Been spending some time on LitReactor yesterday and today. I think I posted part one of this series on Snip.it, but now that they are up to part three, I thought I would post it on Rubble, as well.
Recently, most of the posts here have been about visual art. Need to get more literature into the mix!
This is an industry built on disappointment. Unless you are famous or a presidential candidate or have a blog about cats, the road to a published book is paved with rejection letters and false-starts. Part of the game is putting on a brave face and plugging away. It doesn't matter how lucky I am, I'm still going to spend a lot of this column writing about failure.
If you want to get published today, there are three options, as I see them: self-publish, publish with a small house that accepts unsolicited submissions, or get an agent.
I put a lot of thought into this, and I've decided to try for an agent, for the following reasons:
- Better chance for a bigger publishing house
- Editorial support
- Career guidance
That last one is a biggie. I'm sitting on four book ideas right now in various stages of development. One is a sequel to Apophenia. One is a spin-off. Two are, I guess, traditionally literary-ish. Eventually I want to dabble in sci-fi. I've got a YA fantasy comic book concept I want to do. I want to write comic books in general, and would kill to get a crack at Spider-man or Batman. And I would love to write a Doctor Who novelization (because I know I'll never get to write an episode of the show, so I'll take what I can get).
One interesting quote from this first column, one I posted on Facebook and had an interesting conversation about with an old friend who is a published author…
I know self-publishing is supposed to be the land of honey and gumdrops and unicorns, because it means more control and more profit. But by my estimation, you've got to spend 80 percent of your time promoting yourself to be successful if you self-publish. Which leaves you about 20 percent of your time for writing. And I want to write. That's my priority.
Perhaps I just have an old media bias, but I still have a real problem with self-publishing. Sure, a lot of crap gets published and I am sure that brilliance has been self-published at some point in history, but there is a lot to be said about the credibility and vetting provided by actually being published by a real publishing house, small or major.
As the author of this column writes, receiving repeated rejections of his manuscript forced him to sit down and take a closer look at it, and he was forced to address some fundamental flaws that he would never have fixed if he had just decided to self-publish. Then the book probably would have just been another ego soaked exercise in creative turd laying instead of becoming one of the few, semi-mythical self-published gems drifting around out there.
Of course, if your only purpose in writing is to make money, then I suppose the arguments in favor of self-publishing are valid. However, if you are writing in hopes of making money, especially creative writing, then you are probably retarded. Writing fiction is not a money making endeavor.
Full disclosure, I self-published a calendar last year. This was to make money.
This year I hope to crank out a couple short stories and to get started on a draft of a novel. At this stage, any thoughts about publishing are purely academic for me.
Still, I look at these efforts as a hobby and an avocation, not as a vocation. Of course, I would love to make the best sellers list, buy a big house, go on book signing tours, and never have to work a real job again. Of course, I am deluded enough to think that, if I put in another 10 years and write several novels and get a couple published that I just might be able to make a small but self-sufficient living from writing fiction.
Every plan I have for my life, from the humblest and even most pessimistic to the most outrageous flights of delusional fantasy… None of them have creative writing as my primary source of income.
I am not sure how many current working creative writers make a full time, living wage income from writing fiction, but my guess is less than a thousand. And rich (which in this context I mean upper middle class and higher, nowhere near the 1%)? Probably far less than a hundred. But I do not have any real stats.
So why would one ever consider self-publishing? The money? Not gonna be there. The prestige and credibility gained from paying someone to print your text? It is a mystery to me.
Blah. Enough of that tangent. There are a couple links on this theme below, but back to the Path To Publication columns.
…if you want an agent, it takes a lot of research and reading, because there's a right way and a wrong way to do this. Wrong way: Carpet bomb every agent in existence so as many of them as possible get your material. Right way: Strategic targeting; look for agents who skew toward your sensibilities, influences and style. You would think that querying every agent ever would increase the odds of you getting representation, right? Not really. Querying agents who prefer YA or won't consider genre lit doesn't help me. Which means when I'm looking for an agent, I'm doing more than reading bios on a website; I'm checking for other clients, reading interviews, anything I can get my hands on. Ultimately, I'd rather send 10 good queries than a hundred blind shots from the hip.
And, where do you find an agent?
First, there's Writer's Market, a yearly publication that lists agents and publishers. But that's a little primeval, isn't it? I mean, researching by flipping through the pages of a book? There has to be better way...
Another good source is AgentQuery.com, an online database that lets you search for agents based on categories or interests. Better, but I want something that's a little more interactive.
