There’s a message board thread at Absolute Write where authors worried about submissions fret about query letters and agent acceptance. From reading that board I found this blog by a literary agent who makes fun of things writers say in their query letters. This epitomizes what’s wrong with the publishing industry.
I understand that slush piles are hell no matter what side you’re standing on. The agents are overworked and the authors are under-appreciated. At this point in my life I’m wondering why anyone subjects themselves to this torture.
It appears that at least 90% of authors are plugged into the publishing house daydream of wanting a big name to publish their books. They’re goaded on by a very few authors who have had their novels published in this so-called “traditional” way. Knowing as we all do that most of what goes into a slush pile comes out, eventually, with a rejection note attached, it is extremely worrisome and frustrating for authors to cope with.
This causes budding authors to put their novels in drawers, or in files on their hard drives, and give up.
It seems a shame to me that people are allowing their joy in writing to be trashed by the publishing industry’s problems. We should be writing because we love to write, and not because a big-name publisher might pick up our work. This has all become too stressful. The fun leaks out when hopes and expectations are not satisfied.
I suggest we reconsider our expectations and priorities.
Some writers seem to think the only reason to write is for money, but very few writers earn enough with their writing to quit their day jobs. Writers who write for money are stressed. And somehow, I don’t believe that writing should be a stressful thing. I know the annual NaNoWriMo competition is based on the stress of a deadline, but under most circumstances, wouldn’t writing be more fun if done for love of writing, rather than for money or to win a contest? Those are motivating factors, but writing is an art, and as an art, should be a labor of love for the writer.
Since writing is a work of love, of enthusiasm, and of artistry, why are we writers being forced into the HELL of query letters, submissions, and rejections? This is pure torture for most of us. And I for one believe that if it doesn’t feel good there’s probably something wrong with it.
Thirty years ago the choices for publication were (1) to write a query and be accepted by a publisher (agent optional), or (2) to self-publish which cost a lot of money that most of us didn’t have.
But guess what, folks! We are no longer limited in that way. Now we’ve got option (3) to publish via POD and e-book formats like Kindle and Nook. We can have our online critique groups help us with editing issues. We can easily create our own independent publishing opportunities. So why not do that instead of enduring the agony of submissions to agents and publishers that give us the lack of respect shown in blogs like Slush Pile Hell and Miss Snark? All these agents did for me was convince me that I don’t want to have anything to do with them and their bad attitudes.
Many writers reject the idea of self-publishing because there’s a stigma attached. Literary agents indicate that we novelists “need” to be published by “traditional publishers” because there are so many problems with self-publishing. I love this quote from Mary Kole, agent-blogger at KidLit.
“Traditional publishing is not a perfect system — far from it — but at least there are others on your team. In self-publishing situations, more than traditional publishing, you are all aspects of a house. You are the writer, the editors, the designer, the printer, the sales force, the publicist, the marketer, the distributor.” – Mary Kole
Yes, there are a lot of people out there with their hands out, wanting to take in some profit from the novels we wrote. They offer to agent, edit, publish, print, sell, design, and more. So what’s left for us if we go with one of these so-called “traditional publishers”? Not much! We’ll get a small advance and after that will be very lucky if we see any additional royalties. Even with large publishing houses, usually very little is done for promotion. Published books quickly fall by the wayside to be replaced with other projects. Most authors are left to promote their books themselves, or watch them disappear. If a book doesn’t bring the publisher a profit above and beyond the advance paid, it is considered a bad investment and the author has a black mark on their record.
The difference with self-publishing is that since we do all the creative work ourselves from idea to writing to editing to publishing, we’ll be getting a much larger percentage of the profit. I’ve examined the numbers and believe the profit margin per book is worth working for. It leaves me with a lot of creative work (which I love doing) and no frustration from the insanity of submissions, query letter writing, and slush pile rejections.
These days publishing doesn’t cost what it used to. Here’s my estimation of costs for a novel.
The formatting is amazingly easy using forms provided by CreateSpace. So, no cost for formatting.
The editing has been done by my critique group and my multiple passes at revision and editing. So, no cost for editing.
I will pay an artist about $50 for cover art, or do my own. Designing the cover will be up to me. My kind of fun.
I’ll have to pay for a demo copy – about $20.
I’ll be buying my own ISBN numbers – $250 for 10 numbers, or $25 per book or book format, as I intend to publish via POD, Kindle, and audio. Okay, that’s $75 per title.
After that the only expense will be if I need to buy copies. If I sell a YA book of about 50K words for $10.95 I can buy copies for about $3.65. The profit I can split with the bookseller, or I can sell them myself at book signings and fairs, locally.
For $39 I can join CreateSpace’s distribution network to have my books available to booksellers nationwide.
So total expenses to get this started, without buying any to sell personally, will be just over $200. That’s very affordable! It will get my books out of dry-dock and into the ocean of great literature! People will be able to read them. My mom and dad will get copies before they pass away (this is an issue for me since they are both 70+ now) and I’ll get to stop being frustrated by the submission process which is life-draining and soul-crushing.
If there’s a gift I could give to any aspiring novelist, I’d want to give the freedom to create without frustration. You know there are tens of thousands of novels being written every year now. The publishing industry can’t accommodate us all. It just can’t. To be accepted and published by them is like looking for a needle in a haystack. You could live all your life trying for that and then be so frustrated that you stop writing. Or you could turn your back on what they’re calling “traditional” and realize we’re put on earth to take joy in creation. We’re not put here to support industries.
I am actually earning all my money from writing, though it isn’t from the novel writing that I love. However the only reason I don’t need a day job is that I’m able to live cheaply. My financial needs are less than in most areas of the country. I live in a small and humble cabin in a forest in Northern California.