writer attempting real life in the middle of everybody else's vacation

Unsolicited feedback about unsolicited self-publishing advice

on July 19, 2013

I’ve started and abandoned this post a dozen times. Because, frankly, it’s hard to find a way to say this without sounding like a condescending asshole. But here goes.

“Oh, you’re trying to get published? My aunt published a book about managing adult-onset acne. Let me talk to her and see if she can help you out with getting noticed by a publisher. I don’t mind doing that for you. You’re very welcome.”

“You’re writing? That’s cool. So-and-so from high school is a writer, too. He’s published 23 erotic murder mysteries this year and you can buy them on Amazon! Fucking AMAZON! Can you believe it? You should talk to him to see if he can help you get your book published.”

As an unpublished novelist, I’m far from alone in receiving uninformed publishing advice from well-intentioned family members, friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers. And listen, I know they just want to help. Why wouldn’t they? It’s not like I’ve kept it a secret that I’m trying to see my first (and by “first” I mean “second”) manuscript through to publication.

I put my process out there–the stressful parts, the humiliating parts, the rewarding parts. But what I haven’t put out there for my family and friends is that the journey to publication I’m attempting is not the same as that of your Aunt Acne’s journey or that of So-n-so from high school.

While self-publishing has gained popularity among people who are interested in seeing their words published in print and/or e-book, self-publishing and traditional publishing are still very different endeavors.

Your aunt’s book. So-n-so’s 23 books on Amazon, fucking AMAZON! Those books are self-published. In short (very short), self-publishing means that people decide they want to publish their work and so they do it themselves. I can do the same thing. So can you. Hell, your cat can collaborate on a project with your five-year-old and self-publish it, if you’re willing to foot the bill.

Does that mean everything that’s self-published is crap? Of course not. There are lots of good self-pubbed books, especially things like collections of poetry or short stories or niche books that just don’t have larger commercial market appeal, and for whatever reason, no university press or small publisher will take them on.

And there are awesome authors who have been traditionally published but want to take a chance with carrying their readers with them to their self-published work. There are also a handful of self-published (or “indie”) authors who haven’t tried traditional publishing but have found some success and say they’re happy to stick with self-publishing, even if they were offered traditional publishing contracts.

But I’m just a writer, not a publisher. I want to concentrate on writing. And while I totally get the importance of art for art’s sake and not limiting access to it, I also don’t like to gamble. I want to be paid for my writing, however little–not the other way around. Writing is my passion, but it’s also my job. I want to earn the respect of my peers and set myself up for what I think is my best chance at success with my reading audience. And readers, especially YA (that’s what I write) readers, are fussy. They want good shit.

So as badly as I burn to see my manuscript turn into a real live novel, for now, I’m willing to wait. I’m willing to grow as a writer and continue to improve my craft as I endure the sometimes (always) painstaking journey toward traditional publication. That means instead of self-publishing my book this afternoon, I go through an often years-long process filled with impersonal rejection that feels very personal. Maybe I’m nuts, but it’s what I want.

I’ve been writing for a while and I’ve studied and worked in capacities that have helped me improve as a writer. But I didn’t complete a manuscript until about four years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten a literary agent (not easy), revised that story many, many times, and eventually set it aside to write a completely different manuscript. My agent now has the second manuscript out on submission and it’s getting a little bit of attention from selective publishing houses.

My book may or may not ever be traditionally published. In fact, the odds are not at all in my favor. I don’t even want to know how the chance of being traditionally published and the chance of getting struck by lightning compare. But I do know that I’m much better at what I do for having gone through this process.

Here’s the thing. No matter how this goes down for me, I’m already grateful for whatever forces kept me from becoming frustrated after initial rejection and then self-publishing an early, terrible draft of my first manuscript that would forever have been my debut work.

But that’s just me. All writers have their own stories and their own motivations for the paths they choose.


26 responses to “Unsolicited feedback about unsolicited self-publishing advice

  1. Kristi says:

    Unsolicited opinion: I think you’re amazing for braving and enduring the traditional publishing experience. I think the fact that you have an agent is amazing. Published yet or not, you’re writing professionally and owning it like a boss. Heck, even blogging the way you do is impressive. (Then in my head I think, “if only…”)

  2. Marie says:

    Glad you wrote this at last! Even though I’m not a novelist, as you know, my husband is…and he gets this all the time!

  3. Giggling over here. I’m assuming too many of these conversations took place while you were home. That “little bit of attention” line caught my eye!! That’s a big deal! Hope the universe/publishing gods are brewing something amazing for you.

    • It happens everywhere, as you’ve probably experienced. People really do want to be helpful. It just puts me in a position to either clarify what I’m doing (and risk sounding like a jerk) or let people think I’m failing horribly compared to Aunt Acne.

  4. Emily says:

    Oh my oh my. I can relate to this so very, very much. We really need to meet up one of these days. I know! Let’s both get book deals in October (when a psychic said my book would see some action) and meet for drinks in NYC!

  5. bkonigsberg says:

    Oh yeah… I can relate. Good for you for speaking up! I’ve thought about writing an entry like this, but I have always chickened out. And no, you don’t sound condescending. You sound like an author who takes her work seriously.

  6. MaryWitzl says:

    I can relate too. It’s hard to get all the “Well, have you tried ABC or XYZ?” advice, and the comments about nephews and neighbors who’ve published their articles in the church newsletter and would probably be willing to show you how it’s done, and then the concerned “What, you’re STILL not published?” questions months later.

    And I’m also eternally grateful that the first draft of my first ms never saw the light of day.

  7. Randal says:

    Thanks, Rhonda … as someone who’s at roughly the same place on the long journey (first book out on submission), I found this post to be highly therapeutic.

  8. Kristy says:

    A friend of mine had a series of 3 books published by Random House, and it was really interesting to hear the process he went through. Way more complicated than I’d ever imagined! Keep at it, and good luck! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  9. Carol Taylor says:

    It is a fickle profession at best and audiences prefer one thing today and something else tomorrow. The point is to keep writing, revising and honing your craft. I do want to see that signed copy someday.

  10. Nothing quite like words of encouragement from one’s (fussy, great) high school English teacher. Thanks, Mrs. Taylor.

  11. Meg says:

    My cat can be a self published author?!! Hmmm… since we now have 6 kitties (which is, by the way, against the law in the county where we live… don’t tell anyone) I am putting the little critters to work! Maybe they can support your Uncle Pat and I in our old age. Seriously, I love all your stuff and respect the process. You are obviously gifted… thanks for sharing your talents! Hang in there xoxoxo

  12. barbara tacey says:

    simply, I believe in YOU

  13. My single favorite line? “That means instead of self-publishing my book this afternoon, I go through an often years-long process filled with impersonal rejection that feels very personal.” While this may make us “serious” writers sound like we’re masochistically addicted to delayed gratification (which, let’s face it, we may have to be to make it in this profession), I love that you’re standing up for us and our desire to set the bar high. The dream is not to be published. The dream is to be published because our writing is worthy.

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