It’s no secret that the publishing business has been in chaos for several years. Bigger publishers are merging, reducing staff, and facing restructures, while smaller publishers are cropping up like weeds and some disappearing just as fast. Authors are being cut or abandoned by publishers left and right and new authors are finding it tough to get a foot in the door. And then there’s self-publishing, which is a whole ‘nuther kettle of fish.
Frankly, I think it’s an exciting time to be an author. Never before have we had such a smorgasbord of choices for our work. On the flip side, never before have we had so many chances to screw up.
As Charles Dickens wrote at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… .”
Whether you are a newbie trying to get your first book published, or an author left high and dry after a few published books, or an author like me with many books under your belt and still under contract, you have to take the time to decide which path is best for your work. It used to be you wrote the book, found an agent, and the agent tried to sell it. Each step was a long and arduous process with no guarantee of success.
But here’s the thing, whether you opt for traditional publishing or self-publishing, or a hybrid, it’s still a long and arduous process. There is no getting around that. A lot of authors, usually first timers, think that they can skirt a lot of the hard work and time by going self-published. Not so. If anything, it takes even more work to be a successful independent author, but if you are successful, you reap bigger royalties.
But don’t let the bright and shiny bigger royalties blind you. Not all authors should go the self-published route and most don’t make those big royalties, at least not out of the gate. For many authors, wearing all the hats doesn’t suit them or overwhelms them. They take shortcuts in editing, proofreading, cover art, and marketing that dooms them almost from the beginning.
Early on, decide what you want out of your writing. Not all publishing options fit all books or authors. Don’t be swayed one way or the other by the traditional vs. independent debate. Look at all of your options and make the best decision based on your goals, time, and skill set. I think a lot of authors give in to peer pressure in this area and end up unhappy.
If it is important to you to have a big name traditional publisher, then by all means pursue that by finding an agent and giving that route a shot. It may take a hundred rejections to find an agent, but if it’s important to you, do it. Don’t settle for your second or third choice without giving your first choice a fair chance.
A lot of the smaller publishers will consider un-agented manuscripts. If you are set on a traditional publisher but are frustrated in your search for an agent or getting rejected by the big name publishers, check out some of the smaller companies that are putting out great books. Ask your writer friends for suggestions or even referrals to their editors at these smaller publishing houses.
If you think you’re cut out for going independent, first talk to several indie authors who have done it successfully. LISTEN to them. Take notes. Copious notes. Don’t think you can build a better mousetrap when you’ve never been in the business before. These people are experts. I’m starting to publish more of my own work and, believe me, I’ve bent the ears of countless indie friends with questions on everything from covers to editing services to marketing. And be ready to spend money to do it right. Freelance editors and cover designers cost money. Slapping something together is career suicide.
And once you choose a path, remember, you can change your mind down the line. Maybe your first book will be with a small press. The second self-published. And maybe your third will catch the eye of a major publisher. You just never know, so don’t lock yourself in. My work is in all three venues and it works for me.
In the end, whether you decide to go traditional or independent, there’s no excuse for laziness. First you have to write the best book you can. Without that, the rest is a waste of time. Sending an agent or publisher a sloppy manuscript will get the door slammed in your face. Self-publishing such a manuscript may tank your career before you even have one. Once those doors are shut or readers turn away from you, it’s extremely difficult and often impossible to get a do-over.
Do it the right way, or don’t do it at all.
There’s so much more to being an author today besides writing a book. You have to look beyond the book, to where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. No matter which path you take, writing a novel is not a casual joy ride on a summer’s day. It’s long journey that deserves your best effort, preparation, and commitment.
Sue Ann Jaffarian is the author of three critically acclaimed mystery series: The Odelia Grey series, the Ghost of Granny Apples series, and the Madison Rose Vampire Mysteries. She also writes the Winnie Wilde erotic romance series under the pen name of Meg Chambers, as well as short stories. In addition to writing, Sue Ann is a full-time paralegal living in Los Angeles. Kirkus has said of Sue Ann, "Like Stuart Kaminsky, Jaffarian juggles her franchises deftly, giving each a unique voice and appeal." Visit her at www.sueannjaffarian.com, or on Twitter or Facebook.