Then there's QueryTracker.net, recommended to me by the indomitable Richard Thomas. It does more than just help you find agents. It lets you maintain a database, keep track of queries, and read notes left by other users. You can join for free, but for $25 a year you get additional perks.
Here's another fun method:
Go to Amazon. Search for an author or book you think is similar to you and your work. Now, go to the section where it says: Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought. That'll bring up a bunch of other similar authors. A little Google-fu and I can figure out who their agents are, and see if I might be a good fit in their client list, if they're accepting submissions, etc.
Further reading: 25 Things Writers Should Know About Agents by Chuck Wendig.
Oh, and I'm leaving you with another reading assignment: How To Get A Book Deal In 3,285 Days. It's by Matthew McBride, author of the excellent Frank Sinatra in a Blender. If this does not get you revved up, you are in the wrong place.
And onto the 3rd column which touches a little more on the actual nuts and bolts of writing, as opposed to marketing and selling your writing…
Him being a musician and me being a writer, our methods are different, but we're both striving toward the same goal: To create a piece of art that elicits an emotional response.
We both share a high personal standard of quality. Neither of us wants to stand behind an inferior product when we know we can do better. But it's easy to get trapped by those feelings. One of the issues we've discussed, more than once, is: When can you look at something and say it's done?
It's a tough call. I could spend the rest of my life tinkering with my prose. Prophetnoise could spend the rest of his life trying to make his bass whomp harder. And ultimately, we could both end up with nothing to show for it.
This is big, not only in art but in life. No project is ever really done, but at some point we have to wrap it up and move on. Also, there is the danger of taking project past done. This is the point where we are either running in circles or even just making things worse.
Last night, I fell asleep watching the documentary on the creation of a South Park episode. Those guys crank out an episode in one week, from concept to air. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this, but last night, like before, one line really stuck in my mind.
It was Trey Parker explaining that, sure, they could take a month to produce an episode, but at best the extra time would make it, at best, only 5% better, and potentially even make it worse.
I find that I fall into this trap the most frequently with my photography. I have to be careful that I do not tweak and tweak a picture until it looks far worse than it did when it originally came off my camera.
But more likely and more risky is falling into the trap the columnist mentions: endless revisions keeping a project from ever seeing the light of day. With my professional writing and going back to my academic writing in school, there is always a deadline, a point where, no matter how I felt about a text, I had to stick it with a fork and call it done.
With personal, creative writing and other artistic projects, though, lacking any but the most meaningless, arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines, it can be really hard letting go.
Being a writer or a musician or anything means being able to make peace with your own work, and know when it's time to move on.
He wraps the third column up with a few words about networking…
The path to publication is not a straight or predictable line. It is fraught with twists and turns. This lady got her book published because she was discussing it with a friend on the subway.
Querying isn't the only way to get published. Networking is important too. And over the past month, besides editing and stressing about this column, I've been doing a lot of networking. Like going out for drinks with other writers. And getting a short story picked up by a very groovy noir journal. And getting another story short-listed for an anthology. And tending to my public profile (for what it is) by blogging here.
If you want to get published, it helps to keep multiple channels open. I'm not saying you need to do a million extra-curricular activities to get a book deal. I'm just saying: These are the things I'm doing, and it can't hurt (except for when I write blog posts that make people angry).
As I was clipping this post together, I saw these articles on self-publishing and decided to include them here. I should slap all of these together into their own post, but I am tired. It has been a long weekend…
Note, these articles are written by the same writer and he admits to exaggerating the arguments of both sides to provide contrast between the two sides.
The writer’s own opinion? From the second piece:
At the risk of belaboring what should be an obvious point, the two standpoints I’ve just set out are deliberately exaggerated for effect, and neither of them describe my own particular attitude, which pretty much boils down to “wait it out or suck it and see”; I don’t think the earthquake’s over yet, and unless you’ve a knack for the cut’n’thrust combat of a retail market power-vacuum, you’re probably best to let the hustlers hustle while you stick to punching keys and making stuff up in your head.
…the seedy hucksterisms of the vanity presses are being elbowed aside, and authors heretofore snubbed by the snobbery of literature’s gatekeepers can go straight to the marketplace. Never before has it been easier to write creative works and disseminate them all over the globe; there are even mechanisms for getting people to pay you for the stuff. (And mechanisms for them to avoid paying, of course.)
Best of all, you get to keep a bigger chunk of the booty from your conquests. Why would you want to get a deal with a publisher, anyway? That advance figure you’ll be offered (if you even get an advance worthy of the name, which - for a first non-celebrity novel outside the barely-read critical darling that is the literary genre - is becoming increasingly rare) is basically a loan against possible future royalties that you may never earn out.
