Publish or Perish?

I am a writer.  I have been writing for 26 years, since the glorious day in 3rd grade when I realized that I didn’t have to wait for the teacher to assign a creative writing project to write something.  I could just write, whenever I wanted to, whatever I wanted to.  At the Philadelphia Writers Conference this past June I had a lovely conversation with Gregory Frost in which I made the statement “I could no more stop writing than I could stop breathing!”  He smiled at me and said that is the only attitude you can have if you’re going to be successful as a writer.  I like him. 

I love writing.  I do NOT love trying to be published. 

One of the reasons why I am not published right now, after 26 years of writing and 7 novels completed and at least two dozen others in various stages of life, is because the whole publishing world gives me a massive headache.  I enjoy going to conferences and talking to fellow writers, the published and the merely hopeful, but I don’t necessarily enjoy listening to agent/editor panels and the things they have to say.  I listen because I feel like I should, like a child eats broccoli.  Because it’s good for me.  The problem is, so much of what I hear coming from agents and editors about the industry and what publishing houses are looking for is confusing, conflicting, and downright contradictory. 

Now I know that I have started this whole process of trying to be published with one massive strike against me.  I write what I believe is categorized as “unusual historical romance”.  My debut trilogy is set in 1192 and is a combination of me tipping my hat to the Robin Hood legend and expounding on the real history of the time period.  But if you go out searching for Medieval historical romance on the shelves of your local book store I would be very surprised indeed if you found more than one or two titles, if that.  When it comes to straight historical romance I think about 65% of what I see is Regency and the rest is within a hundred years of Regency.  InEngland.  Oh, and the other four book series I’m working on is technically a Western, set inMontanain 1895.  Yeah, not much of a market there either at the moment. 

I have a lovely stack of rejection letters from agents.  They all say more or less the same thing:  Your writing is very good but this concept doesn’t resonate with us.  Okay, I’m fine with that.  I love my stories in all of their misfit glory and rejection by some people I don’t know doesn’t make me love them any less.  And I’ll confess that I haven’t sent out nearly as many queries as maybe I should for these unusual stories.  But I’m finding it hard to muster the enthusiasm for sending out submissions when the messages coming from the publishing world are so mixed.  I’ve even sent queries to agents who have stated that they represent what I’m writing only to have them write back and say that they actually don’t.  Thank you so much for wasting my time. 

I’ve been told several times that straight historical romance is on the rise, that publishers are hungry for it and asking for more.  Yay!  I’ve been told that straight historical romance is stagnating and publishers are only interested if there are paranormal elements to it.  Boo!  I’ve been told that the era of paranormal romance is on the way out and now editors want to see contemporary romance.  I’ve heard that contemporary is only popular if it is romantic suspense.  I’ve been told a great many things.  The only thing out of all these mixed messages that I truly believe is that with the current economic climate publishers are only willing to take a chance on something different if it has been written by a big-name, established author with a history of profitable sales.  New authors need only apply if they have written a “sure thing”.  Regency is a sure thing.  Vampires are a sure thing. 

I wish I could impress upon the agents and editors of the world how disheartening this is for we, the very good writers whose concepts don’t resonate with you.  I understand that you’re running a business and you have to make a profit and that’s become extra hard with the changes and turmoil in the publishing world these days.  But, in my humble opinion, I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot a little.  Because we’ve entered a new era.  

Here’s how the rest of my story goes:  Having faced rejection for my unusual time periods and locations from the traditional publishing world but loving my material and sincerely believing I have talent, I am taking my ball and going to play somewhere else.  I am thoroughly enamored with the world of indie publishing.  Yes, I understand it’s massively hard work, that I have to be diligent in editing my work and steadfast in promoting it once it’s published electronically.  I also thoroughly understand that I can’t expect to reach epic sales within the first week of release – or the first year of release – and I most definitely will not become rich and famous by publishing this way.  I fully understand and accept the consequences of my actions.  But I just want to write.  I love writing.  I want some people here and there to share in the joy that comes straight from my heart and soul with these oddball stories of mine.  If two dozen people pay a buck to read my babies then I will be content.  And there’s always the chance that I could reach even greater heights.  It’s about the chance of me winning a door-prize at one of these writers conferences, but it’s still a chance. 

If I’m doing it this way then I’m sure many, many others will do it this way too.  There will be many more people out there who bypass the traditional publishing industry to go it on their own.  These entrepreneurial authors will be writing whatever they damn well want to write.  They will love their stories and put their heart into it.  Hopefully they will find good editors and put amazing work up for sale.  And people will buy it because it’s good, not because it’s Regency or Vampires or Cops & Robbers.  Then those mixed messages of what agents and editors are looking for will be broadcast to a smaller and smaller audience.  

Oh, I’m sure there will always be an audience.  Writers will always seek to be published traditionally.  I just have this feeling that in the future the publishing world will pursue authors who have done well electronically and ask them to write something to be published traditionally instead of sitting in the cat-bird seat waiting for writers to come crawling to them begging for publication.  That would be fine with me.  I would like to see balance restored to the industry.  I would like to see authors more empowered and less intimidated by the monster machine that is major publishing houses.  I’ve never liked the loud, subliminal message coming from agents and editors: You can write all you want but ultimately WE hold all the cards and determine whether your heart and soul are good enough.  I am so very happy with the unexpected gift of a real, viable alternative platform for publishing, given to us by Big Business and the 21st Century.  Rock on, modern technology!  You rule! 

So as my publishing industry headache clears, my writing blood has started pumping freely again.  I still hear the siren song of traditional publishing with its mixed messages and confusing directions, but I also hear a way out.  It’s a way that works for me.  It might not be what the next person over wants to hear or do.  That’s okay.  I’m happy.  I’m excited about trying something new.  Maybe someday the traditional publishing world and I can be friends.  That would be nice.  But for now it’s full speed ahead into the brave new world of indie publishing!  Woo hoo!

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2 thoughts on “Publish or Perish?

  1. You decision to self publish seems quite sane from my point of view, and the fact that you’ve had agents say something like “Your writing is very good but this concept doesn’t resonate with us.” is a great sign!

    The key thing, of course, is going to be finding the audience for which your books do resonate.

    I hope you do well!

  2. To be honest, I didn’t even amass the apparently obligatory stack of rejections before deciding to go indie. Maybe this means I’m not that good. Or it could mean that I didn’t submit to hardly anyone before taking the indie route. (I’ll give you a clue – 2). I don’t know if my stuff fits someone else’s box. To be honest, I don’t care. Like you I got bored of the mixed messages long before I had spent even a fraction of my time trying to accommodate them. I have a very short attention span. So I’m going indie. And loving it. Looking forward to publishing my first book in October and simulataneously excited and terrified by the prospect. Rock on, Indies!

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