For the Narcissist Lover in You…

Stepping Off the Publishing Cliff (and not looking back this time)

It’s been well over a year since I announced the completion of my most recent novel, “Ruins of Camelot”. A few wonks out there have giggled good-naturedly about the promo on this page, announcing the release of RoC in “Fall of 2010”. (It’s still there now. Click on the image to see.) Hardy har.

So what went wrong? I made the mistake of trying to get “for real” published. That’s right, I called it a mistake.

It isn’t really all that shocking. Anyone who has ever put pen to paper in pursuit of becoming a writer suffers from the same love-hate relationship with the traditional publishing world. We desperately want the affirmation of people in the industry. There is (I am told) no greater satisfaction for a writer than to have the gigantic professional literary machine scoop you up and get behind your work.

On the other hand, we suspect that a lot of literary agencies are much less interested in great books than they are in sure things. We are offended by the amount of copycat dreck that gets published every year from known authors while our invariably far superior stories are rejected with form letters.

This love-hate mentality was crystallized recently when a world famous author gave the following two bits of advice: 1) take your stories straight to publishing house editors, since most agents wouldn’t recognize a truly good book if it came with a written certification from Charles Dickens’ zombie*; and 2) respect your book enough to never, EVER self-publish it.

In short, traditional publishing is the only legitimate choice, but literary agents will likely never give you a chance. (The advice about simply approaching editors directly is instructive but not particularly helpful. It’s a bit like telling a struggling pole vaulter to “simply jump higher”).

And yet I tried to follow the advice.  I spent the better part of the last year trying to get “Ruins of Camelot” into the hands of editors, decent literary agents, and Oprah Winfrey.  OK, not really on that last one, although it probably would have been an equally worthwhile endeavor.  I got nowhere.  I did get several agencies curious enough about the story to request a manuscript, but that’s pretty much where it all ended.

Now, I am a pragmatist, so I have to assume this means one of two things: either my story is stinky, or the publishing world just isn’t willing to take the risk on me.  I don’t think it’s the former (although I struggle with the same plague of self-doubt that most writers do, and if they don’t they probably should, or are Dean Koontz).  I have had the good fortune of having an awful lot of readers.  My previous self-published book, “The Riverhouse”, hit number two on amazon (and if you are sick of hearing about that, too bad).  My short story, “The Long Way Home” was bought and published by Orson Scott Card, who had unusually high praise for it.  And my beta readers, whose opinions I trust very much, say that “Ruins of Camelot” is possibly the best thing I have written so far.

So I am going to go out on a limb and say that the story doesn’t stink.

But what do I do?  Since the “legit” literary world isn’t willing to take the risk on me, and self-publishing is for wannabe amateurs with delusions of grandeur, is there any option?  Do I just stick my story in the bottom drawer forever and move onto the next thing?

I think not.

Deciding that, I began to wonder if seeking to get “for real” published was, as mentioned above, actually a huge mistake.

To wit: I’ve read enough about the world of fiction to know that most published authors don’t really make any money at it.  I, however, have.  “The Riverhouse” didn’t make me rich, but it made more moolah than I ever expected.  Why?  Because I have some things going for me that most unknown authors don’t:  1) I have a built-in readership, thanks to the JP series.  2) I have the artistic talent to promote and package my own books so that they don’t look like the work of a wannabe amateur with delusions of grandeur (although I probably am).

And so I began to wonder– what, really, would I gain by working through a traditional publisher?  Is it not entirely possible that I might actually earn less money if I had to share it around?  Is it not possible that they might promote my story much more poorly and less enthusiastically than I would on my own?  Is it not even possible that the literary machine might assign some horrible cover to my story, far worse than I would have made myself?

Yes.  Those things are very possible.

So now here I am, realizing that not only do I not really need the traditional publishing world; they might actually prove a hindrance.  This is a unique and revolutionary new perspective.

Perhaps it’s all just sour grapes.  Perhaps I am just talking myself out of wanting what I can’t have anyway.  Perhaps, despite my bravado, I would leap at the opportunity if some big publishing house called me with an offer.

But that doesn’t make any of this untrue.

So I am stepping off the cliff again.  This time without looking back, and willingly.  It isn’t a last resort.  After all, at this very moment RoC is still in the hands of two agencies.  I have written them both stating my change in plans, and telling them, basically, that if they want to make an offer, they’d best do it quick and make it good.  Because I am truly beginning to think that I can do this better myself.  I can make a better cover, a better promotional website, and a better pitch to my existing reader base.  I think it is possible that I can take “Ruins of Camelot” farther than the legit publishing world could.  I have the commitment, the ambition, and the resources.  I have high hopes that I can get my story on the bestseller lists.  Again.

So what do you all think?  Is this endeavor fearless or foolhardy?  Am I being brash or brave?  Because at this point I honestly don’t know.  I am hoping for the best.  In the end, of course, it’s up to you, the readers.  What I am hoping is that you will buy, buy, buy.  I am hoping you will tell all your friends.  Not just because the story is worth reading, but because there’s something interesting about the idea of bypassing the traditional system, something that might be worth supporting.

So… is it?

*paraphrased. I think he actually mentioned zombie James Joyce.


