Marie Meets the Publishing Industry: Do I wanna be a publisher?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the shock I felt when I emerged from my writing cave to find that the publishing world had gone mad. I’ve (mostly) recovered from that trauma and have been pondering the question: “So what are my options?”

As I see it, I have three choices. (Well, four—if you want to count “Quit writing and take up painting ceramic frogs.”)

1. I can continue to fling my novel against the great wall of the publishing industry and hope to draw attention to myself. 

If you visit Querytracker, you’ll still see plenty of hopefuls pursuing that route. This could be the faster road to fame and money. Winning the lottery would be another fast road. But I’m a statistician—I don’t like the odds either way.

Plus I know myself. Trying to be creative in the face of such odds would be the death knell to the writer in me, especially when I know my work will likely be rejected for reasons that might have nothing to do with quality.

Finally, bookstores are closing all over and large publishing houses face major setbacks. It seems unwise to load your eggs into a truck that’s about to crash.

2. I can circulate my novel among the small press and indie publishers.

This seems like a more appealing option. Small press publishers are more willing to take chances on work they believe in. Many of them hire quality cover artists, provide editing services, and set high standards for production value. Plus small press publishers can be more nimble than the big houses. Perhaps they can more readily adapt to changes in the industry.

I looked into this option and found that small press publishers tend to operate with their doors shut. Some will only look at agented material, which sends me back to the line of writers running the gauntlet of agents. Others open for submission only for brief intervals. Most don’t have enough resources to publish more than ten or fifteen books a year.

Again, statistician + bad odds = try something else.

3. I can self-publish.

I already know the arguments against this.

Self-publishing is the mark of someone who can’t make it in traditional publishing. 

Yeah. So. What’s your point?  I believe I’ve already explained why I can’t (or don’t want to try) to make it in traditional publishing. Besides, we all know that traditional publication is not a mark of excellence. The true mark of excellence is highly subjective:  it is the ability to engage readers. Indie writers are engaging large numbers of readers, these days.

But you’ll have to do all that marketing and promotion yourself!

Guess what, Sugar Plum – most traditionally published writers already have to do their own marketing. As far as I can see, if you’re a newbie or midlist writer, publishers package your book with some level of editing, provide a cover that may or may not be suitable, and put your book in a catalog from which book sellers choose inventory. That’s about it. (Well, sometimes they throw okay parties at conventions, too.) Self-publishers can hire editors and artists, and getting your book in a catalog becomes less important as bookstores become an endangered species.

It’s true, self-publishing is a lot of work, and writing is only part of it. But you have the opportunity to produce a novel that is as true to your vision as your skills and pocket allow. That feels a lot better than making changes and accepting “compromises” that you don’t necessarily believe in. And the book will be published. Maybe only friends and relatives will buy it, and maybe most of them won’t actually read it. But it will be out there, which is better than letting it gather dust in a drawer.

You’ve probably sensed this coming, but I’ll say it out loud: I’ve decided to dip my toes in the waters of self-publishing.* For now, I’m letting go of the agent-publisher minefield, of the anxious waiting and second-guessing, and focusing on that which I can control.

Trust me, it’s a liberating decision.

*If you want to learn more about changes in the publishing industry, spend some time at the Passive Guy’s blog, especially posts from the summer.  If you want to read a more thorough explanation why indie publishing is a viable option, see this post from J.W. Manus.  You can learn her first-hand experiences with problems in traditional publishing in some of her older posts.  And while you’re there, you might check out the first eight chapters of her novel, Dead Crazy.  It’s a well-written, fun read, if you like forensics and zombies.

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About Marie Loughin

I love reading, writing, and editing speculative fiction of all sorts. My current focus is on writing contemporary fantasy, where I get to play god with characters from myth and legend. My Norse-based urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding, is available at Kindle Books and other e-book retailers. You can find me at my blog (marieloughin.com) and on Twitter (@mmloughin).
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11 Responses to Marie Meets the Publishing Industry: Do I wanna be a publisher?

