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.