Musings on IndiePub v. TradPub

I hope everyone had a great weekend!  I was down in Delta Juntion AK with my family for Easter and had a good time goofing around with relatives and friends.  (I blame a lack of decent internet for this posting being a day late.)  And I’ve so far escaped the evil genius of my husband on this most hated of days- my only hope is that he’s reserving his trickeries for his coworkers and hasn’t simply booby trapped the house for later hilarity.

Last week I promised two more short stories, but it appears I spoke too soon.  I’ve sent the remaining two out to serial publications in the thought that perhaps that would be words better spent.  One of them would not take pre-published pieces, which would include things posted on personal blogs on the internet, and the other was unclear.  So I’m holding those two back for now.  If anything comes of it, I’ll be sure to pass along how you can read them.

Which leaves me in the conundrum of what to post today… Hmmm…

My family’s Easter baskets have relatively little candy.  The Easter bunny likes to fill them up instead with art supplies, bubbles, little toys, stickers, and, most importantly, books.  One of the books that our most beloved supernatural rodent left for me was a wonderful gem by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  True confession: I poked my impatient nose into it a little early.  I’ve been reading it for the last few weeks and am currently in the section about self-publication.  And then my writing buddy sent me an email this morning with a link to an article by a favorite self-published author of hers, Ms. Lindsay Buroker, titled: Writers, Are You Wasting Your Time Submitting to Agents.  The internet is rife with these sorts of articles.  They make a compelling argument and I’d be lying if I claimed I couldn’t see the appeal.

I’ve been writing for well over a decade now.  I have several titles in various drafts, as well as a few first drafts I’m starting up or just finishing out, and quite a few interesting ideas I’ve been toying with.  But just about two weeks ago, I finished a final draft for a book that I feel is ready to grow up and find its place in the world.  It’s an exciting time for me.  I want to do it right.  I’ve always dreamed of traditional publication with a large publishing house, but how realistic is that?  I believe I have an excellent book, but I’m sure the slush pile is littered with the high hopes of thousands of eager little children just like me.  How long should I hunt for an agent?  A year?  Two?  I’ve accept that it could take that long, but do I still want to do that if there’s a better way?  I’d finally gotten over my terrible fear of rejections- because there will certainly be some of those- only to find myself crippled by indecision.

The publishing world is huge, intimidating, and foreign.  I know just enough to know that what I know is not enough.  There are all kinds of gatekeepers in place around the pristine palace of publication designed to filter out everything not up to snuff, although definitions on what ‘snuff’ is can vary incredibly. I have to first convince an agent that I’m hot stuff, who then has to convince an editor, who then has to convince the whole publication team, who then has to convince book vendors all over the world (if I’m lucky), and every single one of them takes a piece of the pie, because we’ll all be baking it together.  Granted, I brought all the ingredients, but they bring in the recipe, the oven, the rolling pin, and probably the cutlery, too.

Besides that, traditional publication can take forever.  In a world where a Youtube video of a particularly hilarious cat or a teenager’s excruciatingly awful attempt at coolness can become an overnight sensation, it baffles the mind that the publication industry still moves so slowly. Say I sit down and write a wonderful treatise on my adventures in the booming chihuahua trade in North Korean prison camps and then hear on the news that Kim Jong Un just got a pet chihuahua that is now charmingly yapping their national anthem all over the internet.  Let’s assume I’m quick and find an agent in just two months.  And then assume she’s quick and finds me a publishing contract in another couple months.  It’s still going to be over a year before my baby hits the shelves at Barnes and Nobles.  My wonderfully timely book will be completely outdated by the time it shows up.  Lame.  What’s even lamer is that industry pundits will know this and never buy it in the first place.

But, wait!  I already have the book written when this news story hit.  So instead of finding an agent, I make my brother-in-law whip up a cover, upload the document, and have an e-book up for sale that evening.  I can link over to print-on-demand sites as well for the die-hards who will only ever read books in print.  (Ahem.  Like me.)   And voila! I am published and punctual.

Granted, my real book isn’t nonfiction and, although there are still trends to consider, it won’t be as time sensitive.  (Or maybe I’m just being naive.)  But still.  I could realistically spend years on a dream that might never become a reality.

Not that self-publishing doesn’t have its own cons.  There are so many indie books out there now that it seems the slush pile has moved from agents’ and editors’ desks and inboxes to Kindle and Nook ‘free book’ menus, with the readers themselves as the new gatekeepers.  I don’t have the connections or the marketing savvy to ever have the kind of publicity that a traditionally published book could reasonably hope for.  I just have to hope that my book, which likely looks and sounds pretty darn similar to everybody else’ epic fantasy novel, gets enough positive reviews that it starts to pick up its own momentum.  And in my case, it’s pretty much gonna have to be over the internet.  I live in Fairbanks, Alaska; we’ve got like two independent book stores, assuming we count the literacy council’s shop, and we all know Barnes and Nobles isn’t going to give an indie author the time of day to say, “Hi, I wrote a novel.”  Because even if my book is good, it’s hard to get away from the stereotypical ‘self-published’ image of a thousand and one typos, an indecipherable story arc, and authors who can’t keep their own characters straight, let alone potential readers.  “But my mom and my two friends from high school really liked it” doesn’t work with readers any better than it does with agents if your plot can’t hold water, and self-published books are largely assumed to be “edited” completely by myself or my chums who don’t want to hurt my feelings.  And even assuming that my book transcends all those stereotypes, which is a little hard to know for sure unless I want to shell out for an editor or a copy-editor, it’s still going to have to get pretty darn lucky to not simply get swept away in the slurry of self-published books clogging up the internet.  Even if I do rise above the stereotypes, get some recognition on Amazon, and start seeing some decent sales, it is still a simple fact that traditionally published books on average do much better than indie published, especially on the global market and in Hollywood.  And if I’m doing all this in the hope that an agent sees my book, perks up, and makes an offer, I’m going to have to sell like 20,000 copies for that to ever happen, and by then, what’s the point?

So what’s a girl to do?

Well… I haven’t decided yet.  My manuscript is done.  It’s up to Hubby now to tell me whether or not it’s working.  This time around, I think he’ll approve.  (Fortunately, he’s an avid reader as well and an absolutely heartless editor.  Every good step forward I’ve taken in this book since I was twenty was entirely due to his relentless prodding, Heaven bless him.)  If it is working, I was planning on sending it out to some beta readers and then querying like a madwoman.  Maybe I’ll give it a year of getting kicked around by overworked and underpaid agents who have the thankless task of trying to divine the future.  Maybe I’ll eventually get frustrated by unhelpful form rejections, or no replies at all, and turn to indie as the avenue for my dazzling successes.  Or maybe I’ll get picked right up and go on to join the ranks of pro authors cranking out a new bestseller every twelve months.  Who knows? It’s a crazy world.

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