These past few years I have been writing more seriously and I have thought long and hard about the direction I want to take my writing career in. I have also done my fair share of research in both traditional and self-publishing. I self-published my first novel, thinking it would be the best way to go. And even though it did modestly okay, the results weren’t exactly I was looking for.
However, this doesn’t mean I don’t want to continue self-publishing. Self-publishing gives you a huge amount of freedom and control over your material. I want to self-publish my future non-fiction books, and also my poetry books and maybe even the rest of The Sun Child Saga, the urban fantasy series I started… I even founded my own publishing company, Yggdrasil Publishing House, in order to do this, which is really only in its experimental phase for now since I am only publishing myself (even though it’s something I would love to expand in the future).
But for the rest of my fiction works, which basically consist in other fantasy novels, I would like to pursue traditional publishing. So I want it to be a mix. But the traditional publishing industry is a beast… it’s a tough nut to crack. A very small percentage of people make it and really it’s mostly based on luck… or fate, depending on what you believe.
I want to pursue this because traditional publishing houses help writers with marketing and promotion and have a ton of resources that I, for one, don’t have. I don’t have a massive online social media following, and truthfully I don’t even know how to get one. I don’t have hours and hours of the day to spend thinking about how to market and promote my work… I’m a lawyer and a business manager and I struggle with the challenges of my day to day as it already is without adding a second all-consuming job to the mix.
Writing and blogging are the highlights of my routine because they represent my creative time, but besides this I don’t do anything special or extra in order to promote myself or my work. So I would be grateful for the help of a traditional house in this regard.
But here’s the catch. And I’m just going to call it like I see it.
Most writers who pursue traditional publishing sell out. They cater to the likes and preferences of literary agents and publishing houses, foregoing their own visions in the process. They feel like they have to because it’s the only way for them to get published. And most of the time, it is. Literary agents dislike it when ordinary people call them ‘gatekeepers’, but in reality that’s what they are. If you don’t have an agent, most publishing houses will not take your submissions seriously, and that’s the hard truth.
What’s more, getting a literary agent’s attention is a very, very hard thing to do. They are overworked, their minds are busy with stories and business deals all day long, and they wade through queries upon queries of obscure auteurs such as myself on a regular basis. The probability of your work standing out is small… and also, mostly dependent on luck. Or fate.
Despite this reality, writers become obsessed with agents, looking at them almost reverentially. It’s a natural reaction, but it’s also the wrong reaction to have. Agents and editors are people just like writers are. They are one of the factors of the business equation that underlies the publishing industry, not the golden prize at the end of a quest. Instead of catering to them, or centering their entire success or failure on these factors, writers should embrace who they are. Be themselves, like the old adage goes. Write their story.
That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. And it not only keeps me centered and focused on what’s most important (my story) but it also keeps me sane. When you put something you cannot control, such as getting an agent’s attention, as the end-all and be-all of your happiness or success as an artist, you’re bound for dissappointment, and I learned this the hard way.
One cannot center their life on uncontrollable variables. What one can do, however, is keep on writing. Make YOU the center. Make your story the center. Make your development as an artist, the center of your success. That way, no matter what happens, you’re bound to succeed.
This is the philosophy I have arrived at, and I’m beginning to live, and swear, by it. My writing is much more constant as of late, and I’m much happier with the way my stories are taking shape. So that’s why I recommend anyone in the traditional publishing rat race to give it a try. Instead of thinking all day about what to do to get an agent, focus all of that energy and focus on making your story the best you can. After that it’s up to the gods what happens next.