). I’m also working on revisions for a second novel, which I’m hoping to start subbing in another month or two. And I have a handful of other works in progress. One of these will likely be serialized on this blog, and released as an ebook to help build a readership while the other one is subbed to agents and publishers.

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