How to Change Gears

I am looking for an agent for my novel.

As for going indie, I do not have the time, resources, or availability to package and market my books while I am also home schooling and teaching at a co-op (and all those other things I do, too). There are also things that really appeal about publishing the traditional way: I am not the marketing team, I am not in the editing process alone, I can spend more of my time doing the actual writing, and, if things go as planned, I sell way more copies and make way more money. But will things go as planned?

I have written before about self- and indie-publishing. (Not so much vanity presses, which I do not recommend unless you are very specific case.) Years ago, when I set up a small publishing house and began to publish my own stuff, I sang the praises of going it without a conventional publisher (and agent and editor) in a series of blogs over a couple years. The pros include having more creative license, more of a say in the finished product (including art), keeping projects alive instead of watching them die, and bringing home a much larger per cent of the royalties. These are all really big pluses, if things go as planned. But did things go as planned?

There’s the catch. I knew that when I decided, all starry-eyed, to go the self- route, that would put all the marketing weight on me. Not only do I not like selling myself, but it felt like I could spend every full-time week doing this and there would still be more selling and promoting to do. I hoped maybe I could give marketing one out of every five days. I published my first two novels within two years of each other, and was working on a few re-print and journal projects as well. Things were going okay. I had some moderate success with awards and blog tours, but the numbers were still suffering from different things, including an inability to work full time at it. Within months of publishing my second novel, it was necessary that I pull one of my kids from school and begin home schooling, a scenario I had not planned on. I was unable to work at writing as more than a hobby (officially a back-burner career) for several years. The novels and journal that I had just flung out there were left to float about, unaided, un-marketed, un-trumpeted. Then I didn’t have five days anymore, or even one day. Having no time to work is not a viable business model for self-publishing. So, things did not go as planned.

I am now throwing myself on the other horn of this dilemma. Knowing that I do not—at least for the next two years—have enough time to work as a full-time writer, let alone a full-time indie editor, and publisher, I am going to give the other option the ol’ college try. I am willingly giving up some of my creative license, my ability to closely control the look and feel of the product, and a large cut of the royalties in order to partner with someone who knows the field and has the resources and connections to make a book happen, right now. But to me, the biggest thing I fear is watching as a publishing house takes my book, slaps a cover on it, lists it low in their catalog, no sales people ever even mention the thing, and before I know it I find one lonely copy in the bargain bin somewhere before it goes out of print.

While that sounds all sad, please note that a small portion of a lot of sales is obviously better than a large portion of only a few sales. If I have—for whatever reason—failed to make more than a few hundred bucks on my first two books by self-publishing, what do I have to lose by trying to publish traditionally? Well, the ability to closely control things and keep a book alive. But if no one’s reading it, what’s the difference? Uh, it’s my blood, sweat, and tears? My thoughts? My life’s work? It’s difficult to hand that over to someone when you know that statistically most books get little to no marketing and do, indeed, die a quiet death in the bargain bin.

It’s a gamble then.

Fine, I’ve made a choice. But then there’s the small obstacle of actually putting together a query package, landing an agent, have them interest an editor, have them convince the publisher this is something to throw the marketing team behind, and have them convince the bookstores and general public that this is where their $15 should be well-spent this week. (Not to mention, how exactly do you make a name for yourself during a pandemic? I have a friend currently touring and he’s managing through a number or creative Zoom calls.) So I can make whatever decision I want now, but since I can’t see many occurrences, each dependent on the one before, into the future, I’m kinda’ stabbing in the dark, here.

Perhaps I ought to worry about writing. Then about editing enough and slapping an acceptable query package on it. Then finding the right agent and… Looks like there’s no rest for the writing soul. It’s tough out there, and I just keep asking myself, Is this even the book that I think it is? Well, considering that I vacillate wildly between being over the moon about what I’ve done and wanting to shove it under a rock, perhaps I should just fall back on the reliable adage: Do your best.

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