In the years before I became a published author, I spent many an hour scouring authors’ webpages trying to figure out how they accomplished the seemingly impossible task of getting published. While no one journey in particular held the magic answer for me, I did learn a great deal from reading those experiences. As a result, I thought I would share my own history in a series of posts. As I mentioned in the title, these are my VERY PERSONAL experiences. I am in no way trying to argue that there is one right way to do things.
My short answer for when you should submit directly to publishers? When you’re weird.
Okay, well, there are many reasons to submit directly to publishers, but, for me, being a little out there was my rationale. I mentioned in my post last week that entering contests gave me the opportunity to see how readers would potentially respond to my work. Well, the responses I got were pretty dramatic and varied. It didn’t take long for me to realize that part of the difficulty (or pleasure!) readers were having with my work was that it didn’t really fit into a particular genre, and therefore, they didn’t know what to expect. Was it a superhero novel? Those tend to take themselves very seriously. Was it Chick Lit? Oh Lord, cringe. Everyone says Chick Lit is dead. Was it Urban Fantasy? I mean, sure, those books have sassy/snarky heroines, but my Bremy, well, she’s a little more slapstick. I suspect this difficulty with classification was also a problem for agents. I had a few nibbles during my querying journey into Hell, but way more rejections via the dreaded form letter. (I will spend some time talking about agents in my next post, but I just want to say for now that agents are not evil people out to thwart dreams – although it can certainly feel that way. They are people making a living by selling books, AND, they are, sadly, the experts on what they can sell.)
So, what did I do with this information? Well, I wallowed in misery for awhile. I loved SIDEKICK. Sure, it was different, but the good kind of different – you know, like sushi for many Westerners or those little fish that will eat the dead skin of your toes. (Actually, I don’t know if that’s good at all. It sounds dangerous.) Eventually I started on another novel while fending off everyone’s (at least it seem like everyone – grocery clerks, mechanics, dentist hygienists) suggestion to self-publish. The problem I had with that was twofold. First, doesn’t it seem like everyone and her brother is self-publishing these days? And then as a related point, how would I stand out? I’m lousy at marketing myself.
Thankfully, my close friend, who is a book blogger, suggested I submit directly to publishers. Now, I had looked into this…a little bit. I almost submitted to TOR (man, they have some work for you to do, but I suppose that weeds out those who aren’t willing to go the distance), but, at that point in time, I still wanted to go the agent route and the agent route only. When my friend brought up submitting again, I whined that I had been through so much rejection that I didn’t think I could take much more. She persisted though, and recommended I consider Harlequin’s Escape Publishing – she’d had some good experiences with both their books and editor. She reasoned that epublishers were often willing to take more risks than the traditional paper ones. Well, at that point, I decided to put on my big girl panties and give it whirl. Then, surprise of surprises…I GOT OFFERS…plural…plus one lovely letter from an editor, who wrote that she was so happy I had received offers because she loved my book and while it didn’t fit into her line, she felt it should be published. (I did eventually go with Escape.)
Oh God, after all the rejection, the acceptance was just…blissful…
So, what did I take away from this experience? A couple of things. First, know your product. I really didn’t think SIDEKICK was that far out of the box, but if you look at publishers’ guidelines for their products, they are often very specific. SIDEKICK, for example, was around 72,000 words. That’s a no-no for most Urban Fantasy which usually comes in around the 80,000 word mark.
Plus, publishers like branding. They just do. It makes good business sense. Do you fit with a one of their lines? It’s important to know. Now, if you decide you want to write what you want to write regardless of how difficult getting published might be, then you might want to consider different forms of publishing – and yes, those are usually the ones that don’t involve a large investment of money upfront on the publisher’s behalf. As sad as it is, publishers want/need to make money. Book sales are hard.
So, in the end, what’s my advice? Consider all the avenues. I’m very happy that I did.
Next Week: When to “Sell Out”…or How I Got My Agent. (Ooh, that’s sounds terrible! It’s not though…really.)