The Overnight Success Myth and Other Stories…

I’m not sure why this has come up now but I’ve found myself discussing the hard work aspect of becoming a writer quite a lot over the past week.

Also, with the attitude of some independent authors and the hardening attitude among readers it has caused, I am beginning to wonder whether self publishing is quite such a smart option. It’s definitely right for me at the moment, but long-term smart? I’m not sure.

Run with me on this, eventually the two thoughts will connect.

Reading the results of the Taleist survey of indie authors, I was interested to see that some ludicrously high percentage of independenly published books – about 75 I think – are fantasy. I’m not sure this reflects the number of fantasy writers out there so much as the number of publishers willing to take them on. Certainly there were very few in 2009 when I was looking at the traditional route and of the few prepared to read a fantasy manuscript, even less, would look at a funny one.

However, whichever way you cut it, it means that any fantasy writer who does decide to look for a publisher will have a lot of competition. In regard to my own work, the standard doesn’t worry me, but setting my talent (or lack of it) aside for a moment, there are a lot of aspects, beyond my control, that make someone like me an unattractive prospect to a publisher. So if you’re grappling with the self or pukka publisher question here are four reasons to think about self publishing over and above the usual ones.

If you take a long time to write a book.
Going on my own experience here, the way I see it is this: If I go on sending my work to publishers for long enough the law of probabilities states that it will click with somebody – but with my business hat on, I can’t help wondering about the other criteria. You see if I was a publisher, I’d be looking for more than just talent, I’d be looking for commitment and that’s where I fall down. Big time. I already commit most of my spare time to being a writer and it’s about… er hem… 10 hours a week. I have the odd weekend, too, so I could score a Saturday book signing every now and again but I would probably have to attend with a small boy (four tomorrow).

Looking at the early Pratchett model, I reckon you have to be able to write a decent book every 6 months at the outset to keep up momentum and to keep your readers – not to mention your publisher – interested. It costs a lot of money to publish a book and until you have written a few of them, the Publisher isn’t going to get much back. So, if it takes you longer than 6 months to write one I reckon you have two options. Publish them yourself or stockpile a few manuscripts that are ready to go before you approach a publisher. Think about it from their point of view, if they like your work that’s good but if you’re prolific you will deliver a return for their investment more quickly. That might be the difference between their giving a contract to you or to someone else.

If marketing your book will get in the way of writing the next one.
One of my author friends is doing a book signing somewhere in the UK on all bar 4 weekends this year. That’s seriously impressive. If anyone deserves to be an ‘overnight success’ it’s this guy but that’s the level of commitment it takes. It’s the level of work I would aspire to if my circumstances were different, in fact I’m kind of envious of him. Oh alright, I’m very envious, positively seething, but I digress.

If you do have a publisher, marketing your book is almost more important than when you self publish. How so? Because they have put their faith in you and if you have any scrap of self respect or honour in you, you won’t want to let them down. You will have to be involved in a very hands-on way with selling your book. So there are two things to think about there. First, even if you want to put in that kind of commitment, can you? If you can’t, will you feel bad about letting your publisher – or yourself – down or feel pressured that you’ve found a publisher and shouldn’t waste your opportunity. This is one of the big factors in my decision to self publish. It’s also why I believe I will have to demurr from chasing establishment endorsement for a couple more years.

Do you need to balance the proportion of your time you spend positively?
Getting said ‘no’ to on a semi-professional basis can be soul destroying. You are probably different to me but going on the vast difference between my ability get a job and my ability to actually do one, I should think it will take me well over 100 rejections before I get a reply from anyone – let alone a yes. I might be able to handle that if I send out my applications in batches. However, there’s a catch. Sure, most publishers want the same kind of things but each one wants them presented just differently enough to ensure that a merge file won’t cut the mustard.

Publishers are getting hundreds of letters from people like you and me every day. Jumping through the hoops the way they want you to is very important. Do it wrong and your application will be filed under ‘B’ straight away. So by the time M T McSpacker, here, has checked and re-checked each application, that’s going to be my 10 hours for the week, and probably my 10 hours for the next week, too. What I’m trying to say is that right now, that’s a daunting amount of work to put into a very negative process. Yes, getting politely and repeatedly slapped down – even if the eventual outcome might be positive – is grim. It’s self indulgent and whimpy of me but I just don’t have enough spare time or confidence to use that much of it, that way, at the moment.

Don’t be afraid of getting left behind.
Kind of an about turn after some of the things I’ve been saying but still important. The hardest, hardest thing to do but very important or you’ll burn out and go mental. You have to take this stuff at your own pace. If you aren’t able to achieve something right now, for whatever reason, relax and concentrate on the things you can achieve.

For me, the publisher question will not go away. It’s good to have the endorsement of a gatekeeper and it’s good for your confidence as a writer. I believe in my stuff or I wouldn’t ever have found the balls to publish it myself. However, I see a little gap in my confidence, a tiny doubt, that will never go away without establishment endorsement. And I see the headway I make trying to get it into brick and mortar bookshops. And I think. Ah.

Hopefully, anyone who does the self publishing thing properly, me included, is going to learn things in the process. Things that may well increase their marketability to a publisher. After all, if you can show some empathy with their viewpoint and the challenges they face, it’s got to help. Maybe, if I understand a bit more about what publishing is about it will make up for the lack of time I have for both writing and marketing.

So, I’ve set myself a realistic target. When the next Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook comes out (2013). Then, if the publishing world is still the way it is now and if my world contains more time, I will spend one day a week on getting a publisher. And I will write to every British Fantasy publisher in that ruddy book until I can bludgeon one of them into saying yes to me.

Until then? Well, I’ll ignore it and hope it’ll go away. I never said I was brave did I?

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Filed under About My Writing, Finding a publisher, General Wittering

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