Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thinking about a new journey

I'm been going down the same road for awhile. The road of querying agents, trying to get one to consent to represent me. And now I've begun to consider two new roads, one for novels and one for short stories.

Recently I believe I came about as close as I'm going to get. I've gotten some turndowns lately that make me think this is the end of this road. Not because the agent didn't like my work, but because she did. One agent liked my work very much, but didn't know where she could sell it. Another agent liked the project also, but didn't know what market it would fit, which is about the same thing, I think.

Discouraged by these rave rejections, I sent a couple of manuscripts to a small press that I admire. I admire them because they're putting out some pretty darn good books. True, I know some of the authors, but, because of that, I've bought and read some of the books. They're well put together, well edited, good covers, and the agent has submitted at least some of the authors for awards. I know this because they've won these awards. I plan on buying some by authors I don't know.

I'm well aware of the pitfalls of a small press, but I'm considering them against the pitfalls of a large, traditional publishing house, for which you need an agent, something I don't yet have. And may never have. The following is a post I made on a small list earlier today that prompted me to do further thinking about this, and this blog.

I've stopped to think it through. Do I really WANT an agent? An agent will try to sell to an editor at a publishing house. Maybe with success, maybe without. Then I'll be nowhere. If a sale is made, then what? I get a small advance, $5000 is the most I can hope for. If I don't spend at least twice that amount on promotion (and maybe even if I do), if I don't sell an awful lot of books, I won't earn their money back for them. Then I'll be dropped and I'll be nowhere.

There too many paths that lead right back to where I am now. So I'm looking for a new path, as I think a lot of writers are. I'm querying small presses, just beginning with this in a serious way, and would be ecstatic to be printed by one. I would be much more likely to keep getting books printed, especially if I'm not printed in hardcover, but trade paperback or ebook. I'm sure I could get dropped by a small press, too, but it's much more likely that the small press will fold on me. The latter would not be a good thing, and I might even have trouble getting my rights back, but it wouldn't damage my name like all the dead ends in the traditional world. The former, being dropped, would probably be the same as being dropped by a big press. I'd have to change my name and start over.

I'm also exploring the option of putting my short stories out myself. I'm gathering intell from people who have done this and just met a guy Monday who has put out 5 books with Smashwords and offered to steer me through the process. Other writer friends have encouraged me to do it, too. There would be NO downside to this. No one would drop me. I would print or sell electronically as many as I could, of course, and would promote as much as I can, but wouldn't be terrified that my publisher would drop me because I wouldn't have one, except myself. And if I could get a following for my short stories, I might just get a following for my novels, too. Another upside.

If this reasoning is faulty, someone please point it out! I'm deep into the considering stage at the moment and could be easily swayed.


  1. I'm considering the same thing. I have 2 books out at agents right now. If I don't have an agent by the end of the year, I'm going to sub to small publishers. I already have a dozen books at small pubs, and I'm happy with them. I had just hoped for something a bit more. But if it's not going to happen, I'll get the books out another way.

    I think New York publishers, and thus agents, are being very cautious right now. New authors are risky for them so they won't take chances on them most of the time. There are a lot of very successful small publishers who put out high quality work.

    So not getting an agent is only one bump in the road, not the end of it.

  2. I'd LOVE to have an agent, don't get me wrong. I'm just wondering if it's ever going to happen. Actually, thinking it might not. So I'm considering alternatives just in case.

    I'm pretty serious about doing a short story collection but will wait and see with the novels.

    If I get an offer from a publisher, they might even prompt an agent's interest, right? Right?

  3. I think the important thing is to decided what exactly your goal is for your career. Then you investigate the ways you can get there, like you've done, noting the pluses and minuses. Sure, you aren't going to be able to anticipate everything, but you can prepare--find out where you're comfortable. You've made some very valid points in your blog. All the things you've mentioned are well documented. The industry is changing and the only thing we can be absolutely sure of is that it will never return to the way it was.

