Have you ever asked yourself the question “Is this guy a good doctor?” while standing in the examination room looking at his framed credentials on the wall? This is the sort of question a writer needs to ask of any potential agent, publisher, or reviewer. The answers cannot be found in the doctor’s framed diplomas any more than on the agents’ client list or the fancy thumbnails you see scrolling across the publishers’ website banners. And as for the reviewers, just read what they’ve written to see if they have the ability to critique a book.
If you’ve come to the conclusion that some list of agents you’ve created through research can help you make it big, or on another list of publishers that would be perfect for your book and career, then please stop reading this so you can go polish that query letter, proofread your MS, and set the egg timer to 4-8 months as you wait for their reply. You’ve got work to do … and wasting time reading a blog post is only going to make your life that much more anxiety-filled.
However, if you’ve just finished the umpteenth draft of your third novel and polished its prose like the fender of a ’64 Corvette, and you’re not sure about sending out another round of 50 query letters to agents and publishers that haven’t responded (or have flatly declined to read your work), then please, you have a few minutes to spare before getting back to the new project.
My advice is this: Publish Now, Perish Later
If you DO NOT HAVE a living-breathing contact in publishing, and that contact is willing to vouch for you and your book and your future books, then traditional publishing might not be the route you need to take at this point in your career. The reasons are many, but a few are clear: writing query letters is as much a craft as writing a novel; researching the agents and publishers whom you can contact directly (and sending out letters) is nearly a full-time job; and then there is the waiting — weeks, months, sometimes half a year. Meanwhile, you’re MS sits in limbo, your mind might be swirling with anticipation that work on the next book is hampered. Meanwhile, you’re potential readers are scouring the bookstore shelves and online retailers for that next great read — but they won’t find yours among the stacks or thumbnails.
Then you sit some more, collecting rejection slips to fill a fold or tape to the wall because you “won’t let these bring me down!” … and there in the slush-pile of rejections jumps out the odd “yeah, sure! send in your manuscript!” after a 3-month wait, only to be asked to wait another 3-to-6 months for another response. Ouch! Life is short, and so is the attention span of editors.
Hey, I could be wrong. New writers get contracts every day; not good contracts anymore (in the ’80s, $30,000 advanced were par for the course; today, unknowns get $2,000). If you’re already an Indie sensation — with a certified-copy of 100K sales — you’ll be courted by a NY house. This is today’s publishing environment, and the faster you understand that and get used to it, the better you’ll realize that today is the day you need to known everything, and tomorrow you need to know more.
Hell, if Knopf called me today with a publishing and distribution contract for my two already-published novels (they’re out there, in view for any Knopf talent-spotter to see and realize a hot property sits among the chaff), I’d probably sign it, take the money and run, earn more coin on the commission, and buy myself a small cottage in the south of France where I can write, raise dachshunds with my wife, and eat cheese and drink wine. Believe me when I tell you, I’m not holding my breath for this call.
If, on the other hand, you feel your book is ready for readers to open the cover and accept you as a writer and your work as authorial, self-publishing is a good start and perhaps the best road for your fledgling career. There are several platforms available, and each is nearly stupid-proof, only with their own brand of learning curve to see a clear path to successfully getting your book into the hands of at least a few readers. Amazon’s printing partner, Createspace, does a fine job, and Amazon lists your book in six countries — immediately. That’s pretty good distribution, by any measure.
The biggest task for you, as a writer, is to hire a line & story editor, unless you already have trusted editorial help in your pocket. And then you must design the book cover and interior. Neither is particularly difficult, but you’d do well, also, to hire a professional designer for that task — a good cover makes all the difference; there is such crap out there that self-designed covers can be spotted at a thumbnail’s size from across the room on a darkened video screen.
So, then, to recap: if you have an agent and/or publisher on the hook, try to reel them in. But if you have a marketable book (the genre makes little difference) and some book-promo savvy (or the potential to learn), then study the POD platform providers and see if you, too, should throw your spine into the ring.
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.
Both books are published by Siren & Muse Publishing, a small-press dedicated to keeping “the book” alive. I’ve got the contract to prove it, and we use Amazon to distribute my books (my choice) because I have the means to move product worldwide.