I can’t give advice to anyone on whether or not to stay in the publishing process or choose to step outside of it and self-publish on Amazon. Those are deeply personal decisions and depends on an individual writer’s goals. All I can do is share my thoughts and my journey.
I have been in the self-publishing stream of the internet for a long time. That is what fan fiction basically is, self-publishing work with other people’s properties. There are even sites similar to the big fan fiction sites (and at times run by the same people) for original fiction. I don’t see anything wrong with self-publishing.
To me, going to a fan fiction website and going to a book store are very similar experiences. With the fan fiction website though, I know there is a greater chance that I’ll know and enjoy what I find because I’m familiar with the source material. Sure, there is a lot of low quality fan fiction out there on the web. But it’s free and if I don’t like it, I can just go on and read something else without worry. Whereas, at a book store I’m taking a bigger risk and spending hard earned money on something I may not enjoy and may be of dubious quality. (I know, I know, libraries. As a science fiction and fantasy reader/writer, libraries do not always carry what I want to read. They either can’t afford it or there isn’t enough outside interest in the area.) With the book store, I have higher expectations than a fan fiction website. The books in a book store have been written by professionals and supposedly have gone through some sort of editing process. (Not really the case anymore, but the expectation is there.)
I’ll give the fiction shelves their due. Yes, the quality is higher than your average run through of a fan fiction archive in terms of grammar, spelling and formatting. Otherwise, there is roughly the same amount of ability to string a story together. The books at a bookstore are at least finished, which is more than I can say about some of the longer fan fiction stories. I also don’t hold amateurs writing as a hobby to the same standards as I’d hold a professional writer. To do so would be ridiculous. But I give the fiction shelves their due and the agents and the publishers because they do wade through a lot of badly written stories to find writers who can write to put on shelves. Whether or not these writers write well is still a matter of debate.
I had a finished book. A book I was too close to I felt to be able to really edit properly and for various reasons that aren’t necessarily in my “motivations to publish” post, I wanted to give traditional publishing a shot. I wanted to go through the process. See what it was all about and hopefully, get an agent and land a publisher in order to get an advance so I could you know, pay my bills.
I wrote my first query letter. (It was a mess.) And started querying. I worked on better query letters. I checked agents and their requirements. I made a list. I compiled emails. I spent a year getting silence and rejection letters. And I know, a year isn’t a lot of time in the grand scheme of things. Authors talk about two years and about ten years. You know what, I’m not a very patient person and there are maybe 100 agents out there that deal with science fiction and fantasy. And you aren’t allowed to query agents that work at the same agency simultaneously. (So you have to wait for one agent in that agency to reject you before trying another, which can be a process of two months at least if they don’t get back to you.) I’d rather get something done before I die of starvation/poverty or old age. But I’m stubborn and I was determined to try. Because having an agent and having a book deal with a publisher feels safer and more secure than self-publishing. And the idea of having my book in stores was very appealing.
Nothing though was happening and I was very frustrated. I changed novels, reapplied and still got rejections and no responses.
About the middle towards the end of July (2016) I had a very difficult, hard and somewhat agonizing decision to make. I’d just finished up a major project for a video game sizzler. I was exhausted and was trying to take a day off to rest my brain.
When Becca linked me a post on tumblr. And as I read through this post, I had very conflicting feelings. Elation, happiness and complete and utter frustration and to some extent despair. You see, what I was reading in that post was a validation of everything I thought was happening out there in the big world of media. People wanted to see in fantasy/science fiction character driven stories that weren’t grim dark based upon actual wild wolf zoology if they involved werewolves.
And that’s what I had written and was trying to sell to multiple agents and had been trying to sell for the past year and had gotten lots of rejection notices. And I was running out of agents I could find online to query. I also felt I was running out of time.
It was amazing to see that yes, there are people out there who want to read something like what I’d written. It was heart breaking because I couldn’t get an agent to give me more than five minutes. The only agent who gave me a reason that they didn’t want the book was through an assistant who said it was too long.
