This weekend I’m attending the San Francisco Writer’s Conference and spending a little quality time with BETA ONE. I would say it’s sad she lives so far away, but if she didn’t I wouldn’t have an excuse to visit California so much!
But, as much as I love BETA ONE, she’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about a panel I attended yesterday. It was a group of YA agents who spoke about what they were looking for and answered questions about the YA market, and an agent’s role. The agents who spoke were very nice and encouraging, and I believe it was quite helpful for the agent hunters out there.
For me, it was a little concerning. I’d been told by other writer friends that conferences were fun, but could be discouraging. That agents and editors talked a lot about how hard the business is, how difficult it can be to break in, get an agent, get the book deal. That generally the conferences could be a bit depressing.
In this panel I saw a different, and a little alarming trend. Rather than tell the audience that it was hard to get an agent, that the business was difficult, the panel was actually quite encouraging. But they also pushed self-publishing and e-publishing as an alternative. Which of course it is, but it’s also really, really hard work in and of itself. Everyone I’ve heard talk about e-publishing have made it sound easy…you just throw up a manuscript on Amazon and the sales start rolling in! But it really isn’t that simple. There’s the basic stuff, like formatting, cover art…making it look professional. And the marketing. No one will find your book if you don’t market the hell out of it – and yourself. But the biggest issue – once they find your book, is it really book ready? When they take a chance on it, will it present you as an author and a brand at the level you want?
One of these days I’ll write about my own self-publishing experience…but for now I’ll just say this. I got a great review on my self-published book, in a prestigious journal. I had to reprint, sold almost 900 copies. And I didn’t make a dime. But that review? Someone who really got my work? THAT made it worth it. And that kind of experience is a lot easier to come by if you go the traditional route.
There are so many editorial steps in traditional publishing, even after the book is written and revised. An agent will give editorial notes, an editor will give notes…and after several rounds of that, there’s copyediting, proofreading, typesetting. There are so many different sets of eyes that look at a traditionally published book. I believe it’s almost impossible to achieve that level of polish for a book without that traditional process.
Which is why I have no interest in following the self-publishing route again. I want my work to be the absolute best it can be. And I know that I can’t achieve that alone. I know there’s a lot of “us versus them” and “editors are evil gatekeepers” out there…but truth be told, I’ve never felt that way. And not because I’ve had success. In fact, I’ve wracked up an impressive collection of rejections. But the way I see it? Those projects weren’t ready. As much as it pains me to admit it, my first novel was concept and not a whole lot else. Looking back, I understand why it was rejected. And I’d like to think I learned from the experience and made the second book better.
There are definitely days when I don’t feel quite this positive or philosophical about rejection – those days when all I want to do is eat chocolate and cry. Oh yeah. But, AFTER I read that “no”, when I have a chance to step back and really think about it, I realize I see the rejection as a challenge. Rather than throw up my ego and my novel and say “they just didn’t understand” or “they made a mistake”, I feel challenged to write an even BETTER book next time. To take the feedback and my own thoughts about my work and learn from it. Get a little closer next time. NEXT TIME I’ll knock their socks off. Next time the novel won’t just be a concept or a character. It’ll be the whole shebang.
So yeah. I’m okay with the gatekeepers. I’m okay with quality control. Because I LIKE that it’s hard. I like that getting a book deal is really ACCOMPLISHING something. Because challenging myself to get to that level makes me a better writer. Trying to do something really hard, often painful, and seemingly impossible makes it feel worth doing.
If I were to give advice to aspiring authors who were looking for an agent, or to someone thinking about self-publishing, I would say, no matter what you do, start with the book. Write the best damn book you can, and if that one doesn’t find the agent or audience you’d hoped, write another even better one.