The Two Choices

The Two Choices
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Author’s today are faced with a bit of a luxury: They can either submit their work to the traditional Big Four publishers or they can self-publish through Amazon, Barnes & Noble (Nook) or other miscellaneous e-pub platforms. Since the latter is growing, a growing number of resources have appeared to help authors.

There are arguments for and against both. As I noted in another post, I’ve chosen to self-publish.

But legacy publishing does have some appeal. There’s a chance of a big advance, (which I think is the biggest carrot the publishers can dangle), the chance of seeing your book on the shelves at your local bookstore (most likely a Barnes & Noble if you live in the U.S.) —and face it, we all like going to the bookstore and dreamed of seeing our work on the shelves, right?—and the chance of having a bit of, well, a legacy. Everything on the internet, everything electronic, feels a bit transient; bestseller today, afterthought tomorrow. Knowing that your book might have a print run of several thousands, sitting on library bookshelves, maybe eventually becoming required reading in schools across the country—maybe even the world over, because if your books are traditionally printed one place, sells well, then other publishers in other countries will want to pick it up.

It all sounds so appealing.

But what do you have to do to get there? What hoops do you have to jump through? According to Larry Correia, the chances of getting picked up by a major publishing house are minuscule. He says the failure rate is 99.9%.

In my post about Mike Cernovich’s Mindset books and my decision to self-publish, I received a couple of comments about a certain passage I wrote:

I constantly asked myself “What am I doing wrong?” Is my query letter bad? My first few pages not catchy enough? Was the book too politically incorrect, too vulgar and too violent for the delicate snowflake sensibilities of New York publishing?

Basically, how could I beg more correctly?

The questions were in the line of “What’s wrong with begging?” The suggestion being I should treat it like a job search process. That’s all fine and good. If I decided to dedicate myself to getting picked up by a major publisher, I’m confident I would have succeeded. I just needed to take the necessary steps to realize it.

What are some of those steps?

First, when your writing to get your work legacy published, you’re writing for THEM, not the the audience. To start, you need to get an agent interested in your work. Meaning you have to write a great query letter, where you have to get them interested in requesting a full manuscript. That means you need write a great sales pitch and have a first 5-10 pages that will make the agent want to read more. It’s harder than sounds. If it was easy, there wouldn’t be a ton of web articles and I’m sure tons of discussion on web boards on how to successfully execute it.

If an agent does request your manuscript, you have to wait a couple of months for them to read it (which might require some hounding). If they choose to represent you, they will probably then work with you to “fine tune” your novel so they in turn can make it more appealing to the publisher’s they will submit it to. When your book is submitted, it then has to go through an acquisition editor (or a team of them) and whatever else. If they agree to pick up your book, they may demand some changes be made as well.

Notice, you’re not writing your book to appeal to readers. You’re writing your book to appeal to agents and acquisition’s editors. Naturally, they are looking for product that will sell, but to them it is just product—to you it will be a book written full of compromise…maybe. No matter what, you have to appeal to THEM first before your book hits shelves. And THEY might have very different tastes than you. They live in a different city (probably New York), while you might live in rural Texas. They might have polite sensibilities, while you have vulgar ones. You might find someone who is in alignment with you but as I stated above, there is a 99.9% you won’t. You have to appeal to THEM before your book even makes it to the press.

In short, it’s a road filled with compromise. You’re going to write thinking about THEM, appealing to THEIR tastes, hoping they align with yours. While you write, you might question certain passages, lines that may be too politically incorrect, or just too offensive for someone who might dine at Per Se every now and then. You might change character arcs around, change the villains, modify complete dialogue exchanges, not to please the reader at home who is reading your work to get their mind off of their dick boss—no you’re modifying your work to please THEM.

And they live in a bubble. They’re not perfect. They have biases and tastes, just like everyone, but the chances of them aligning with your tastes or mine are tiny.

I’ve made the compromises listed above. They got me nowhere.

So, I’ve decided to self-publish, go direct to the reader. It has challenges of its own for sure. I have to compete for eyeballs, I need to build a brand, I need to convince people to read my work but in the end, these are things under my control (to a certain extent). I just have to do the work—something I’m not afraid of. I approach it the same way French film director Eric Rohmer approached Six Moral Tales, his first major body of work: “I was determined to be flexible and intractable, because if you persist in an idea it seems to me that in the end you do secure a following.”

So I will persist. I will be flexible. I will be intractable. These are things I think most authors can do and have done.