When I tell people I write romance novels, as I occasionally do, they always ask, “Are you published?”
When I say, “No,” they seem to lose all interest.
I get it. If someone told me they’d written a novel, I’d definitely wonder if it was published. And if it wasn’t, I’d probably assume it wasn’t that great.
Not that being published means a book is good, necessarily. ‘Good’ is, of course, subjective. But, if a book has made it through a publishing process, that’s at least some arbiter of its quality. Even if a book is self-published, you have to go to some trouble to do that, so I’d assume its quality might likely be higher than a book sitting solely on the author’s computer.
I guess I’m a bit of an oddity, since I haven’t rushed out to try to get published. I’m just not the type to splash some paint on a canvas, then call up the Louvre! (Ok, I don’t really think most writers do that, I just thought it sounded cool.)
For me, the goal isn’t to just ‘get published’, but to write something I feel proud of, then see if anyone’s interested.
Why do we publish anyway?
I’ve sometimes wondered if it’s worthwhile to publish at all. I mean, if life is about enjoying the process, will publishing my books really make me any happier?
In fact, publishing could make me less happy; There’s a sociological principle that says, once you start doing something for money, it becomes work and you end up enjoying it less.
But, in this era of the overshare, it does seem a bit strange to write a book and never let anyone else read it.
Imagine if Jane Austen had written Pride and Prejudice, then — with a giant smile plastered on her face at her cleverness, while basking in the pure joy of writing — thrown it into the fire?
Now, I’m no Jane Austen, and destroying my writing is unlikely to change the history of literature. But it could still be a loss to someone — me, most likely.
An obvious answer to why we publish is money. Or status. Or the chance of those things, at least.
While I would love a little bit of fame and money (or a lot of money, even), I’m certainly not banking on them. Publishing is very competitive, and I’m a pragmatist (blog sub-title certified).
This may sound odd, but to me publishing is about being part of a community.
I love my books. I’m not sure we hear authors say that very often, but authors must love their books — why else would they foist them upon us? (Unless they are just looking for money or approval.)
I do love my books, and I think they’re worth sharing. I want people to read and enjoy what I’ve written. But, I also want people think I’m cool for having written them.
I don’t know if that’s me being status seeking or just me being human. I don’t really know how to separate those two things, to be honest.
Or, maybe a book just left sitting in the cloud isn’t really finished. Maybe only once your work is out there, and you can’t really take it back (unless you’re George Lucas), is it really complete.
Or maybe publishing is just something fun to try, and I don’t really need to justify it!
Traditional or self-publishing?
When I was younger — not all that long ago — self-publishing was called ‘vanity publishing’ and anyone who went that route was considered a naive fool who’d been scammed.
Now we have Amazon and others, and it’s actually possible to get a book out without spending your life savings, and without the help of a publisher.
When I joined a romance writing group a few years ago, I mentioned I was thinking about trying for traditional publishing. One of the seasoned members said, “Oh, most of us have decided self-publishing is better.”
I understand the argument. With a bit of marketing, it does seem possible to find some readership that way. Plus, you’re in total control of what gets published, and you don’t have to jump through hoops to find an agent, etc. And, you get to keep a much larger percentage of the profits (if there are any :P).
And, in that same writing group, I heard stories about people who self-published and then were assailed by offers from traditional publishers.
So self-publishing is the way to go, right?
On the other hand…
I’ll admit I’m a bit of a skeptic. I still think that you’re likely to be more broadly read if you find a traditional publisher.
And I’m guessing those self-published authors who are picked up by traditional publishers are very much the exception; In fact, I’ve read that some publishers won’t look at something that’s been self-published. (Though, I’m not sure if that’s true, since I’m guessing most publishers will happily publish anything that will net them a reasonable profit.)
So, it’s complicated. And, ‘business-y’, for want of a better word — a long way from the ‘writing for fun’ approach I’m used to.
Publishing is a business. I get that. Everyone’s got to make a living. (Now I have J-Lo in my head. :P)
For me, the idea of self-publishing is appealing. It feels a bit less ‘business-y’, less pressured, less competitive, and I wouldn’t have to submit to other peoples’ opinions. Plus, I think I’d enjoy designing my own covers, and I kind of like marketing, when the product is me. (Maybe I am just in it for the vanity.)
If I self-publish now, I know I won’t get much feedback before putting my books out there. I know I could seek it out, but I’ll never trust feedback from friends or people I paid as much as I’d trust input from professionals who have a stake in my books’ success. So my books will never be as good as they could have been.
I’m also just curious. I’ll never know if I could have been successful if I don’t try, right? Plus, it doesn’t seem like there’s much downside to sending some queries out, since I can still self-publish if I don’t find any takers.
And seriously, imagine how exciting it would be to sell a book! And see it in bookstores, maybe!
If I’m not successful, I’ll be glad to gain my share of rejection — that feels like a rite of passage for a writer, and a kind of accomplishment in itself. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll get some feedback along the way.
So, I’m planning to query some agents.
I know it’s a long-shot. The world is huge. There are thousands upon thousands of people who want exactly what I want.
I used to think ‘getting published’ was the last step in the journey — maybe that’s why I’ve waited so long to try. But, I’m realizing that whatever happens, this is far from the end; there will always be more chances down the road, as long as I keep on writing.