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.