Dear Unpublished Novelist,
Stop what you’re doing. Immediately. Paying attention? Good.
Now read the following letter (in its entirety) before you decide what to do with that first manuscript you spent so much time on your posterior writing. Trust me, it’ll only help. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
A Writer’s Goals
So you wrote a book, eh? Good for you. A major accomplishment. You should be proud as punch. After all, there aren’t enough novels in the world. I kid. Congrats, for sooth. Now, an important question: should you send your book (your precious baby that you slaved away on) to an agent, a small press, or self-publish?
My answer: depends on what your goals are as a writer. Here’s a breakdown of my thoughts on the subject. Bare in mind these are just my humble opinions based on my experiences in the biz.
There are exceptions, of course, but if you want to earn anything even close to a living, then you definitely need an agent and a big New York publisher. Agents and big publishers have the resources to get your book into bookstores and libraries around the country; they can get your book reviewed in a variety of influential publications; they can set up book tours (although those are becoming less and less frequent unless your name is James Patterson or Nora Roberts). And agents, the good ones anyway, are advocates who help your career in ways that you on your own would never be able to do. Do you know anything about contract law? Do you read and understand legalese? Do you have experience negotiating? No? Me neither. Those are just some of the many reasons you need an agent in your corner. Bottom line, if you want to make some money writing, your best shot is with an agent and a big publisher. Period.
If your goal is to experience the thrill of having your work in “print,” then a small press is great. Nowadays, there are TONS of small presses out there, and some of them put out excellent books at reasonable prices. Another advantage: small presses will take manuscripts directly from an author, whereas big publishers will only read manuscripts sent to them by literary agents. That’s the good stuff. Now, the bad: if you sign with a small press, chances are you will make little to no money (most DO NOT give advances on royalties), and you will be responsible for a majority of the promotions. Also, unless you happen to live near the publisher, or you are willing to travel (at your own expense) to their offices, you will never meet them in person, which, for some writers, could be a major problem. (I’m not particularly fussed about that as I’m a borderline recluse and love to travel . . .all around MY HOUSE.) Most likely your communication with a small press will be through emails, and perhaps a phone call here and there, if that. I know of some small press writers who have never spoken to their publishers, at all.
I’d compare the experience of working with a small press to taking college courses online: sure, it is convenient and you’re still getting a decent education, but you have very limited access to actual human beings, and, as we all know, things can get lost in translation via email and phone.
My opinion: small presses do their best, but their resources (and time) are limited, so go into the whole process with your eyes open. . . and perhaps most importantly, manage your expectations.
As for self-publishing. . .well, I get tired just thinking about it. Advantages: you do get to keep more of the money you earn, and you’re in total control, which, as a control freak, is attractive to me and more important than the money aspect even. However, it’s expensive because you’re responsible for everything. Literally everything. Writing, editing, book cover, promotions. . .the whole shooting match. It’s a ton of work, and frankly, there are SO MANY self-published books out there that it will be very, very, very, very difficult to get yours noticed. It can be done. I know at least two successful self-published authors out there, but both of them had agents and big publishers at one time, which helped them build up a readership that enabled them, in my opinion, to be successful on their own. Plus, those authors hustle, man; they work their butts off, which a lot of us writers, myself included, aren’t willing to do. My take, the self-publishing route is a long shot, but hey, writing is a long shot, so do what you feel!
So there you go, Unpublished Novelist. My two cents worth. Remember to take all of my advice with a grain of Margarita salt.
Yours in wisdom (which is just a synonym for regret),
Obscure Mystery Novelist