Taking the Plunge…Why Haven’t I? by Cassiel Knight

I follow a lot of agency blogs in my quest for an agent. One of the blogs I follow with daily diligence is by Meredith Barnes, an associate agent at Lowenstein Associates. She’s also a Digital Strategist (cool title!) and Subsidiary Rights Manager. I first learned about her when she worked with Janet Reid at FinePrint Literary Management. When Ms. Barnes started blogging, I followed her there.  Her blog posts are always chock full of information, especially about social media (um, digital strategizing?). You can find her at La Vie en Prose.

The other day, she posted about Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing, and I got to thinking about what she and some of the commenter’s noted. I don’t disagree with her post. The main thing that got me thinking about my own career is this:

Of course, some self-published authors get leveraged into traditional deals with publishers, but these are few and far between…There is about a 1% chance that your self-publishing experience will look anything like John Locke’s.

If you’re hoping to be published traditionally, the best way to get there is traditionally. Query agents. Revise for agents. Attend conferences. Do research. Get an Agent. Get a Book Deal.

I agree that people going into self-publishing with the thought to be the next Hocking, Locke (and others), to land that coveted agent and traditional publishing contract are looking at self-publishing through rose-colored glasses and truly have no idea what’s expected to succeed.

However, in thinking about the reasons I’ve heard people decide to self-publish, and exploring why I have considered it myself, I believe there are those who simply self-publish because traditional publishing is a broken record of no and no and no and no – and you get the point.

Maybe some (a lot?) authors are submitting before they should which is why they are receiving ‘nos’, but I suspect a larger percentage just haven’t been able to nail the “IT Factor” for the right agent. Phrase borrowed with full credit to Lori Dillon at The Otherworld Diner. An aside, check out her IT Factor posts. She’s very good and seems to really nail why a story might/might not have been picked up.

For the last three years, I’ve spent a lot of time (more than 80% of my author time) pursuing elusive agents. I get great responses, requests for fulls but then….nothing. Oh, some feedback but nothing I can sink my teeth into as to why I’m not getting represented. I’m beginning to believe agents just don’t get my voice. Editors do. Because I’ve sold to Samhain and am doing well and have received revise and submits from two small press publishers. So, readers and editors get my voice. This is why I’m considering self-publishing. Because as much as I’d love an agent and to be published with one of the big 6, I’m getting tired of the “not for me” or “I didn’t love it enough” responses, or worse, the increasingly common response of no means no. I keep hearing the industry is tougher for agents (yes, from repped friends). However, it sure hasn’t seemed to make it any easier to break in. No, this isn’t a post about sour grapes. I’m happy with the two contracts with Samhain and a new one with Lyrical Press.

It’s about a realization. A realization that with self-publishing, I don’t HAVE to keep beating my head against the proverbial traditional publishing world which includes agents. I get to make that choice. I’m looking for an agent because I want one. Because I recognize their value. However, maybe having one isn’t in the cards. I won’t say I’d be okay with that, but I get it.

A year and a half ago, I would never have considered e-publishing much less self-publishing. That being said, I’m not quite ready to leap into self-publishing (I so admire those that have and I’m praying for your success).

I’m not quite ready to deal with the downside of self-publishing – the fact that I’d have to do 100% of the marketing. With Samhain and Lyrical, I have to do something. More like 60%. Some self-published authors do this quite well and have the energy to do so. At this point, that’s not me. However, as I gain more experience in marketing with my publishers, who knows, self-publishing could be just around the corner.

As an author, have you considered self-publishing? Why or why not? If yes, did you and how’s it going?

As a reader, what do you think about self-publishing? Have you read any self-published authors? (and note that two of the Janes’ – Su and Nancy are both self-published. :-D) 

All of these delightful cartoons used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com. Aren’t they great? She has more-check them out.

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Posted on August 31, 2011, in General and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Maggie & Kim – Thank you!! You’ve both said exactly what I’ve felt & said many times :-). First, a writer MUST market. It’s within our control to promote our own work. We have to be our own best champion. No one (unless we pay someone) will do it for us.

    Going with a print publisher (Legacy/Big 6) just to get their marketing oomph behind you is missing the point. You’d have to have a book that fits into their (very) narrow box of what they (being the marketing dept) *think* the readership will buy. Then they have to think you have a “big” idea and one that would sell gang-busters No Matter What Media It’s Published In. THEN they will pay a piddling amount up front (advance) AND expect you to do your own publishing along with their own marketing plan.

