When it comes to writing and getting published, patience is indeed a virtue.
I know I may make some people angry by writing about this. If you’re one of them (or even if you’re not!) feel free to jump in with your own thoughts. I’ll listen. But my hope in writing about this topic is not to annoy or depress, but to help those of you who want to get published to actually get published–one way or another.
There has been a huge rise in self publishing over the past decade. HUGE! I could get into all the pros and cons of self-publishing, but that would take more space than I have here so I’ll simply say that the two major cons are 1) the author generally pays the publisher rather than the other way around and 2) the author does all or nearly all of his or her own promotion and distribution. (That said, I’ve mentioned lulu before as a self-publisher that does not suck the writer dry, and I still think they’re a pretty good company. For an excellent article weighing the pros and cons in detail click here).
Why the rush to self-publish? In my opinion, it has quite a bit to do with patience — or the lack of it. This topic was discussed recently on one of my published authors’ email loops, and it started me thinking. The authors chatted about how we started out. Nearly all of us wrote an entire manuscript, then had others read and comment. Then we revised our manuscripts, often tossing half the original pages away. Then we solicited more comments, revised again, and on and on until we’d created books that were as near to perfection as we could possibly make them. During this process, some of us took classes to learn how to perfect our writing skills or our storytelling ability. Then we began the painstaking search for an agent, sending out twenty, thirty, forty or more carefully crafted query letters at a time. We collected rejection letters and started the cycle all over again until we finally hit the right agent who was intrigued by our particular story and who just happened to get out of bed on the right side that morning. Then–most likely–the cycle of rejection started all over again (this time by the publishing houses) as our agents sent the manuscripts out to various editors. More feedback was collected and we went back to the drawing board–or rather, the computer keyboard–to revise once more.
I can’t help feeling that many writers today, anxious to see their manuscript bound and available on Amazon, are rushing the process. My heart goes out to them; it truly does. As someone who started a book in 1981 and didn’t see it on the bookstore shelves until 1989, I get it. I may have turned to a self-publishing company myself had they been so easily available back then. But where would I be now? Would I be making a living as a novelist? I doubt it, and frankly, that, along with a yearning to entertain, was part of my goal.
Maybe that’s not your goal, however, and that’s what you need to figure out. What is it you’re hoping to accomplish? If you’re on the fence, debating whether or not to go the self publishing route, ask yourself these questions: Have I taken to heart the critique of my friends and mentors and worked and reworked my manuscript to make it the best story I can produce–with the best grammar and punctuation it deserves–and still can’t “get published”? Have I queried, through the appropriate channels (educate yourself as to what those channels are!), at least forty agents and listened carefully to their feedback? Is the most important thing to me to make my book available for others to read, regardless of how poor the distribution of that book may be? Am I willing to do the lion’s share of promotion myself? If you can answer “yes” to all these questions, then self-publishing may indeed be the right answer for you (and there are indeed writers who have been “discovered” when their self-pubbed books suddenly caught fire. Not easy and not often, but it has happened). But if even one of those questions received a “no,” then please, fellow writers, have patience.
I’d love from those of you who have self-published successfully and how you made that decision, as well as from those of you still on the fence. I know that must be a mighty uncomfortable place to be!