Over the past eighteen months, I have been working on my first full length novel. A few weeks ago, I finished the penultimate draft and began to consider my publishing options. For many years, writers in my position would be forced down the arduous route of finding an agent who can find you a publisher who can market your book to a specific demographic.
However, with the advent of the e-book and the rapid rise of the Kindle, the book industry appears to be undergoing a significant transformation. One that is similar to the sea change in the music industry brought about by the arrival of the iPod and iTunes ten years ago.
Therefore, the first post on this blog will involve me going through the strengths and weaknesses of the two distinctive routes to publishing and deciding which one to follow.
(A brief disclaimer – I am sure there are a great deal more pros and cons to both routes of getting published – please feel free to add any to this post – these are the ones that came to mind in specific relation to my current circumstances.)
Route One: Finding a Literary Agent
What does this involve: Sending a covering letter, synopsis and three chapters of your work to a literary agent.
- An agent has invaluable contacts with publishers and other important people within the industry. If you can win one of them over, your book will have a far better chance of being succeeding.
- They can help ensure you receive an advance for your work. For those of us who are working and struggle to find the time to write, such financial aid could prove to be invaluable in the long term.
- Most importantly, they can help ensure that your book ends up in print. For all the talk of the e-book signalling the end of the paperback, I am convinced that the book will prove to have far more durability than the CD did. The latter was only around for a couple of decades, while the former has endured for centuries.
- An agent can help secure interviews and various other forms of publicity that you will not be able to secure if you self publish.
- All of the above strengths are dependent on the premise that you actually secure an agent. This process can be both arduous and time consuming.
- A good number of agents will insist that you send your work to their agency on an exclusive basis. Given that an agency’s response time can vary from anywhere between four weeks to three months, this could involve a drawn out process that could end up taking years (by which time you may already end up working on other projects).
- The chances of securing an agent are incredibly slim. I have attended several talks where agents make it clear that there are large ‘slush piles’ where many manuscripts end up and that it is incredibly hard to gain the attention of an agent and his readers.
One suggested sending in presents which announce the manuscript’s impending arrival in order to drum up excitement within a particular agent’s office. No thanks.
- No matter how standardised, it is hard to quantify one’s response to rejection. Hopefully as writers we have the self-awareness to know if our work is sub-standard (a category the majority of my teenage writing falls into); but no matter how much we believe we have penned a noteworthy endeavour, the arrival of a letter of rejection can have tumultuous effects.
Given that most agents do not provide feedback as to why they rejected your manuscript, this can often increase our sense of despondency and affect both our desire to continue the search for an agent and dampen our confidence in writing new work.
Route Two: Self Publish on Kindle
What does this involve: Creating a book cover, formatting your book and then uploading it to the Kindle store.
- Instant access to a market of 12 million readers as of January this year and conservative estimates suggest this will grow to 35 million by the end of 2013. This number does not include the numerous iPad and PC owners who have downloaded Kindle software for their devices.
This is a huge marketplace that you can have instant access to once you have completed your book.
- By far the most attractive prospect of self-publishing on the Kindle is the autonomy this grants the writer. The caveat to this point is that it is crucial that you have a small group of friends who will edit your work thoroughly and impartially (I am blessed to have two such friends who are the most brilliant editors I could hope for).
How many published writers must have dreamed of having the autonomy to have their work unfiltered by editors whose primary motivation may be ensuring their work is marketable rather than brilliant?
- One of the most exciting possibilities of the Kindle and e-readers is the flexibility they provide the author with. The very nature of the book necessitates that a fiction writer must publish novel after novel, and perhaps after a decade or so release a collection of short stories and other writing (of course, other such work can appear in magazines and newspapers, but it is not quite the same).
The e-book allows the writer to release whichever form of writing he prefers in any particular order. So after finishing a novel, a writer may decide to write a political pamphlet, a couple of short stories and a collection of poetry. Once a final draft of each of these works has been completed, the author will be able to provide his readers with instant access to his art.
- For the prolific writer, it ensures that he is not at the whims of a publisher’s print cycles. The e-book provides the author with flexibility to share his work with his audience as soon as it is ready.
- The e-book’s accessibility is also its greatest weakness. The market is bound to be saturated by tens of thousands of authors who will publish books which would not normally be allowed into the marketplace. If these increase exponentially, they may give ‘indie authors’ a poor reputation and put readers off from purchasing books from self published authors.
- The only quantifiable way for a reader to judge you work (apart from reading a sample that Kindle provides) is the reviews of other readers. If your book attracts a few negative reviews, this alone could significantly damage your book’s reputation.
It would be extremely helpful if Amazon could develop a third party review system which ensured the system could not be abused, but given the sheer number of books that are published daily, this may prove to be an impossible task.
- The writer must also become his own publicist. There are few ways of promoting your book on Kindle so you have to rely solely on word of mouth and good reviews. While there will be success stories, many authors will find they are unable to shift many copies of their work.
Despite its potential pitfalls, I am going to pursue self publishing my book through Kindle.
I have made a detailed list of which agents I should target as well extensively researching how best to get an agent’s attention. But I fear that the time one must spend on putting together a proposal would be better spent on writing more books and do not wish spend countless months trying to sweet talk a literary agent.
The ability to publish my work with complete autonomy as well the freedom to publish whenever I like is too appealing to resist. There is a significant risk that this route will yield poor sales but that is not my primary motivation (although I wouldn’t complain if my writing started selling well!).
This blog will chart both the progress of my writing and my efforts in publishing and promoting myself via the Kindle store. I will try to be as open as possible in regards to the strategies employ and the sales I generate.
I hope this blog can prove helpful for other writers at a similar crossroads.
Let the fun begin!