    So, if we’re doing the work anyway, why not get the bigger piece of the cover price? It’s the direction I’m going in, despite my skepticism in the past. And if your book doesn’t fit into the box, going digital is smart.

    Readers are out there! And they want the story we’re writing, whether it fits into someone’s idea of a box or not.

    Go forth! Write the story in your heart! I believe someone is out there, just waiting to read it.

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  2. I think no one really knows how and when self-publishing works. However, I can tell you that I have several friends who have both self-published and traditionally published. In the case of one, she started with small presses (like Samhain) and did “well-enough” as long as it fit their list. But for those things that didn’t fit and she couldn’t sell, she self-published. Guess what. She made a LOT more money self-publishing, and that’s saying something because people make decent money with Samhain.

    Another friend of mine has traditionally published over 13 books with what I call medium-sized presses (along the Dorchester, Sourcebooks, Five Star type sizing). She has been agented most of the time and is now. She did well with her books by her publisher’s standards–certainly well enough they wanted to keep her and gave her small raises in royalties. However, when Dorchester went under she decided to try self-publishing. She’s done VERY well. In fact, where she was previously living hand-to-mouth from one contract to the next, she has now made enough in the last two years to buy her first home and actually have furniture in it.

    So, the question is why is she making very good money on books that no one bigger wanted to buy? I think it’s for a couple of reasons. 1) She did have an established readership that continues to buy her and continues to grow. The money difference is because she now gets between 50% and 80% of the sales price (depending on distribution) instead of 6%-10%. 2) Ebooks have allowed for the exploitation of niche. With millions of readers, a niche writer can still get a big slice of money from a relatively small slice of readership.

    She stills has an agent and she still has a traditional contract too. However, she has been evaluating if she can actually “afford” to continue writing for a traditional publisher because the return on her investment of time is miniscule in comparison to her investment in time for her self-published works.

    So, how is it that writers do make a living self-publishing books that agents or editors have turned down? I think it’s two things. First the niche market I explained above. Second, and this is the most important, I think that agents and editors haven’t made the shift yet. They left the midlist behind about ten years ago. They are still looking for the “bigger” book–the next bestseller. The problem is no one knows what that will be. At least not in fiction. In non-fiction it’s easier to figure out.

    As for me, I’m doing both. I have books that don’t fit neatly into genre and aren’t identified as best seller material. ETERNITY is a good example of that. I finaled in contests with it, I had requests for fulls from both editors and agents. The feedback I received was it was well-written and certainly a big idea. However, it had too much SF for the romance market and too much romance for the SF market. Could I have rewritten it to fit one market? Maybe, but I didn’t think that served the story. So, I self-published. Well I make a gazillion dollars. Probably not. However, I’ll make a heck of a lot more than having it rot under the bed. I’m also self-publishing a series that I call “romantic women’s fiction.” What does that mean? It means it has too much women’s fiction for the romance market and too much romance for the women’s fiction market. 🙂 Again, well received by editors and agents but they don’t see the market for it.

    On the other hand, I published my romantic suspense, EXPENDABLE, with a small press (Wild Rose Press) and I absolutely loved my experience working with them. I’ll be interested to see if it makes more than my self-published work. I have a YA novel I believe is definitely NY bound. I’ve had requests from three editors, so I know the idea is one they see as viable.

    As for agents, I’m still on the fence. I do believe a good agent offers great value. I also believe there are mediocre and down-right bad agents that actually harm your career. So, I’ll use an agent when I find the right one. I still talk with agents at conferences, but I don’t cold query in the mail or email anymore. It’s just not worth my time. Too many of them never respond. I understand they get a lot of queries–most of which are trash. But not even responding with a “not for me” in my opinion is not someone I want to work with. It means that agent doesn’t value the author’s work. That agent believes what he/she does is more important, more valuable than what the author does. That doesn’t work for me. I think the relationship needs to value each part of it equally.

    So, until I find the right person, I’m sticking with editors. I have never once had an editor not get back to me. If I get a contract, I’ll look equally at agents and literary attorneys and see what happens. None of this is magic. It’s all work. Right now, it’s all MY work and I’m going to put it in the best place possible with the company that values my work–whether that’s a big six publisher, an agent who gets my writing, a small press, or just me.

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