8 responses

  1. I am all for self-publishing and joining the second decade of the 21st century. It is not just my opinion – I happen to be part of a private network of approximately 300 authors and they are all for it as well. The opinion you heard about self-publishing being for wannabes is a tad dated.
    Self-publishing world is completely different now than it was just 10 years ago.
    You have the reach through the Internet unlike anything anyone had 10 years ago.
    And, unlike many, you have the tools.
    You understand marketing and are smart enough to implement information in numerous courses on promoting your books.
    Most importantly – you have the people willing to buy.
    I vote for you self-publishing. And, get it on Kindle – I haven’t held a “real” book in years. Looking forward to purchasing your book.

    October 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    • Thanks for that encouragement, Olessia. RoC will be available on Kindle upon release. Onward!

      October 24, 2011 at 7:06 pm

      • Dawn

        hey George…I don’t know if you remember being a young guy and all but there was this really GREAT book and it became a Movie was HUGELY successful and everyone wondered IF there would ever be another book another movie and unfortunately the author was deceased …it’s a little thing called Gone with the Wind. and then there came the long awaited (much maligned)
        I know a lot of people Hated that it was done but you know I just plain loved reading Scarlett again, I liked the book because Scarlett grew up along the way in the telling.
        of course it’s different than Ms Mitchell’s it’s supposed to be under copyright law but it was the direction of difference I liked. Scarlett does some soul searching and grows to like herself along the way.
        I’m sure eventually you’ll be allowed to do something More with the JP series and I still say you do not need the jerks at traditional publishing co. approval.
        those jack asses wouldn’t recognize a good read if it bite them on there over sized bum’s I mean ego’s LOL
        Look George you already know this but I’m gonna say it anyway. In any Business the Principles are the same stick to the basics …See A Need and Fill it ! If you Do you will have Success !
        Love you now go write JP like a good boy and let me know when I can get it as well as a copy of RoC … don’t make me have to come looking for you LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

        November 30, 2011 at 5:34 pm

  2. Deb

    I will buy a copy AND tell my friends. You need a combination of bravado and brashness to jump off the cliff. That’s not a bad thing as long as you leave it in the cockpit when you come home. ;0)

    October 24, 2011 at 8:19 pm

  3. Laura

    hi Geo,

    I’ve sent you a file to your speedbump studios email (is that the right one), after having shown a retired fiction editor your preview. She had some comments that might give you some more insight into what you should do.

    Hope it helps

    October 25, 2011 at 3:42 am

  4. I think, basically, you need to do what you need to do. If publishing houses are too short sighted to publish someone with thousands of built in readers then do it yourself. As you say, you have all the skills for an incredible marketing website (which we will gladly send everyone and anyone to for you), and you already have an amazing cover. I say why allow them to “ruin” RoC when you can make it happen yourself. Why let them eat from the fruits of your labor and passion. We, your readership and as we see it your friends, will support you 1000% and help you make RoC an incredible success.

    October 25, 2011 at 6:39 am

  5. George, As Always I believe in you and your writing. Just do it hun You do have a set of uniquely qualified skills to do what Publishers do anyhow and why should they get any money for very little work? Look you know what they say those that can’t write become publishers *Wink * ok so it’s teach but same dif’ you have talent and a reader base and the ability to promote yourself and you have already proven you can make money at it at LuLu so where is it really different than at say random house? you still get awards and accolades and frankly much more personal ones from real people like me lol
    I assure you I’ve never written to Koontz or King or Rice and would Love to but I know they would never get my letter . A reply, if i got one ,would be a form letter from some temp job employee hired to sift through the mail weed out wacko’s keeping only a few doz. IF that many out of the Thousands that write. So as a reader What’s in it for me to keep going to the traditional book sellers when I get so much more from Authors like you.? I Love that you really want our opinions. I love that you have so many ways for us to let you know we like you we love you we need you to keep on writing. We all love it that you challenge us right back and give us things to do that might help you. now dang it George I want a copy of RoC and I believe you said you’d get another JP out too?? Hmmmmmmm???? LOLOL
    Seriously George with Kindle sales and similar products going up up up traditional publishers may find they really aren’t as necessary as they once were. Sp who’s running scared you or them? Just keep writing and we’ll keep reading OK ?

    October 25, 2011 at 7:34 am

  6. Chris

    I am sure further advise from the unmentioned “world famous author” would be: ‘never, ever, write a fan fiction mini series…’. Seems to me like your biggest asset is also your biggest liability as far as publishers are concerned. They can’t very well advertise your new books as “from the author of the James Potter series”. Certainly puts them in an awkward, and perhaps untenable position.

    I think your immediate path forward is clear.

    Finally, seems to me like a potential exists for your JP series, where you could put yourself in a position to publish a final book(s) perhaps. Suppose at the end of one of your ‘unpublished’ books, an unfortunate car crash takes the lives of James’ parents, and a similarly unfortunate time disturbance occurs during a visit to Hogwarts from an Alma Aleron contingency which renders the castle entirely ‘missing’ for some time. You might be able to write an entire (final) book, with only the namesake James Potter as the sole connection to the other popular, copyrighted, series, without a single mention of any previously published material in the final story. For all we know, James could spend an entire book length adventure in Camelot…

    November 6, 2011 at 11:19 pm

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