Life is one of those mysterious entities where you think it’s one thing, but then turn a corner and it’s something completely different. When I was in high school the world seemed hard. When in reality it was probably the easiest points in my life. Where the most difficult question I had to ask myself was, “Should I go out with so and so?” and “How much study time should I devote to Chemistry so I can scrape by with a B?”
Those days are long gone (or maybe not so long if you knew my real age, but a lady never reveals that information) and now I’m making decisions for three people. And the world can’t stop because I don’t know what to do.
The laundry still needs to get done, dinner needs bought, cooked, and placed on the table, and my kids need to be played with (among other things).
So how does someone with more responsibilities than time, stop to make a decision that has the potential to change everything?
When the most difficult question of your life stands in front of you and either decision could go either way, what do you choose to do?
For me that question is whether to publish with a small press (which is brand spankin’ new) or wait and hope eventually an agent will pick it up. Option one has its plusses. I’d be published--which would get my foot in the door for other books I’m writing to find a home with an agent and subsequently one of the big five—working with an editor that can take the time to show me the ropes and teach me the things that would make me an even better writer, and my book would be available to the general public to peruse and buy (which, let’s face it, is all an author really wants in the first place. We all want recognition that our books are good, that people will enjoy reading it and the fact that we got a few bucks to do it is even better). The downside, since it’s a small press, the book may never see the inside of an actual brick and mortar bookstore. That’s not to say it won’t ever happen, but the possibility is slim.
Then we have the other option, waiting and revising Fallen as I’ve done in the past making it even better and passing on the contract to hope that maybe an agent will take a chance on an unpublished author and pick it up. The plusses? IF an agent picks it up, I have a better chance of getting it sold to the major houses, which means actual placement in the chain stores, and an advance. The negatives? It may never happen (with Fallen or any number of books I write from now on), I will lose a lot of creative control over which direction the book takes, or I may not earn out the advance meaning I’ve probably committed something close to career suicide.
So, the question remains, to pub or not to pub. I’ve sat and vacillated for hours on this and after many sleepless nights decided to turn down the first contract.
What?! I turned it down? What’s wrong with me? Right?
So, I contacted the publisher and told them I was sorry, but I just didn’t feel we were a good fit.
A few days later, I received another contract on the same book. Also from a new press, but one, when I submitted to them, I thought was a long shot. After the obligatory happy dance, reality crashed down on me again. And I went through my list. To pub or not to pub.
I read the contract hundreds of times. Sent it to friends, and lawyers, to see if there was anything that said, “Wait, cowboy, something ain’t right here.” And then, sat down in bed and thought some more. Once again, I decided to turn it down. I REALLY want the big advance and the 100,000 books in print. But something felt wrong about this decision.
With the other publisher, turning it down was neither a relief nor a “I’m doing the wrong thing.” With this, even the thought of turning it down made my stomach hurt. So, I emailed a published friend of mine and asked her would she have changed anything about working with a small press?
The answer came quickly. “No.” At first she was filled with doubts about being published so quickly from a small press, but she believes it was a great first step. It taught her many things and now her second book is going through the same small press. Someone obviously did something right.
She also mentioned that a lot of agents now are making it a policy not to represent someone who isn’t already published.
It’s also due to the computer age. Way back when, (not so long ago really) in order to contact an agent—or a publisher for that matter—one need to type a query letter and maybe a synopsis. Then they would mail it and sometimes the whole manuscript to whomever it was they wanted to represent them. Then the agent would use the SASE they sent with it to reject or accept.
As you can imagine, that cut down on a lot of what’s called “the slush.” Usually, only writers that were really confident in their work would spend the money to send out their manuscripts. However, due to the invetion of e-queries, anyone can do it and usually do. So, the slush piles that agents have to wade through are huge. In order to cut down on that they’ve done one of two things, made it a policy to only accept queries by invitation (which means you usually have had to have met them at a conference and they expressed an interest in your work) or by accepting queries from only previously published authors.
Some of you, I’m sure, are asking what’s the point of getting an agent, if you’re already published. Well, that would be the catch-22 of writing. In order to get a publisher you have to have an agent. In order to get an agent, already have to be published. So, a lot of authors skip the agents and go right to the small presses.
For some that’s a good thing. For me it’s not enough. I WANT national recognition, I want to walk down the street and see teenagers I don’t know reading my book, and I want to do it all over again. But reality is we all need to get our foot in the door and we aren’t all offered the chance of a lifetime from the big boys right off the bat. Sometimes, we have to take baby steps to get to where we want to be. Which leaves me back to my original question. To pub or not to pub?