I had this very interesting comment from Paul Gresty about my interview with John Rakestraw at BlogTalkRadio, and it’s typical of questions I’ve been seeing a lot of authors wrestling with. What follows is just my opinion as an author and freelance editor, and may be typical only of the UK publishing market, but here goes.
Paul: You talked in the interview about writers who have had near misses with agents. A few times now, the agents who’ve read my novel have said: ‘This is really good, but we can’t see a major publisher going for it. Try finding a smaller publisher of literary fiction for it, and send us whatever you write next.’ At the same time, smaller publishers, with whom I’ve published bits and pieces before, are saying, ‘We don’t have the means to publish a new book right now’.
I know a number of writers who have excellent, interesting novels that are not getting published. Perhaps they cross genres, or they’re too edgy to be literary and too intelligent to be genre. In all likelihood if those writers were submitting those same novels to the market 5 or 10 years ago they would have landed a publishing deal. But publishers don’t want them any more.
My agent says he’s had plenty of situations in the last few years when editors have adored a novel by one of his clients, have recommended it for publication and had it rejected by the marketing department. So these novels were definitely good enough. But the marketers didn’t want them.
Publishers don’t sell to ordinary readers
The major publishers sell to book stores, and they want to make bulk sales to chains. They want titles that will sell in quantity. Not something ‘interesting’ that will sell one or two copies per store.
Meanwhile, smaller publishers are inundated with submissions and can only afford to publish a few titles a year. This is because there’s a lot of work in bringing a manuscript up to standard and it is simply impossible for a shoestring staff to handle more than a small number.
Paul: Perhaps the solution is to publish an ebook?
That seems to make perfect sense. While you may not shift very many copies in your town or even your county, worldwide you might find 15,000 people who want to read what you write. Providing you can reach them – and the internet is the place to do it. Some small publishers are testing the water by epublishing titles first, and then if sales go well they produce a print version. But again, you have to land on their desk before they hit their quota for the year. How lucky do you feel?
Paul: On the writing courses I’ve done over the last few years, I’ve been advised against self-publishing – ‘vanity’ publishing, with all the negative connotations. ‘It shows that you haven’t looked hard enough to find a ‘real’ publisher,’ I’ve been told. But maybe that’s changing. Maybe self-publishing is becoming more legitimate. Is it?
Ooh, this is interesting.
Vanity publishing is not the same as self-publishing. With vanity publishing you pay – usually a lot of money – for someone to print thousands of shoddy copies of your book and then you discover they’re not going to sell or distribute them for you. It’s usually verging on a scam. With self-publishing no money changes hands until a copy is sold (of course you may spend money on covers, editing etc, but that doesn’t usually have anything to do with the self-publishing company).
As for the assertion that if you can’t get a ‘proper’ publisher you haven’t earned your spurs…
Many of the people saying that either wouldn’t get published now or have never tried at all. I still encounter people who imagine they only have to slip their magnum opus through a publisher’s letterbox and they’ll be Rowling all the way to the bank.
Take no notice of the stuffy gits at those writing courses. They’re well out of date. I bet most of them don’t even know what an online platform is, or assume we’re all writing undisciplined noodlings about what we had for breakfast.
I couldn’t get a ‘proper publisher’ for Nail Your Novel. I was told it was far too short and there were far too many how-to-write books. It was not needed in the market, apparently. So I self-published. Far from being a flop it’s been getting great reviews and sales that have surprised me. I regularly get emails and tweets from people who are genuinely grateful I put it out there.
Catherine Ryan Howard, of the blog Catherine, Caffeinated, self-published her travel memoir Mousetrapped after agents told her it was a good read but hard to place. It’s doing very nicely for her – especially in ebook form. (She’s got a book coming soon all about how she self-published. I just read an ARC. If you’re interested in self-publishing it’s called Self-Printed and I urge you to get it.)
Which brings me back to…
Conventional publishers have narrower tastes than the book-buying public. Much narrower.
My agent also says that the pendulum is bound to swing the other way in favour of these maverick, original writers. That’s lovely of him, but who knows if it will? Self-publishing makes sense if you’ve exhausted normal channels and don’t want to wait for ever.
The trouble is, as I said on the radio show, anyone can now hit ‘publish’. There isn’t yet a reliable way for readers to find out which the good self-published books are, especially with fiction. How do you even get noticed?
I haven’t got an answer for this. Except…
Let’s show those stuffy gits
Self-publishers are now more credible than we have ever been. We must keep that credibility. We must aim for the highest possible quality. That means getting professional help with the editing, proofing and design, so that the book can hold its own against the best of conventionally published titles. (In fact, I’m just revamping the interior design of the print version of Nail Your Novel so that it looks as crisp as possible. Not the content, just the layout and typestyles. When I first formatted it I didn’t think I’d be getting it on Amazon alongside the top-selling books in its field. Now it needs to look the part.)
To sum up: Paul, if you’re really sure you’ve done all you can to make your book as good as you can, hit publish.
(Thank you, Oldonliner, for the picture)
What would you tell Paul? Are you another ‘near miss’ author? Discuss in the comments!