NanoWriMo wrapped up one week ago today, and you know what that means… a lot of writers are starting to shower and shave again. I mean, seriously, when you’re counting your blessings at Thanksgiving, aren’t you also grateful that you don’t have to smell them when they all flock back to Twitter? But hey, they’ve earned the right to stink a little. I respect anyone with a day job who can bang out 50,000 words in a month that has only 30 days including one that’s a family holiday.
December also means that a lot of writers are contemplating what to do next with a first novel. Answer: let it sit for a while and then rewrite it.
But then what?
Edit, edit, edit. And then edit some more.
Not exactly what most giddy new authors with a stack of paper want to hear. What’s that you said? Submit it to agents and publishers? Or cut to the chase and put it up on Amazon?
Well… let’s take a look at that second dubious option. I can only speak from my own limited experience here. The debate between traditional publishing and self publishing tends to get a bit heated, and I’m not saying that either way is the only way to achieve your goal of getting a good book out into the world. The stigma against self-publishing is beginning to fade as writers, like other creatives, are empowered by technology, making the predatory vanity press a thing of the past. There’s even the occasional big self-publishing success story.
I like diversity and tools that empower creative people. When I was writing and recording music, I did the indie thing. Remember, indie digital music was catching on and gaining respect long before the same ethos hit the publishing biz. But because of what I observed as a musician and DIY producer, I decided not to self-publish when I wrote my first book.
If you look at the music biz, you’ll notice that indie ventures and direct digital distribution tend to work MUCH better for artists who already have an established audience and a media presence based on prior efforts with traditional record labels. Trent Reznor can sell a shitload of downloads from his web site largely because he already has a platform built on the old model. And we are beginning to see this with authors now too. Many have pointed out that the rewards are greater when you cut out the middle man, and that’s true, but the right middle man can be a great partner, investing in your work and doing many jobs better than you ever could on your own, especially if you want to spend some of your time writing a second book rather than becoming a full time salesman.
When friends were listening to my tales of rejection and complaints about the tectonic pace of the submission process, they always asked, “Why don’t you just self-publish?” I told them I didn’t want to invest in publishing the book myself if I couldn’t find objective allies who believed in it enough to step up. I mean, if you can’t sell your book to an agent, editor, or small press, then what makes you think you’ll be able to sell it to thousands of readers?
Without professional assistance, it’s just harder to judge how effective your story is. Especially if it’s a first novel.
In retrospect, I’m grateful for the submission and rejection phase (even though it sucked at the time) because it forced me to take a long, hard, ruthless look at my book. Courting agents and researching the industry eventually resulted in my cutting the manuscript by 20,000 words, and restructuring the rest until it started getting results. I believe the book is stronger for it, and I know that in my case, if I’d allowed impatience lead me into self-publishing, I would have had a weaker first novel to show for it.
Something else to consider–there are some awards and promotion opportunities that specifically focus on first novels, but for which self-published books don’t qualify. And you can only publish a first novel once.
Getting your book rejected by the dread Gatekeepers is a trial by fire that I highly recommend. If the writing has merit, you will probably get some thoughtful critiques along the way, and while you don’t have to take the advice if it contradicts what your gut tells you about your story, it just might help the book to live up to its potential. Remember, in most of the hero’s journey myths, the terrifying gatekeepers who at first challenge the hero on the path, often end up becoming allies who make him stronger for the real travails that lie ahead.
Would I consider the indie route for a future book or short story? Sure. But for a first novel, I think there’s a lot to learn from doing it the hard way.