I finished my first novel in 2008, seven years ago. And pretty much since 2008, I had been trying to have a book picked up by a traditional publisher.
2015 was the year I let that go.
I don't know exactly what changed, it may have been any number of both positive and negative experiences and realizations, but probably a combination of:
- The horror of having my first YA book published by a now defunct microscopic independent press that didn't have any idea how to be a microscopic independent press (truly a horrible, but valuable, learning experience that I won't soon forget.)
- Unexpectedly, and thankfully, getting the rights to ASCENDANT back at the beginning of 2015 (instead of waiting another year for the rights to revert) and republishing it my way--to great personal satisfaction that was largely unexpected.
- Reading the writing (no joke intended) on the wall with regards to me and my now former agent. Which was basically that, while we connected on ASCENDANT, everything I sent her thereafter was sort of a "meh" for her. Not that she said it like that, but I've always thought a girl should be able to tell, and be honest with herself, when someone is "just not that into you." We parted extremely amicably, but I knew I was writing stuff that didn't excite her the way that first book had--it happens. Once we parted ways, I couldn't even begin to imagine starting all over. Querying agents? After already having one that wasn't able to sell your first book and didn't really like your others? That felt like trying to get back in the game after a divorce, five kids, and a mortgage to pay. Seriously, working harder and staying single (self-publishing) seemed to me the far more attractive, and constructive, use of my time.
- Realizing that no matter what all the publishing professionals tell you on their blogs and Twitter feeds, the terminal waiting of traditional publishing is ridiculous (seriously, you have never waited for anything, not even your baby to be born, like you wait on every step of traditional publishing. The terminal waiting is of course a direct result of an extreme excess of supply (i.e., writers with non contracted manuscripts waiting to be read) and a demand nearing zero. The exception? You are super important writer (lots of media buzz) or high dollar earning self published writer, and then everyone in publishing drops everything else and runs to woo you. In case you are wondering, MOST writers do not fit into either of these categories--sadly, not even the ones with a traditional publishing contract.)
- The vagaries of what everyone in publishing THINKS they want--but, with the exception of the perennially successful and talented editors that seem to get to STILL EDIT BOOKS, most don't really have an articulated clue that doesn't vacillate wildly from week to week. Essentially, and they may not say it right out loud, I think it basically boils down to wanting the "sure thing" that "sells well." This is often called "just loving it." *shrugs* If you read a lot of books, your guess about what might sell well is probably just as good as theirs.
- The time I spent working at an agency, lifting the curtain, and seeing the whole show first hand. This experience, while extremely valuable, I will equate to those that have become vegetarian after visiting a Tyson plant or a pig farm. Sausage is probably less palatable to anyone that has seen it being made. As a writer, this was probably the best and worst job to have ever taken because now I know the truth, and sadly, I also know the truth.
- And the saddest truth? Sigh, good books, hell great books don't get picked up ALL THE TIME. It's not enough to be a talented writer with a good story. And weirdly, mediocre stuff does get championed and sold to publishers (even if it doesn't eventually sell well, or at all, to the public) and it all boils down to one gatekeeper's personal taste and the personal relationship that particular gatekeeper has with certain stakeholders in New York et al. Furthermore, most writers have NO IDEA what sort of relationships certain agents have with certain editors at certain houses. How could we? Agents and editors RARELY badmouth each other publicly, that would be unprofessional. But they definitely hold opinions about each other (both good and bad) that effect acquisitions. But the writer almost never knows...and yet these relationships, or lack thereof, impact the writer most of all.
- And finally, self-publishing is a lot of work. But what I've found is that in comparison to the quagmire of traditional publishing, for me anyway, self publishing is a constructive, forward moving, direct path that leads to the whole reason I want to write books in the first place--SO THAT READERS CAN READ THEM. Period. That is what I want. For readers to read and enjoy my books. And they do. Because my books now exist out in the world for people to read. Some readers buy them, some readers get them for free, but I'm writing books and connecting with readers because the link between the writer and reader (THE BOOK) is available instead of waiting in a pile of first level slush hoping to get championed and then shoveled into the second level pile of slush (where it may, but probably won't, get placed in the lineup to be pushed out the door in two-three years.)
So yeah, a few experiences coupled with epiphanies topped off with letting go and moving forward. Traditional publishing is absolutely a successful route for some writers.
Just not this writer. I've let all the way go.