I’ve been head down, butt in chair for three weeks now working on a book that wasn’t planned, wasn’t even a glimmer of an idea before then. So it came as a surprise this morning when I woke and realized it was Tuesday and I needed to blog. Without an idea in mind, I went looking for inspiration and found it at The Passive Voice, specifically a link PG had to an article by former agent Nathan Bransford about the real threshold for traditional publishing. That article, in particular one swipe at indie authors, got the brain stirring–or maybe it was the coffee–and here we go.
I will give Bransford credit for admitting some traditionally published books are anything but brilliant. In fact, he admits “some read like lukewarm porridge”. Of course, I think that’s probably insulting porridge, but shrug.
However, where I draw a line with him is with this comment:
I personally have long felt authors cast too many aspersions against traditionally published books and underrate how good they really are, particularly if you’ve never read slush to get a sense of the “competition.” If you’re not finding more wonderful books than you could possibly have time to read, you’re really not looking very hard.
As one of those authors he very well could be referring to, I take exception to his comment. For one, he doesn’t define what he feels is a “good” book is. This is something we saw certain folks doing back in the Sad Puppy days. We wanted good books–books that entertained and took us on new flights of imagination. That was condemned and the other side said “good” books were those that uplifted us and spread a message–of course, that message had to be the right message or it wasn’t good.
What I find today when I trawl through the listings of new traditionally published books is too many appear to have the same tickler list of characters that must be included and in what roles. Then there are the approved plot points.
And let’s not forget those calls for submissions from publishers where you, the author, have to fit certain requirements as well. Because, you know, it really matters what your race, politics, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. are to the reader.
Bransford goes on to say:
If you want to know how good you have to be to get a traditionally published book across the finish line: look to the debuts. Those are the ones that had to get an editor excited enough to make an offer and take a chance on an unknown author.
And again, he doesn’t define “good”. He also leaves out important information like making sure you are writing to what that editor/publisher is asking for. While he admits the criteria is subjective, he leaves so much out. . .starting with what factors the publisher/editor is taking into consideration at the time of submission. What social factors are being pushed or what political ideas are being shoved under the carpet?
In other words, if you want to go for a traditional contract, do so. But by all that is holy, do your homework. Don’t just look at what the submission requirements are. Look at what books the editors are accepting right now and what they have accepted in the past. Google the house and the editors, look for interviews and other news about them.
Failure to do so can and very likely will lead to rejection. Not because your book isn’t “good” enough but because you aren’t ticking off the right check boxes.
Then, after you’ve written your book, made sure it is well-edited, have done your homework and identified publishers who at least on the surface look like they accept works like yours, you aren’t done yet. Does the publisher accept unsolicited submissions? If not, your work is far from done. Now you need to do the same sort of research into agents.
At this point, one of the questions you have to ask yourself is if you are willing to wait months or even years before you hear back from first an agent and then a publishers before you see your book on the shelf (and know it very well be a metaphorical shelf only). Remember, trad publishers only have so many slots a month they can fill and, of those slots, the majority go to established authors. Then there’s the fact that the sort of book they are looking for today might not be the new hotness in a year or two when it is finally published.
For some, and for a number of reasons, this risk is worth it. But for the others, even for those who are willing to take the risk, I suggest you consider this comment from PG:
PG suggests that authors may be best-served by letting readers decide. At a minimum, an indie author with little talent will have more readers and make more money than a would-be traditionally-published author who never gets a book contract.
The question of which path to take is one every author must ask and answer for himself. However, before answering it, make sure you know the pitfalls as well as the benefits of both. Then ask yourself which one is right for you.
For me, the answer was simple. I didn’t want to wait a year or more from the time I submitted a book to the time it was published. I didn’t want to give the publisher a huge chunk of the sales price when I’m the one doing most of the work–including promotion. But that was my choice and one I made after researching and talking with others in the business.
As I said last week, money should flow to the writer. Remember that if you do go the traditional route. Have an IP attorney read your contract. Make sure you aren’t going to be charged “expenses” for the length of the contract. Make sure you aren’t signing over your rights in such a way it become impossible for you to get them back (the old “in print” clause is a mess now with e-books. Just ask some of the authors who have tried to get their rights back and have come up against that particular can of worms.)
Basically, here’s the thing. Write. Decide how you want to release your book. Decide how much control you want over the final product and how much control you are willing to give up. Then follow your educated heart and brain and cross your fingers because there is no surefire way to get rich in this business. Talent plays a part but so does a hell of a lot of luck.
And now I need to get back to work. Until later!