  4. Kaye,
    Run the route of the small presses, but don't forget ePresses. I think the whole smashwords thing for novellas and short stories is a great idea, but REMEMER, you have to be your own sales department. If you can get an ePress to take your novel, you have a small backing and a place to sell your books like a small press, but at set prices.
    If you go Smashwords, you can also upload to Amazon yourself too. I have April Henry's post how to do that if you want.
    When it comes right down to it, you have to SELL, even more than Write, and you have to come to grips with that part. You simply become your own brand and store, and you get up every morning like you were going to open it up and do all the work required. Write, sell, advertise, bookkeep, edit, submit, upload, bill and collect and generally live your little shoppe.

  5. I am about to start submitting to agents, so I'm in a different place right now. What you write in your blog makes sense. As far as short stories go, you do not need an agent to submit and sell them. Many published writers submit directly. I've had a little success doing that. Go for it. The industry is changing every day. What worked for writers in the past may not work today. You don't lose by trying. Like you said, if your work is out there and is doing well, it will possibly help you get an agent, if you still want one. Good luck. Judy in Calilfornia

  6. I have an agent. I like her a lot, but it's not the end-all. She's been pitching two different books. Editor: I can put it down, deadly in a thriller. This is after he wrote in the middle that he was still interested. Editor: Can you fix this and this and resubmit. Did, still waiting. Editor: We found the book sexist. Sexist? Me? I could go into reasons why it isn't, but that hardly matters, does it? After a certain point, the agent realizes this isn't the quick sell she thought. Maybe she's losing interest. I am. I don't know if I have the energy to start the agent search again, even though I have five more books ready. It does get you down, and sometimes it's hard to get back up. I Don't write short stories, but I would consider a small press in a heartbeat--after I clean up some things and cut out some of the graphic stuff. I have submitted to an ebook company, but it's in a different genre where I didn't have to clean up anything. I would be perfectly happy publishing with ebooks. I'm not after fame and fortune, definitely not looking to tour the country and spend money I don't have. But a little fortune would be nice.

  7. It sounds like you're thinking things through well. Publishing is changing almost daily and instead of simply having a 5-year goal, I think we all need 6-month goals, 1-year goals, 2-year goals, etc, so we can adapt to the new model.

    Thanks for sharing your thought process!

  8. You go, Kaye! You're taking charge of your writing career and I admire you for doing it. I'm also seriously considering putting one of my manuscripts on Smashwords and Kindle.Like others have said, the publishing industry is a changing.

  9. Hi Kaye,
    I played the traditional publishing game for ten years. After hundred of rejections including dozens of rave rejections, I decided I wasn't ever going to be traditionally published. I stuck a toe in the water of the small publishers, but the only one that offered a contract was not as reputable as I'd thought when I originally queried them. So I went the self pub route. Started my own publishing company. I don't have enough money to promote the way I'd like, but that wouldn't be any different if I was on someone else's dime. The cost of the actual publishing is negligible. The major difference is I have to pay for my own editor. That's the expensive part. After a decade of wishing I was published and that people were reading my books, I finally have my wish. My reviews have been good and I'm thrilled that my readers number more than my family members. I wish I'd made the decision before I lost my mom so she could have enjoyed it as well.

  10. Susan, I absolutely agree with your last statement.

    Pat, I fully realize the burden of putting my short stories out myself, but I think a lot of promotion is expected of the writer no matter where you're pubbed.

    Judy, Diane and Debra thanks for the encouragement!

    Polly and KD, thanks for posting your experiences

    Good luck to us all!

  11. Dear Kaye,

    I too queried until I was weary, then, after I talked with an agent at a conference, decided to try small publishers. When I told the agent I wasn't interested in making a lot of money, she retorted, "But I am." Of course she is and should be, but I realized what I write is probably never going to be a money-maker for any agent, so I turned to the small publishers and, within a year was successful. I guess success breeds confidence which leads to more success because I just signed a contract with a second small publisher.

    I've talked with authors who have an agent and it looks to me that these authors are doing the same promotional work that I am. One friend of mine said her agent did get her a better deal on her second book. She likes having someone to read over the contract and that's a plus, but you can learn to read contracts and, if you have friends with a particular publisher, you can ask them for advice. I did that and avoided signing a contract that was not author friendly.

    It's too early yet to say whether I am truly successful in writing a book(s) that will sell well. I know I'm working very hard at it, but I do have a great publisher and, so far, I'm exhausted but still excited to be in this business.


