Thoughts On Traditional Publishing
I bit the bullet and started querying agents. This completes my goal to “have at least submitted a book to agents by next DragonCon” (DragonCon is labor day weekend). Hitting the “send” button for the queries is oh-my-god-stressful, followed by more stress as you wait for the inevitable rejections and hope for something positive (and continue to send out queries).
As E-publishing/self-publishing is all the rage these days, I feel like I am constantly explaining why I am still pursuing the traditional publishing routes. Coupled with this are the people who self-publish and then brag about all their published books (unless they are making significant money at it, this is not an accomplishment. Anyone with a credit card can get their book published).
There are a lot of pros and cons to traditional vs. indie publishing vs. self-publishing, but for me the bottom line is this – I have yet to see a non-traditionally published book that was great. I’ve read plenty that are okay, some that I might rank as high as good, and there are huge amounts that are awful, but I have yet to see any (from a previously not-established author) that are great. There is no self-published Hunger Games, or Harry Potter, or Terry Pratchett, or Anne Bishop, etc. And the reason for this is simple: the bar is lower.
At one of the writer panels at DragonCon last year, one of the authors likened it to learning to pick locks: if the only locks you ever try to pick are the easy ones, you aren’t going to become good at picking the harder locks.
I don’t want to write mediocre books. I want to write great ones. I want to write books that people will read over and over again because they enjoyed them so much. Books that someone will decide are their “favorite”. I’m not talking “The Great American Novel” here; I just want to write really good, really entertaining books. It may take me a while to get there. Most of the “big hits” are by authors who have been writing for a long time already (J.K. Rowling being an exception). They have been writing for the traditional publishing market. They have been learning and improving with each book that they write.
I’m not saying you can’t make a living with self-publishing, because you can. John Locke and his 99 cent awful novels and paid-for-reviews prove it. But if all I cared about was making money, I wouldn’t write books at all. I make pretty good money in my current career and even if I become relatively successful I will still probably take a pay hit when/if I switch to writing full-time. Writing is not lucrative. The percentage of authors who become wealthy from writing is miniscule. Anyone who thinks this is an easy way to make money is very disillusioned. Scam/vanity publishers prey on this misconception, convincing authors to pay them to publish their books.
People on both sides like to quote how many rejections particular authors had. Laurell K. Hamilton had over 200, J. K. Rowling had dozens, Stephen King lined his walls with his. Traditional publishing opponents like to use these as examples of how agents and publishers “don’t really know what they’re doing.” On the opposite side of the table, people use the stories to bolster their self-confidence and overcome the pain of rejection. However, I think there is an alternate possibility. I suspect that as these authors were going through their cycles of rejection, they probably continued to edit their stories and improve their craft. Maybe the real reason Hamilton did not succeed in the beginning is because her writing had not gotten good enough yet. Maybe the first submitted version of Harry Potter had plot holes in it. I know that I will continue to work on my current submission. If agents offer suggestions or reasons they don’t like it, I will consider them. I will read about writing and go to writing workshops and be in critique groups. My writing will continue to get better. My next book will probably be better than my current one. I can already see the difference in my writing from before compared to now. And, hopefully, one day, I’ll write awesome novels and I’ll have a shelf of hardcovers with my name on them, from a publisher like Tor, and I’ll be proud of them. If I take the easy route and self-publish, I don’t think I’ll ever get there.
(Note that this is only for ME. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to self-publish, particularly for non-fiction or niche markets, I just don’t feel it is a good idea for me specifically).