|Original Cover From 2009|
I spent about 5 years trying to play the agent game. I read a lot of good authors and perfected "the craft" as best I could and studied how to write queries and all that good stuff. I think out of all those years I got one partial to show for it. But still I didn't turn to self-publishing because I was frustrated by those rejections.
That happened in 2009 after I played the agent query game once more, this time with my literary novel Where You Belong. I had spent months in 2008 feverishly writing the first draft and then more months feverishly rewriting it again, only this time in first-person. When I finished, I knew I had something special. I knew this was my masterpiece, my Mona Lisa or statue of David or whatever classic piece of art you want to use.
I hashed out more query letters and sent a bunch off. And got nothing. I mean not even a partial. Maybe if I had got a partial or a full I'd have never self-published it because at least then I could say someone had read it and thought it wasn't any good. But it was rejected something like 50 times (some via actual no's and others just ignoring me) without anyone reading a single bloody page! That was when I decided to self-publish, because this one was too good to sit in "the drawer" and collect dust.
I don't regret that decision because at least this way people have gotten to read the book. If you look it up on Amazon it has 12 reviews averaging 4 stars, so I take that as a sign I have some slight idea what I'm doing. If I do have one regret I wish I'd have self-published another book first just so I could have gotten the bugs out before this one. As it was, it was quite a learning experience, especially since this was 2009 and self-publishing for Kindle and Smashwords and all that was still relatively new.
A traditionally published author who recently self-published a book said he'd rather traditionally publish. Well sure, fella, we'd all rather traditionally publish. But this is an industry that uses a submission process where rejection is the default, evidenced by those form rejections they send out. The odds are hugely stacked against the author because let's face it, it's a subjective process. The human element comes into play a lot. You might have a well-written book and a great query but if the person reading it has a hangover or a bad cold or something she might give it a glance and then reject it. Or maybe that Wednesday when your query pops up she's decided today she wants to read stories about vampires, but then two months later after you've changed all your werewolves to vampires, she decides she really wants books about golems now. So your book might be perfectly fine; it's just that it wasn't read by the right person at the right time.
Am I saying that everyone who gets rejected should self-publish? No. Sometimes all that rejection does mean you're terrible and need to either keep working at it or find a new hobby. But sometimes you know something is too good to keep hidden and when you get to one of those then you should definitely self-publish it.
Incidentally, I stopped playing the agent game at all in 2012. That was when I got published by two different small publishers and realized those are largely a waste of time. The one was just a complete debacle all the way around: they didn't provide any editing, they tossed together a crummy cover, they missed deadlines, and they've provided almost no marketing. The other one did a much better job (except maybe with the cover) but what I realized is they're too small and new to have any marketing reach. So the decision I reached is that I can do as good of a job as "professionals" especially after almost 5 years and my marketing is as good or better than theirs, so why give them 60% or so when I can do a comparable job and get 100%? It's still not much either way, but those extra nickels and dimes add up in the long run. Unless you're really lucky you probably won't make a lot of money at this, but a lot of months I get a free tank of gas from my writing income and that ain't bad.