As I was saying in my previous post, I’m going to tell you a little about two writer friends of mine, who have each seen their books in print over the past couple of months.
Friend #1–let’s call her ‘Diane’–queried a handful of agents as she tried to find a home for her literary novel. As a bit of background, a few years ago, Diane published a book of poetry through a small/micro press which offered her no distribution, no bookstore placement and zero marketing/publicity support. Still, it was not a vanity or self-pub, so she honestly had some published work when she started to approach agents with her novel. She got the standard ‘not right for us at this time’ form rejection from all four or five folks she approached. Her response? She decided to go at it alone, through one of the myriad “subsidy” publishing outfits out there (we all know that’s the euphemism for “vanity press,” but “subsidy” does kind of have a better ring to it).
Now, while I don’t know every single detail about the “publishing package” Diane paid for, I do know the publisher did offer her at least two rounds of editorial input and her cover is actually pretty nice–one of those that doesn’t scream “SELF-PUB!” Beyond that, I think they also threw in “some” marketing and publicity support and have kind of walked her through booking three or four readings in different cities, plus a bunch of blog interview thingies. Note that I said they “walked her through” the process, because I’m pretty sure Diane did all the actual bookings and such, and she for sure paid her own way when traveling. In other words, Diane has put a lot of money and A LOT of work towards publication, book launch, publicity, etc… She’s still working her ass off to promote and sell her book on her own, but she’s excited and happy and just plain glad that she threw some money at her debut, because her experience self-publishing has been a really, really good one. She’s gone as far as to say that, other than having had to pay for it, it hasn’t been much different than dealing with that micro press which published her poetry a few years back; she says that, in fact, this experience been a lot more enjoyable for her.
This is all very good and fabulous (except for the expense), and I’m under no illusion that I wouldn’t have to work any less hard on publicity and self-marketing were I to be lucky (yes, LUCKY) enough to land a traditional publishing contract. Still, Diane’s experience does give me pause. Her cover is awesome, she has had some support resulting from her “publishing package” cost, etc…
I’ve read her book.
And it’s a good book, really. Very literary, though, so it’s not what you’d call plot-heavy–but that’s fine, it’s not what literary fiction is generally about. What it does have is well-rounded characters, very lyrical, beautiful prose, and even a good underlying story. My quibble? Even as I read the novel, I knew it could have been even better. While Diane might have been offered “some editorial input,” her book could have benefited from a more experienced hand or a more exhaustive edit or whatever you want to call it. Maybe I’m naive to think that a traditional publisher might have done her book justice, might have helped her cut many of those pesky, unnecessary adverbs, might have sliced and diced those three little scenes that really went nowhere and added nothing to character or story. Maybe I’m just showing my greenness, my sheer ignorance about the publishing world, but I would like to think that yes, when a publisher has a vested interest in your book doing well, they’re going to work harder to make it shine. But if you’ve already paid them in full, what’s in it for them? Technically, they’re fulfilling their side of their contract (at least I assume so, in Diane’s case), but they’ve already gotten paid, so there really isn’t any further incentive to polish a manuscript until it’s squeaky and blindingly bright.
But maybe I’m being cynical and the nice people at Diane’s subsidy publisher are really super into what they do and they honestly worked to the very best of their abilities. Perhaps no editing team at a traditional publishing house could have done any better. Heck, maybe I didn’t read Diane’s book properly and I missed some deeper meaning or something in the stuff that I thought could have been edited out or reworked a bit.
All I know is that watching Diane going through her journey has certainly made me take a good look at my own, shedding a little light on all my options. Have I reached any conclusions? Well. No. Not even remotely. For me, Diane’s Plan A-1 is still a Plan C. A Plan C I might well have to pursue at some point, but I’m not ready for that just yet. It’s just good to know the option is there and that some services out there are pretty decent, if not absolutely stellar.
And yet, there are some moments that I just want to say, “Screw this waiting and rejection and more waiting crap! I’m going to Disneyland!” Or, more to the point, “I’m-going-to-spend-as-much-money-as-it-would-cost-me-to-go-to-Disneyland-flying-first-class-and-staying-at-a-fancy-Disney-resort, and get my darn book published my own sweet self!” But I just can’t bring myself to take that leap just yet. Not when I still have fulls and partials out in the world. Not while there’s still the slightest shred of hope that I won’t have to venture into this scary new world on my own.