  12. I think the authors have to do a lot of self promotion no matter who they're with. I've. Been buying ebooks from my Facebook friends, now of I can figure out how to listen to them on my Droid. Kaye,

  13. Lesley, that's interesting and, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. An agent isn't a charity, after all.

    I truly think some of my stuff is a good fit for a small press, but some would do a major house a lot of good. Still looking for an agent that could place me--just keeping an open mind.

    Cher'ley, I buy ebooks from all over the place, major houses as well as small press. All the major houses put out in ebook format now, sometimes the same day the paper book comes out. And, yes, I agree, an author would be crazy not to self-promote!

  14. I don't know what you should do, but I'll be watching you closely to see what I should do. Best of luck on your decision.
    to write is to write is to write

  15. Kaye,
    Publishing contracts are getting more and more complicated these days, and that's where I REALLY rely on my agent to keep me from making mistakes. I suggest that if you receive a contract from a small press for a book or novella-length manuscript that you contact a few agents you trust and see if they'll review the contract for you for a fee and give you advice about what changes you should try to negotiate. Alternatively, you could have an entertainment lawyer do the same thing, but they're usually more expensive.
    - Beth

  16. Kathy, don't watch too long. Nothing may happen for a long time!

    Beth, I agree a lawyer is useful for contracts. That's why my daughter went to law school. Pretty sure that's why she went. :) I do have access to an entertainment lawyer, though. For a discount, I hope!

  17. It is difficult to know what to do. I was at the library today though and I say hang in. It would be so cool to have a book on the shelf at a library.

  18. Yes, I admit Beth and Carole have good points. I just read an interview with Avery Aames where she said her break came as she was about to give up.

    Maybe I should be about to give up completely--then I'd get a break. :)

  19. You can publish a particular work at a small press and still have an eye on getting an agent later on, I know writers who have done that successfully.

    I also know an Edgar-nom'd writer who queried 90 agents before getting a brilliant one.

    The market is a mess right now, very chaotic, it's true. "Generosity Publishing" is happening often enough for NPR to report on it -- small print runs of books *given away*, if reader likes it they can donate money or some such. So, by all means explore.

    But also pay attention to the feedback -- if two agents tell you they love your writing but don't know how to sell your work, is it possible that your work is blending genres in a difficult way? Or is it possible that you just need to keep querying agents until you find one who knows how to sell your particular work? Each agent specializes in a particular segment of the market.

    So I'd say, go for a small press for novel, but don't rule out jumping up to the next level. It's a path that others have traveled.

    For short stories on sites like smashword, the trick is how readers will find it in the crowd of offerings. Don't know answers to that--but wish you best of luck!


  20. Thanks, Mysti! Yes, the chaos is making it difficult to see what will happen after the shake-out. The project that the agents like is very different, but most everyone likes it, some love it. I don't want that one at a small press. I think.

    But my mysteries are the kinds that small presses publish, so I probably belong there with them.

    And someday I may write a breakout mystery, who knows?

  21. Kaye,

    I've read your work and know it's good. The market seems crazy right now. Have you tried Five Star? They take unagented books.
    My own querying has been going on for years (five different books) without success. It's very discouraging. I'm putting my "East German" book out for e-readers this fall, and will be researching smashwords and createspace. I've noticed that small presses are frequently closed to new submissions. I suspect that they, too, get overwhelmed. Once upon a time, I thought every good book would find a publisher. Now I know that's not true. Sad, but not true. Well, off to write.

  22. Thanks tremendously! I tried them with a project a couple years ago, but not recently. They're on my list, though. Best of luck!! (I've read yours and know it's good, too!)

  23. I'm in a similar boat, Kaye. Have you tried There are quite a few agents listed in that roster.

    You must go with your instincts, of course.

    I am rejected and dejected right now with you. How good I am remains to be seen. Stephen King has a harsh criterion : if you're not published, you're not good. Ouch.

    May you choose wisely and gain publication soon. Roland

  24. Thanks for the good wishes, Roland. I'm using as a source of agents, plus picking names up other places. I know some other writers who use AgentQuery and I should peek in at it, I'm sure.

    My biggest ego boost since I began seeking publication has been getting some short stories published. It's a different kind of writing, but I love doing them. In fact, they're my first love.

    Best of luck to you, too, for publication!