Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Pat on the Head

Now that I've finished my most recent book and am about to start yet another - the sequel to Akeldama - I find myself pondering the way ahead.  I am leaning very, very heavily towards indie publishing for my novels.  I plan to do a post on this in the coming weeks as to why, but the short version is that the more research I've done, the less enamored I am of going the "traditional" route.

However, I'm as human as the next man, so there are parts of my psyche that will be affected by this decision, and the biggest one is the so-called need to be accepted.  I may have a great and profitable career, but there's still a desire on the part of most to become part of the cool kids club.  Most people would love to pretend this need doesn't exist and we can carry on without caring if anyone else likes us, but that's not the world most of us live in.
For a writer, there are multiple levels to being accepted, the first of which is getting a literary agent to request a partial or full manuscript from you.  This shows you have talent and stand out from the rest of the pack.  The next level is for that agent to actually take you on as part of his or her stable.  Then there's your novel being bought by a publisher, usually from one of the "big 6," which is the Holy Grail for most newbie writers.  Indeed, this is where the fantasy often stops for a lot of my peers, because this means you've made it - you've gotten past the velvet rope and are now part of the club.  What happens beyond that is all gravy because others have accepted you as a good writer.
Most of us know in our hearts that the only crowd that really matters to us as writers is made up of our readers.  After all, they're the ones who will or won't buy our books and recommend us or not to their friends.  Our readers give us the true power as authors, since it's sales to our readers that ultimately determine the extent of our career.  This is why it ultimately doesn't matter in the end whether we indie publish or traditionally publish since we won't be successful if readers don't buy our books.

However, writers have been taught to believe a certain way.  We've been browbeat that only bad writers who couldn't make it went the indie route, and that getting accepted by one of the major publishing houses is a sign we have talent(unlike all those talentless hacks out there who wish they were as good as we are, right?).  By going the indie route, we'll never get that stamp of approval that most writers so desperately crave.
This is a hard thing to accept.  Even though I know which way I'll probably go, there's a part of me that wants to attend the next Pitch Slam at the writers' conference that will happen here in Hawaii over Labor Day(don't worry - I plan to go to the conference so I can improve on the craft; what I don't know is whether I'll seek the approval of an agent there to help my ego).  I look at my latest novel and know it would fit in well with the YA paranormal market, which is one of the few book markets truly thriving at the moment.  The number of agents that specialize in this area are staggering, and I would like to send them a query so that one of them will request a manuscript.  The trouble is that even though I may say to myself that I just want to see if I can get anyone on the hook, if one requests a partial or full submission, I'd be more tempted than Jesus in the desert to provide it.  I might even rationalize it with, "Well, I'm just getting feedback.  I don't have to accept an offer of representation."  However, two additional points come to mind here - first, would I indeed be able to say no, and second, would that be fair to other writers trying to break into the market and gain an agent's attention?

Part of me thinks that publishers keep this acceptance thing alive to try and find their way through a transition period in the industry, even though going such a route is no longer vital to success.  And a lot of them might not even be doing it intentionally, but it's out there, and as a writer, it's hard to shake off the mindset that I have to please "those people."  Though most of us go through something similar in high school, we usually grow out of it by our mid-20s.  I wonder if a writer can ever fully overcome that yearning.  I'm sure if, as a group, we can manage to get past that, we're in for one wild ride.  After all, it's the readers who should ultimately matter - I just wish more of us really understood that, including myself at times.


  1. I know what you mean. The idea of both routes appeal to me. But if I was being honest, I do plan on going the traditional route. At least, at first.

    1. I looked at that when I finished Salvation Day and even sent out a few queries. However, the more I looked into things - the way most writers are treated, the lack of control, the signing away of rights, the less comfortable I felt about it. I'll write a bunch more about this in the coming weeks.

      At the same time, it'd feel good to hear someone "in the know" say that my work stood out enough for them to take an interest in me, and that's not something easily dismissed.

  2. Hey Russ. Great post. I just read this as well. I think it compliments what you are saying.

    As you know my manuscript has been submitted to multiple agents. I almost find it as a challenge to see if I can get one to sign me. I also see it as a challenge to get the book sold. I'm sure that self-publishing is a whole new challenge as well. But there is just something about breaking into the established publishing world that appeals to me. I was also advised by two NYT best sellers to get an agent. Their thinking may be antiquated but I will follow it first.

    Self-publishing will always be there as a great 2d course of action for me. I'd urge you not to give up on the dream. Participate in the Pitchapalooza. The Book Doctors are great people who will shoot you straight.

    1. Kevin, I'm honestly torn on this. The more I look at how writers are treated by publishers, as well as the control they give up with little real benefit as a newbie(unless you're a special find like Nicolas Sparks), the more I lean towards indie. the same time, that kid inside of me yearns for those "in the know" to tell me I have talent. It's easy to say we can ignore that part, but we can't just dismiss it, no matter how hard we'd like to. That struggle will play a big part into my decision down the road.