Self Publishing Doesn’t Make You a Failure
In my own mind, I had failed. For years after writing my first novel, I hit the streets and queried agent after agent. The only thing I had to show for my work was a dazzling array of rejection letters, ranging from extremely short form letters to handwritten apologetic letters.
That story is likely a familiar one to many, many writers. The feeling of dejection and failure from seeing yet another response that begins “Dear Writer, thank you for querying us, but…” is an extremely tough one to deal with. The worst part, though, is the waiting. Agencies take months to respond in some cases, and I was never sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
On the one hand, maybe it’s taking a long time because my work is being discussed, thought over, and considered. On the other hand, maybe it was forgotten about. I had to keep my mind on other things as much as I could, for fear of going insane from the constant speculation about why an agency would take 4 months to respond to a simple query. If they had a full manuscript, I could totally understand the wait, but 4 months for a short, three or four paragraph query letter?
Of course, it’s obvious why there’s a wait. Literary agencies are behind the times, they don’t employ many people, and they receive many, many queries each day. It’s quite possibly the worst setup for someone trying to break into the industry. Agencies also often employ archaic rules (snail mail only, as an example), strict guidelines, and no tolerance for deviation.
Once or twice, an agent or small publisher bit my hook. I refined my query letter and synopsis, and over time I found that more and more people were requesting partial or full manuscripts. That’s a great feeling for an aspiring author, but seeing your manuscripts come back rejected (or not come back at all) is even worse than a query letter rejection. Instead of rejecting my general idea, they were rejecting my actual work. I did, unexpectedly, receive some personal feedback, mostly to the effect that my book’s genre is hard to place, and doesn’t fit anywhere nicely. I don’t disagree with them.
At one small publisher, my full manuscript was accepted, and one of the owners was championing my book. That felt awesome. There were three co-owners, and the way this particular publisher worked was that they had to have a unanimous vote on a new manuscript in order to accept it. My book received two votes. I found that experience emotionally difficult, and decided not to submit to any more publishers or agents.
So there I was, after spending years of my life trying to find someone – anyone – who would publish my book, I logged on to Amazon, self-published it one afternoon, and promptly forgot about it entirely. My original goal in self-publication was not one of selling copies or making it on my own, it was entirely self-defeat. Screw it, I thought, I’ll just publish it myself and get it over with. That was the end of it.
I checked my sales from time to time and was not surprised to see that no one was buying it. Copies sold for the first 2 years combined were single-digit numbers. But again, my goal was not to sell, my goal was to get rid of the book and ultimately try to forget the horrible experience of traditional publishing. The book was, in my mind, tainted due to failure.
Recently, a friend of mine decided to start writing and came to me for some self-publishing advice. He had heard I was a self-published author, and was eager to break into it himself. Instead of giving advice, I found myself receiving it. He suggested I take the e-marketing approach and try to sell the book myself. A dedicated Twitter and GoodReads account later, my sales started rising.
What do you know, the system works!
What ultimately started as an act of desperation has transformed into one of hope. The book is selling, it’s getting reviews, and for the first time I feel like a real author.
It’s clear to me that the traditional publishing model isn’t sustainable for much longer. eBook sales are rising, traditional books are dropping. Traditional publishers don’t take many risks, whereas the entire eBook market is saturated with risk. It costs nothing to try something out. Write a genre you’re not used to and self-publish, see if people like it. That would never happen in traditional publishing.
Self publication is not failure. You may not make many sales, but ultimately you are in control. Complete control. You can change the cover, correct any editing mistakes, update the synopsis, market to the audience you identify, and publish whenever you want to. It’s definitely not failure, but it is a lot of work.