Here in New York City where BookExpo America (BEA) is holding the focus of many in the traditional publishing establishment, a friend and I were finishing lunch at Café Luxembourg when the waiter approached.
“I overheard you guys talking about publishing,” he said. “I wondered if you could give me any advice about self-publishing versus the regular way. What I really want to know is can I just go ahead and self-publish first?”
This question is so prevalent among writers, that another great friend and colleague, Jane Friedman, this week has addressed it.
Solid, practical advice for those in the query trenches from industry professional, Melissa Singer. Don’t be the author that makes the rookie mistakes because you didn’t research the process first. Make agents and editors happy when you submit!.
So… where have I been you ask? Working. The day job heated up just about the same time I finally had BITTERSWEET ready to submit to agents. In between meetings, crunching data, and what felt like endless spreadsheets I was polishing up my query and submitting my latest book to potential agents. How’s it going? Uh….
The simple truth is that the whole submission/query process is without an ounce of fun. There’s the writing of the query along with the author bio, and in some cases a synopsis. No author enjoys writing these – or at least no author I have ever met. And then there’s the rather excruciating waiting to hear back. If the agent is a popular one this can sometimes be the absence of a reply which you are to take as a no within a set time frame or or for some agents, a kindly-worded ‘no thanks’. I’ve received both this past week.
This is sort of the ‘sales’ portion of the author experience. In general, it’s not something that plays to our strengths. It takes a big personality combined with a thick skin to enjoy the process. For the majority of us, promoting one’s work feels a wee bit like:
What’s curious is that I’m doing this knowing full well what I’m getting into – knowing that I’m rubbish at querying and likely to get twenty rejections before the first yes and yet when I got my two ‘thanks, but no’ I felt like this:
And I shouldn’t! I know this isn’t a bit personal. I am an entirely (mostly) rational creature and fully expect numerous rejections before I find an agent who reads my book and thinks “Heck yes!” and offers representation. The process is incredibly subjective because the agent has to love your work to be able to sell it and no matter if you’re the next Stephen King, not everyone is gonna connect with your novel. And I know this. I’ve read all sort of articles and blog posts and tweets and I thought I was prepared, but I’ll tell you… it sucked the wind out of my sails. I have three different works in progress going on right now that I was super excited about and did absolutely nothing on any of them this week because, in truth, I was bummed. And then I was disgusted with myself for being bummed because I knew better.
It’s a reminder that no matter how carefully you set your own expectations, rejection bites. Professional rejection is no more palatable than standing with sweaty palms asking out your secret crush and getting shot down in a public ball of figurative flame. It’s why, despite my naturally extroverted and assertive personality (humble face) I’m in operations management and not sales. I lack that thick-skinned bravado true sales heroes have.
Instead I focus my energies on being sharp, analytical, and effective while I use my people skills for world domina to keep my customers, superiors, and staff happy. It works for me.
Writing a novel is something different. It never feels like a job except when it comes to selling the blasted thing. Then it very much feels like a job one, I sadly confess, that I don’t particularly like. I wonder though, if I don’t like it because there’s so much failure and so little success. Few jobs start out like this, having doors shut on you repeatedly until that one perfect, you-sized door is opened.
Most jobs have small successes and setbacks along the way that lead up to hopefully bigger successes, with an epic failure or two to keep you humble. Then you reach a spot where you can finally say “I made it!” and then pour yourself a martini, stick your feet up on your huge oak desk, and bask in the glory that is your stock portfolio.
There just isn’t that in the literary world. Large successes are few and far between. And truthfully, slow and steady does not guarantee any author the win, because there is no race. To avoid Heartbreak Hill (and milk this metaphor for all she’s got) I think we have to define success differently depending on what our ‘finish line’ is as an author. I am not expecting to buy a vacation home and fund a trip to Disney every year on the amazing profits I will earn from my totally awesome novels. It’s readers I want. There is nothing better than hearing that someone loves the characters I created, even when they are berating me for killing one off.
Creating a world and handing it to someone in the form of a book is like letting them into my personal wonderland to hang out with me. There’s true joy to be had in sharing stories that typically bounce around in my head for ages before they reach the page. I can’t give justice to the warm, tingly feeling I get when someone connects with my work except to liken it to Christmas morning. As an adult there are few pleasures so simple and so grand.
Today I am allowing myself to be a mopey, whinging baby about the whole thing and tomorrow it’s back into the trenches with more emails out to agents I would love to work with. Persistence, above all else, is what this requires. Because you can’t dictate to own heart how to feel about things. If that were the case high-school crushes wouldn’t feel like the end of the world. No, the sting of rejection is simply human and there are those of us who are more vulnerable to it than others. Still stepping up on the ladder and hurling over the edge into the unknown is what this takes.