Furthermore, you’ll only see - at best - 15% of the recommended retail price of a book heading towards you as its creator; all the rest gets sucked up by not just your publisher (who pisses money away on fancy lunches for their bestseller authors, while the tiny promo budget for your own book is eaten up by paying for a few weeks of the PR intern’s phone bill and a couple of email blasts to barely-known book bloggers) but the big-box retailers and their inefficient business and distribution models, not to mention being rock-and-a-hard-placed by the tug-of-war of publisher/retailer discounting deals. It’s not quite as bad a screwing as the average band gets on their first album, but it’s not far off.
And let’s not forget, this isn’t vanity publishing; you know your stuff is good. You’ve even had a handful of rejections in which you were told that your work was “just not what we’re looking for” or “not something we can sell right now”. Well, if they can’t be bothered, why not do it yourself? Why let the caprice of editors and agents who secured their careers on the successes of twenty or thirty years ago decide whether you get your shot in today’s gladiatorial arena? Sharpen your sword, strap on your flamewar armour, and show ‘em what you’re made of!
Ebook self-publishing is a cop-out, it’s a settling-for-less born of laziness, and - lipstick the pig as much as you like - it’s no different from the self-publishing of old in any respect other than the novelty of its technological platform, over which - lest we forget - you have no control whatsoever.
It’s hard to get published. As a writer - someone who cares about great writing, even if only as a means to the end of doing something they love for a living - you should appreciate that fact, not resent it. It means that when you’re published, you have not only independently achieved a superior level of quality in your own work, but you’ve also been introduced into a system that will actively work with you to make your work better.
Is that elitist? Of course, just like Nobel prizes and Olympic gold medals are elitist. Publishing is about rewarding and promoting quality. Sure, there are some good writers self-publishing very successfully right now, and some historical examples of great writers who self-published. But they’re rarities, outliers; with no barriers to entry, the quality levels in any market will trend toward zero.
Another very good point here, from the mechanics of editing and printing through to promotion and PR…
There’s a lot that goes into making the booksausage, but some parts of the process are kept hidden because they lack glamour. But you’re prepared to do all the behind the scenes stuff a publisher usually takes care of all on your own, aren’t you?
Excellent! Meanwhile you’ve been helping yourself plan your next couple of projects, keeping yourself calm, centered and fully motivated to carry on with the work of your life: writing books. The only thing standing in your way is the steadfast refusal of even the most ethically flexible medical practitioners to attempt to surgically remove your need for sleep.
Let’s be blunt: for all your talk of egalitarian markets flattened by cutting out the middle-men, there’s a long-standing prejudice against self-published works, and it still pertains today. Now, the novelty of the new ebook platforms may be giving you some lucky exposure in front of some early adopters; when the cat’s away the mice can play, why not?
But the cat’s not gone for good, little mice! If you think the publishing industry is breathing its last, you’re deluded. They avoided repeating the worst blunders of the record labels, and once they settle on a strategy they’ll be gaming the new system just as hard as they played the old one. They have experience; they have social capital (and access to the other sort); they have older, slower and more lucrative networks at their disposal than you do. You think appearing in search on a few websites is enough? Look, there’s a reason why when I Google for a tyre-change joint I find Kwik-Fit before I find your cousin’s place out on the edge of town. When the book marketplace becomes the next battleground for the SEO geeks, your afternoon in the sunshine is all over bar the shouting.
The big houses will be back on top soon enough, stronger than ever, hungry for new writing talent... in fact, maybe you should try submitting something! Just be sure to use a different pseudonym, won’t you, so the agent or editor doesn’t Google you and find the typo-riddled travesty of a Cold War political thriller (with zombies!) you spaffed out through LuLu three years ago.
Sure, the big publishing houses publish more crap than quality. Sure, I hate big business as much as the next guy and have an inherent, DIY punk streak in everything I do. But I am still not going to bother with self-publishing print or e-books. Every established system can always be reformed, and the publishing industry is in a state of transition.
If I was ever going to “self-publish,” it would be by starting my own independent press and then focusing on other writers, not on my own work.
I am sure there are valid reasons for self-publishing and I am sure that some people are finding some sense of accomplishment through these channels. But one thought always strikes me in the end…
Sometime I throw a poem up on the blog. That does not make me a published poet. And those who make such claims bug the shit out of me.
If I claimed that I was published because of a post on the RubbleSites, everyone I know who I respect would either openly mock me to my face or, at best, walk away quietly, sadly shaking their head and wondering what happened to my sanity.
And that is the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing.