When to quit querying and self-publish
Rejections are tough, and when they stand between a writer and his dream of getting published, the call of the world of digitally self-publishing can start to echo louder and louder. But when is the right time to quit querying and self-publish?
We’ve all heard those stories of great books getting turned down by agent/editor after agent/editor then going onto success as a self-published title. There’s Lisa Genova, who spent a year getting rejections from agents for her novel Still Alice, then finally self-published (ignoring advice from an agent who said it would kill her career) and building the novel’s sales into such a success, the book was picked up and published traditionally by Simon & Schuster.
Then there’s Amanda Hocking, who sold $2 million worth of her self-published her YA novels, attracted the attention of an agent, signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press and has gone on to sell movie rights.
And J.A. Konrath, who was a traditionally published author before ebooks became viable, but has found much more success self-publishing his previously rejected novels than he ever did through traditional publishing.
Of course, these don’t represent the results for the typical self-published writer. Just like in the traditional publishing world, there are J.K. Rowlings as well as mid-list authors you’ve never heard of.
So, the question is, is self-publishing right for you? In an interview with WritingRaw.com, agent Eddie Schneider said he’s wary of writers who self-publish because it “implies that the author has poor impulse control.” But he goes on to say, “That being said, there are books that people (publishers and agents alike) just don’t get and have to be shown, by sales success, that they ought to get.”
In his keynote speech at the 2010 SCBWI summer conference, former publisher and now agent Rubin Pfeffer outlined the economic benefits for authors putting out their own ebooks.
Does this translate to: Getting rejections — just do it yourself? No. Absolutely not. Or maybe.
Rejections to query letters could mean a number of things: the query isn’t strong enough, the writing isn’t good enough, the story isn’t interesting enough, the characters aren’t developed enough. Let’s face it, plenty of us have sent out queries for a book we thought was ready only to look at it later and think it wasn’t.
Or the rejections could simply mean the agents/editors just think the book won’t sell, as in the case of Still Alice. With form-letter rejections and no-response policies, it’s hard to say what your specific rejections mean. So, this is where the hard work and gut come in.
Before you quit querying and consider self-publishing, think about these:
- Have you worked your novel over and over until the plot is brilliant, the characters come alive and the writing is spectacular?
- Have you gotten feedback from critique groups?
- Have you gotten feedback from a professional editor?
- Have you given yourself time away from your novel and then come back to it with a fresh eye?
- And, do you believe in this story? Truly, deeply, you’ve said yes to all the above and you really believe in this story.
If your answers to all the above are yes and you’re thinking about quitting the querying and self-publishing, consider this:
All the success story writers I’ve mentioned here worked hard not just writing their book, but also marketing it. As a self-publisher, you’re not only the author — you’re responsible for sales too. So, you’ll have to drum up attention in the online bookstores, get reviews, get interviews, build a buzz. And sure, nowadays, even traditionally published writers have to do the same, but they have an easier time getting reviews and notice just for having that publisher’s name behind them. And after all that marketing and building a following, you’ll have to write more books and market them, etc. It takes hard work, discipline and lots of passion. And success won’t happen overnight.
If you choose to go the self-publishing route, to be successful, you must treat it as any traditional publisher would. That means, get a good book cover, write great promotional copy and — most important — hire an editor. I suggest hiring a good content editor as well as a good copy editor.
Content editors will help with plot, character, tension, show you where you need to build up the action and when to add more description. Copy editors will make sure you have your commas in the right place, that sentences aren’t awkward, spelling and grammar is correct (your word-processor spell-check won’t catch the difference between “they’re” and “their”). Traditional publishers have a main editor for a book and a team of copy editors who go through the manuscript word by word. Even they miss mistakes occassionally, but you want your self-published novel to be at least as professionally produced as theirs. So hire good editors. That could be the best money you spend.
Is it time to quit querying and self-publish? That depends on the writer. Agents sign new clients every day, and Publishers Marketplace lists lots of book deals for debuting authors. It just takes one Yes, and the next query you send out could be the one. But if you think you have what it takes to produce a quality book and market it yourself, today’s technology has made it more accessible than ever.
Whatever you choose, don’t stop writing.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing?