I just read a blog by a well-known writer and I feel the need to respond to it. The author’s intent was to offer advice to unpublished authors who had just completed a novel. I used to read this type of stuff like crazy back in the days before self-publishing, when I was a starving writer desperate to publish in any legitimate market. The funny part is that this advice now seems completely antiquated . . . and potentially . . . unhelpful. Yes, maybe five years ago, ten years ago, definitely twenty years ago this advice might have been relevant. But now authors have choices and good ones at that.
This was the advice in a nutshell: after the author has completed a novel, and after all normal avenues have been exhausted to procure a publishing deal, such as querying agents or submitting to every publisher in town, even the small presses, the author should then forgo trying to publish the novel and instead look to the short story market to make a name for oneself, thus, in time, one might prove one’s merit to agents and publishers and maybe, just maybe, if the stars align just right, the author’s long list of short story credits (this could take years) might magically cause the publishing world to lower its drawbridge and let you into its kingdom.
The blogger qualified his advice with the fact that the publishing world is currently at a low point. If they aren’t interested in the work, it may not be your fault. You’ll never know this, of course, because they usually just give you a form letter. But now it’s an especially bad time to try and break into the publishing world because . . . well, he doesn’t say, but apparently good authors are being laid off, submissions are being ignored, and midlist authors are not given the chance to renew their contracts.
Hmmm, hasn’t this always been the case? Was there a golden age when publishers were offering contracts to even a small percentage of querying authors? No. But apparently, now it’s especially bad. The author never said why. Just is.
The economy maybe?
So I’m thinking, well, if it’s so bad, why did they offer Amanda Hocking a two million dollar contract? There are a LOT of great writers out there, GREAT WRITERS, who never see two millions dollars over the life of their contracts. Why give two million dollars to a young girl who was self-publishing? I realize this argument has been made to death already—it’s old news for those of us who have been self-publishing for more than a year now, but this particular blogger didn’t feel the need to point it out, so I thought I would. So why give a self-published author such an exorbitant advance and then reject so many other authors? They could have offered her a quarter of that amount and it still would have been a lot for a new author. What happened to the standard advance for a first time fantasy author, which is usually about 15-35,000 on the high end?
We all know why. Because Mrs. Hocking represented a self-published author who was not only making a killing, but was getting a lot of media attention in the process. She was a thorn in their side. I’m not arguing her decision to sign or not to sign, I’m just pointing out the facts. She’s a good writer and deserves the attention, but so do a lot of writers.
The blogger then advised that the author might consider cannibalizing his novel and either turning it into one short story or several short stories. I’ve gone down this road as an author and here’s what I think about this issue, take it or leave it. The work wants to be what it wants to be. If it wants to be a novel, don’t cut it up into a short story. If you want to enter into the short story market, write something new. There are lots of fantastic internet magazines out there and entering that market is a great idea, but don’t trash your book to do it.
Here’s what I would do with the novel.
First things first. Is the novel any good? Your mom loves it. Your friends love it. Now you need honest feedback. Find beta readers. Go on librarything and put it up on their Early Reviewers program. If you get a significant amount of negative feedback, it might be time to rethink the work. If it’s your first novel, you might want to consider rewriting it or shelfing it and starting something new. My first novel was called The Third Dimension. You’ll never get to read it, and for good reason. But if the reviews of your book are mostly favorable, go to step two.
Pay someone to edit the hell out of it. Make sure it’s as clean as a whistle. A lot of first time authors resist this, but it has to be done. The number one complaint readers have of self-published work is that it’s grammatically flawed.
Next, get a great cover. The better the cover, the better chance it will have.
Learn to format it into an ebook or pay someone to do it.
Last, self-publish it everywhere you can. Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, everywhere. Get reviews. Promote it as best you can.
Take a step back and see how you like the process. Chances are you are going to love it. Don’t listen to anyone who says you’re going to go on some type of traditional blacklist. If you still want a traditional deal, you can still try for one. You’ll still have as much chance as anyone else—I would argue that you'll now have a better chance because now you understand what it takes to make a book sellable.
Repeat the process.
Meanwhile, there’s no reason why you can’t submit short stories to magazines. You could always self-publish the short stories, but getting $500 for your work and the street cred would be nice too. Many publications ask that you give them the rights to your work up to a year.
The downside of it all? It takes time to build a fan base, but if you’re diligent, it won’t take as long as it would take to get a publishing deal. Some self-publishers never make it. But more self-publishers are making it than those trying to break in via the traditional route. And, chances are, sooner than later, self-publishing will become the traditional route.
Pricing Elizabeth Chater's book, The Gamester, at .99c has done wonders. It’s been in the top one hundred historical romance for more than a month, and it’s climbed as high as 37th in kindle UK historical romance! Check it out! UK Amazon. Amazon.
Omegasphere is now available in print. The print edition includes the short story “Progenitor.” Check it out here.