It’s hardly a new question to consider: hold out for an agent and a publisher that will hopefully lead to a big things, or self publish and work to build an audience yourself.
If you’re keen to snag a traditional publishing deal you might well be spending your time submitting to agents, writing and rewriting synopsis’, dealing with rejections and re-submitting, in the hope of finding representation.
Who knows? Maybe you’re brilliant, or maybe you’re lucky. You might get the advance and the multi-book deal you’ve been dreaming of. And if you don’t, at least you’ve kept your integrity, right? At least you aimed high. At least you didn’t stick it on Amazon and set it adrift amidst the sea of self published flotsam, the fifty shades of shit we now have to wade through whenever we want to browse through our biggest digital bookstore.
I’ll admit it, the above was my own view for many years. Even when writers I knew and admired ‘went digital’, I felt vaguely superior in holding out for a major agent/publisher.
Well, last week I arranged for a fantastic illustrator to design a cover for my first completed novel, The art of Misdirection, which I’ll be self publishing in April, and next week I’ll be arranging for an editor to do a final pass.
So, what changed?
Time plays a part here. While I’ve focused on finding an agent, some of my writer friends are pushing ahead, getting their content out there and moving on to the next thing. Science fiction writer David J Rodger (a man with a work ethic comparative to Balzac), and Cthulu obsessive John Houlihan, who recently published four books in one day, are both currently self publishing in earnest (not that they haven’t both dabbled with traditional models in the past).
Talking to Rodger or Houlihan is inspiring stuff – not only are they good writers, but they’re getting on with the process of writing and publishing their work, ultimately they’re being read – which is what a writer wants. If you’re not being read, it’s arguable that you’re not really a writer at all. Besides, being read can lead to other things too.
Recently stricken by a music analogy, I wonder how many bands are sat at home rehearsing, only ever playing live in the hope of being signed by a major label? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it.
There’s a great piece by David Vinjamuri that expands on a lot of the thoughts I’ve been having around this, summarising some of the polarised attitudes that exist around self-publishing.
Compare Sue Grafton’s attitude:
To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. … Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall
… with Hugh Howey’s (author of the Silo Series), and in particular his summing up:
Instead of wasting one’s time writing query letters, why not work on that next manuscript instead?
All well and good to suggest if you can’t cut the traditional route you should put down your pen, but traditional publishing has plenty of misfires and mistakes under it’s belt and when the quick moving world of social media is becoming an integral part of marketing new books, it feels like the publish and be damned option is the smarter move.
Considering Howey’s success, (from self-publish, to publishing deal, to Hollywood) I’m going to self publish… and get to work on the next manuscript.
Currently reading: The Mailman, by Bentley Little. Hugely enjoyable Stephen King-esque creepy horror set in small town America. How Bentley Little has passed me by so far is beyond me. If this is indicative of his other output I’ll be devouring everything I can find of his over the next few months. Perfectly paced character driven horror. Highly recommended.