Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Giving Up the Dream
By OFW chief editor:
Published: August 06, 2012
There is no single way to publish. We’ve said often enough that the “right” way depends on the writer and the book. I’ve chosen to traditionally publish, and have spent several years querying without success. Oh, I’ve had interest, but nothing that grew into an actual agent or publisher. I know other writers who opted to self-publish first, but lack the means and the ability to market those books effectively. They jumped the fence, but they’re drowning. So when is it time to give up the dream? When does an author sit down and say, “This is not working” and try another avenue?
Again, that depends on the author and the work. I often wonder if I’m not wasting my time. Self-publishing would be so much easier, I think. Traditional publishing would be achieving a life-long dream though. I flip-flop back and forth until I’m so utterly depressed and confused I contemplate giving it all up. But then I give myself a reality check by asking myself a few questions.
What are your publishing goals?
Do you want your book bricks and mortar bookstore shelves or do you simply want to sell books? Are you open to changing these goals? I ask myself constantly if having my books on “real” shelves is the most important goal, because the only way to do that (at least right now) is to publish traditionally. Self-publishing gets your book online, but distribution and readership (in most cases) is limited. The pricing also tends to be all over the place unless you traditionally publish. Do these things matter to you in the end? Or is your main goal to be read, by whatever means necessary?
How much patience do you have?
Querying is a long, bitter process. You will wait months to hear back from a single agent and that’s just the start. Even if you sign with an agent, it could be double or triple that time before you get your book to publishers. If you do sign with a publisher, you’re looking at a minimum of a year before you’ll see your book on a shelf. Self-publishing is almost instant gratification. The question is, you’ve waited this long, how much longer can you wait to see your dreams realized? On the other hand, can you comfortably take the investment of time you’ve already given and toss it away?
Why have you chosen this route?
I think this is perhaps the most important question, and the one most of us know we don’t have a satisfying answer to. Why do you want to publish independently? Why do you want to publish traditionally? If you’re publishing traditionally simply because you think it’s the only “respectable” way to do so, or you need the approval of someone “qualified” to give it, then you need to re-evaluate your thinking. If you’re self-publishing because you don’t want your work changed, you think publishers are evil thieves, or you simply want it published “now,” you need to re-evaluate your thinking. I’m not saying these reasons are wrong necessarily, but they are certainly not good enough to rule out one route or the other.
What’s the rush?
Your book should be the best it can be. You should want that more than anything else. There’s no prize for being the first to reach the finish line in this race. Readers aren’t going anywhere, so take your time, no matter which route you choose, and make your work among the most polished you can find. Querying allows you time and the tools to do this. Some agents and publishers offer some valuable information in their rejections. This is rare, but occasionally, one will tell you exactly why they rejected. This is an opportunity to improve your work yet again. Use it.
We’re lucky in this industry in that we can choose our own path to success. But with that comes the tricky task of determining which path is the right one for us. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong for wanting to achieve your goals on your own terms. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for wanting something different than the herd.
The choice to self-publish or traditionally publish is not easy and there is no absolute right way to do this. Keep an open mind, constantly question your motivations and your actions, and do what is right at this moment in your journey. A mistake is a learning experience. If you feel you’ve wasted years on querying, don’t view that as a bad thing. Look at what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown as a result. This is not time wasted. If you feel you rushed to publish, don’t be embarrassed. You learned valuable marketing skills and insight into the industry that never-published authors don’t have. Some books are meant to be self-published books, while others need publishers. You have to do what’s right for you, or you’ll never be truly happy.
Don’t give up you dream, but don’t let it define you either. Now and then dreams change and you have to be ready and open for them to do so.
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