This had probably been a few weeks prior. I’d sat down and duplicated my manuscript. I ripped things out to cut it to the required “Debut author word count.” When I was done ripping, there was nothing left of the story I wanted to tell. Everything important to me had been taken away for the sake of words. So, I could either sacrifice the story I’d written for the sake of word count or I could stick to my guns and go “No, these scenes are important to what I’m trying to show.” I decided to keep the integrity of my story.
So this post, this discussion on tumblr was a pivotal moment. Do I keep doing what feels like the definition of insanity? Do I keep querying agents and waiting three months to get replies that so far have all be no if I get a response at all? Or, do I go out on a limb and self-publish?
I didn’t sleep very well that night. My brain was racing. Because there is a hard truth here. Once you self-publish, even if it is on Amazon, there are many agents who won’t even look at you.
But on the other hand. There weren’t any agents willing to look at me and take a risk to begin with. I had a finished manuscript with a story that I enjoyed and was proud of that I felt/thought/saw the signs could be moderately successful if someone would just give it a chance. I had product. And there wasn’t an agent in sight willing to bite.
So really, what was I risking? What was I so afraid of? Why was I putting myself through a process that wasn’t giving me any returns? Was it really that much more risky to publish it myself on Amazon? If I get no returns there, well, at least it is out there. At least there is the option for me to say, “Hey, I wrote a thing and have published it. If you like this thing, check it out.” During the query process, I can’t say that.
And there was another consideration involved, time.
Sure, say I could convince an agent that my story was a good story and that I’m a good writer and they should take a risk on me. They write me back (anywhere from two weeks to two months after I sent them my letter to begin with) and want the first three chapters. That’s another two months. They decide they like the first three chapters so they want the whole thing, exclusive to them. That’s another three to six months. And they like it, they want revisions. That can be another six months again. Then, they like the revisions, so they take it to a publishing buddy and the publisher connection goes, “Sure, we’ll take it on, for next year.” At this point, it could be two years from when I get an agent interested in my story before I see any money of an advance and my books on store shelves.
By that point, except for the diehard fans who will read anything of that idea, the interest will have moved on. There was a possible interest in my idea right now.
So, two years from now, I would get money in the form of an advance from the publisher, and what was the benefits of it. They might do some marketing for my book, but as a new writer it wouldn’t be much. My book would go on bookshelves, but it would come out of my royalties after I sold enough to cover the advance. There would be professional cover at for my book, but I wouldn’t have much say in it. (I don’t keep track of cover art trends.) And if my book didn’t sell well and I didn’t make back more than half of that advance. They’d force me to change my publishing name and not publish anything else under that idea.
If I self-published, I could get any money that could be made off of my work, my ideas, my intellectual property, right now. Sure, it would involve a lot of work, but what doesn’t. And even if it didn’t go well, I could keep publishing that idea, under that name, or even other ideas under that same name at no cost to me.
I did what a sensible girl does in my position. I called to talk to my father. Because I’m a daddy’s girl.
Now my father (and my grandfather and my uncle on that side of the family) are very big fans of if you want something done right, you do it yourself. My father owns his own business. He is his own boss. He has been at that point in his life where he had to decide whether or not to take a risk and be that boss. I wanted to hear his view on it.
Honestly, I knew to an extent what he was going to say. I needed to hear him say it. Which really boiled down to, if there is interest right now, it is better to do that thing right now then wait for something that may never happen.
I decided to self-publish. I gave myself twenty days to do it. (There was a reason to this madness.) I had the book. I had the basis of the cover art. I had the font I wanted to use for the title. (I’d also created it myself.) Maybe I closed some doors on some opportunities. Maybe I opened windows for others. No matter what I did. There was risk.
Whether or not to self-publish rather than going through the process of getting an agent and selling your work to a publishing house is a very personal decision. It takes a lot of guts and some ego to say “I’m going to skip that process” and go directly to publishing. I can’t comment on why other people self-publish. I won’t comment on their motivations. I know why I did it. I’m going to stand by it because I’m happy and at peace with this decision, despite the risk.