Needless to say, we (and by “we,” I mean “I”) haven’t been posting here much over the last few months. There are a number of reasons for that. Many of them have to do with my efforts to self-publish my first novel, Midlife Mouse (now available at most online retailers, including Amazon).
Why self-publish, you ask? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself with increasing frequency of late. When I was still in the throes of writing, I didn’t think I would self-publish. In fact, an imprint of Simon & Schuster took a liking to the first five chapters of the book and asked for the rest of the manuscript. There was only one problem: there was no rest of the manuscript. (Needless to say, there is a rest of the manuscript now, and you can buy it at most online retailers, including Kobo.)
It took me about three months to finish the book, writing feverishly over the summer of 2010. Once the first draft of the full manuscript was complete, I passed it along to the editor at the imprint. She seemed eager to read it. Then … nothing. Radio silence. She stopped taking my calls. She stopped responding to my emails. It felt like one of those situations where you’re dating someone, and they suddenly learn all your dark, horrible secrets by looking up your name with the Googler and reading your arrest records and all the news stories that you could probably explain away if only you were there with them at the time, but now you’ll never get the chance, because they’ve moved away and changed their phone number and their legal name, and they’ve hired a large Swedish bodyguard named Sven just in case you find them and show up to peek in their windows, just to see if maybe they’ve simply left the phone off the hook. Yeah, it was like that.
To this day, I have no idea if it was something I did. But this editor who had been very high on my writing, based on a five-chapter sample, had suddenly disappeared. Maybe the first word of Chapter Six suddenly changed her opinion. The first word of Chapter Six is the name Katherine, by the way. Maybe the editor had bad associations with the name. Maybe she was attacked by a pack of wild Katherines as a child. It happens.
Then again, perhaps the answer is a darker one. Perhaps she died. I find that many editors lose interest in their work posthumously. It’s a well-known, but rarely discussed reality in the publishing world. Someone should do a documentary.
The process of garnering interest from Simon & Schuster had been so easy, I was convinced that the power of my writing would cause editors and agents alike to swoon (just as it will make you swoon, as soon as you purchase it from one of many online retailers, including Smashwords). I could see the six-figure advances and seven-figure movie deals flowing in like … I don’t know, something that flows. What am I, a writer?
So I started the process of querying. It’s a queer word, querying, and the process itself is even queerer…er. You try to sum up 97,000 words of your blood and sweat and heart and soul in a couple of paragraphs. You try to make yourself seem witty, debonair, charming and exceedingly prolific so as to ensure repeats of your impending success, and you have to make all that happen within a single page. Then, you send it out into the ether. Well, not the ether exactly, but when emailing editors and agents, it seems that way.
In my case, I was very strategic with my queries, only choosing a dozen or so agents to whom to send the work. Those were carefully chosen after weeks of poring over thousands of agency listings that gave some indication of each individual’s tastes in books, previous successes and current needs. I followed them on Twitter and liked their Facebook pages. I read their blogs. There are few things in the world less interesting than a literary agent’s blog, I assure you. I learned their personality quirks, their favorite movies and their shoe sizes. Then I sent out the letters.
Next came my favorite part: the waiting.
No one warns you about the waiting. You’ve spent months — in my case, about three months spread out over the course of a full year — writing your book. You’ve labored and sweated, hoped and fretted like an expectant mother. By the time you finish the work, you are completely convinced that it is simultaneously the most glorious piece of literature ever achieved by mortal man and the most insipid, insignificant wad of twaddle ever slapped on a page. You’ve researched your potential market. You’ve mastered your “elevator pitch” and refined your one-page summary. You’ve prepared yourself for every eventuality. Except the waiting.
Some of those agents I queried rejected me within a couple of weeks. Others within two months. Others still haven’t responded. After two years. More Katherinephobes, no doubt.
From the time I wrote the book to the time I decided to self-publish, I kept myself plenty busy. I created this site (partially inspired by the things I was writing in the book, now available at most online retailers, including Diesel), completed a couple of music documentaries, experienced highs and lows in my TV production business and moved my office and home. Twice. Once time allowed, and it became perfectly clear that some of those agents simply couldn’t be bothered to reject me, I decided to take on the world of self-publishing.
I could have done like many writers have and queried dozens, if not hundreds, more agents. As I read more about some self-publishing successes (like my friend Robert Kroese), I became convinced that self-publishing was a legitimate, and perhaps even preferred, choice for my first novel.
That being said, the thing you need to know about self-publishing is this: in the greater publishing world, self-published authors are regarded as being slightly more respectable than personal injury lawyers but significantly less respectable than your average ex-con. This is odd to me. I come from the film world, where the label “indie” is worn as a badge of honor, proof that you have the chutzpah to eschew the gatekeepers of the industry and sneak your way in through the back. Or simply kick down the gates. Not so in publishing.
Most literary journals still won’t review the works of indie authors. There are literary societies (in my home state of Alabama, for example) that you cannot join, nor can you attend their events, unless you are “traditionally published.” While e-book retailers and print-on-demand services have made self-publishing easier than ever, getting your self-published books in actual brick-and-mortar stores may be harder than ever before. You can reach the entire world by self-publishing through Amazon. But just try getting that Amazon-printed title into your local independent bookseller. (Did I mention that my book, Midlife Mouse, is now available at Amazon among other online retailers? I thought I might have.)
Nevertheless, I took on the challenge. In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a closer look at the sausage-making that is indie publishing. In the meantime, might a recommend a stellar addition to your summer reading? It’s this little book about one Southern man’s midlife crisis. It’s now available at … well, you know the rest.