  1. I totally agreed with your assesment on the chances of publishing with the main stream people. I also know from experience that an e-pub is wonderful to work with, but they do not promote your book for you. And so I just recently self-pubbed the first in a new series. It was a lot of work but – did I ever feel good when I’d suceeded and the work was finished. So good luck and let me know on Paranormal Musings if I can be of any help.
    Mimi

  2. Sandy Hunter says:

    Very true to today’s writer’s angst over this question.
    My first query on my YA was sent to a Canadian publisher whose list of authors and work I admired. Hearing nothing…still nothing… I was of course pursuing other publishers and querying agents…imagine my surprise when just after signing a contract with an e-publisher, I get a request from one of the Canadian house editors for my full ms. A year and a half later…

  3. RobynC says:

    1. I hear there’s a very good market for ceramic frogs these days. Just say’n; it’s always good to have a backup.
    2. Maybe this is in the blog you mention– Why do so many BAD novels of certain Genres seem to have no problem getting published? It seems like if you want to throw together a bodice-ripper in a certain formula, the wall gets a lot lower. Or is this changing too? Lord knows if I suddenly wanted to read just Romances, I could get a years worth of reading material for $5 at any flea market.
    3. It distresses me that these circles you talk about seem to be writers writing for other writers– when you talk about indie writers engaging large numbers of readers, it makes me wonder how far outside of the circles a casual reader like me that has no desire to do much research about it – is.
    Well, once that’s the only way to find new authors… I guess I at least have good connections. B-)
    Hugz
    Robyn

    • Large publishing houses choose books to publish based on trends. They have to know how they’ll market a book before they’ll agree to publish it. If an editor comes to the marketing department with a Twilight clone, they’ll wave it on through as long as the paranormal romance trend is alive and well. Notice Marketing probably doesn’t read the book. Quality is not necessarily an issue to them, as long as the market isn’t “saturated.” But if the editor comes to them with something new and unique, he/she will have to work awfully hard to convince marketing to sell it no matter how great it is. “We don’t know what genre to shelve it under” kills an awful lot of books.

      As for writers writing for other writers — it’s true, that’s a problem. But it’s also true that writers read an awful lot. And writers have friends. So it’s better than not publishing at all, eh?

      As for finding new authors, the easiest approach is to join a forum like Goodreads, Librarything, or Kindle boards. You might enjoy it. I joined Kindle Boards and asked who is writing good urban fantasy these days that is not paranormal romance in disguise. Within a couple of days, I was given about 15 new authors to try, some of whom were indie. It was easy and took little of my time. (None of the indie writers suggested their own stuff, which was honorable.)

      There are also review blogs out there. If the book stores close so you can’t browse as easily any more, then you might start checking those out. Try to find a reviewer who seems to share your taste. (If I find a reviewer that I think might match your taste, I’ll let you know. E-mail me some of your current favorites.)

  4. Blue Jean says:

    Or you can find a wealthy patron (or several not-so-wealthy ones). That works for some people….

  5. Paul D. Dail says:

    Marie, saw your comment on Jonathan’s Shaggin the Muse and thought I’d stop by.
    When I completed the first (and very rough) draft of my novel probably 8 years ago, I felt much the same way as you. That there was a reason certain writers had to self-publish. But those were different days.

    Actually, days when I signed with a pretty reputable agent. After working with her for almost 7 years, unfortunately she told me that she was no longer promoting horror. Now while I definitely came out of those 7 years with a world’s better novel, I still felt like I was back to square one.

    So I self-published. And while the self-promotion and marketing (blech) has been a ton of work, I wouldn’t change it. I’m still planning on shopping for a new agent, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying seeing some people finally read what I’ve worked so long on.

    Don’t worry. After awhile, you won’t feel the need to justify your actions anymore :)

    If you want to see my own personal battle with this decision, I entitled mine, “To ‘e,’ or Not to ‘e'”
    http://pauldail.com/2011/06/23/to-e-or-not-to-e-as-in-e-publish/

    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • I’m sorry you lost your agent like that. The publishing world is a complicated mess for them, too, right now. I’d come to the conclusion this summer that I wouldn’t rush to get a agent until things settle down, maybe two years (then Dean Wesley Smith recommended the same thing and I felt justified). Meanwhile, I don’t want the current book hanging over me. My friends will tell you that I revise things to death, even after they’re “finished.” It’s time to set this one free and move on.

      • Paul D. Dail says:

        Yeah, it was a pretty serious kick in the pants. She is still keeping the door open and has been amazing with giving me advice, but she was definitely my safety net.

        And I agree with you on the “revising things to death.” I have had my idea for my second book for about six years, but besides pages of notes, I’ve never really been able to start working on it until I felt confident that I was done with The Imaginings. After several years of revisions, making the decision to self-publish was my way to “set this one free and move on” as you so eloquently put it.

        And good information from Dean Wesley Smith. Means I can keep doing what I’m doing for now (along with you, eh?).

        Paul D. Dail
        http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

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