A well-respected literary agent, Nathan Bransford, just published a great post on self-publishing at his blog that everyone should read.
I like Bransford's approach to blogging, and his non-pessimistic, forward-looking vision for commercial publishing. Here's my favorite passage from the post:
"These days, with the major publishers publishing fewer titles and mid-tier houses disappearing, great books are absolutely falling through the cracks, especially books that are literary or idiosyncratic or are in genres that the industry does not perceive as currently selling well. Some of these are being picked up by small presses, others languish."
Did you get that? Here's a reputable literary agent who is not saying: "If the commercial publishing industry is rejecting your book, it's simply not good enough. Put that thing in a drawer and get to work on the next one." He's saying, "It is possible that you will write a novel worthy of seeing the light of day and commercial publishing will not publish it."
If that's the case, isn't leaving the fate of your novel entirely in the hands of commercial publishing kind of foolish?
Many self-publishers have known for years that self-publishing isn't just for books that aren't good, and it's validating to hear someone like Bransford say it.
In 2010, the commercial publishing industry can't possibly publish every damn good novel that comes over its transom. It would be nice if it could, but it can't. People would get fired, careers would get sent into tailspins. People in publishing are not hobbiests, they're professionals, and professionals do what's best for the business.
And 99 time out of 100, doing your best for publishing doesn't entail acquiring quirky, literary novels.
It's important to remember that publishing houses, by and large, are owned by giant conglomerates, which are run by shareholders. While I know there are plenty of wonderful, book-loving folks working within the industry, who fight to make sure great literature finds its way into bookstores, shareholders, by and large, don't really care about books. To them, commercial publishers could be selling any product. They could be selling light bulbs, or potting soil, or trips to Bermuda, as long as they keep selling it, and preferably more and more of it all the time. Right or wrong, this is the system we've created for ourselves over the last century or so, and it isn't going away any time soon. In 2010, if someone at a publishing company can't make a compelling argument to her bosses about why your novel is going to sell well, it's probably not going to get published commercially.
So, this creates a problem for what I'll call damn fine, damn unique, but probably not very profitable novels. These books are well-written, idiosyncratic, and they probably would've managed find a house in, say, 1990.
But 1990 may as well be a century ago.
So, what does this mean if you've written a damn fine, damn unique but--by commercial publishing standards--ultimately not very profitable novel?
It means you should throw a vampire into the mix.
It means you can self-publish it, cutting your teeth on publishing, learning what you can about the business at this micro level, making a few sales and starting a fan base.
And ten years from now, after you've successfully commercially published your later works, you can resell that bad boy to a commercial publishing company and everyone will talk about what a wonderful, quirky classic it is.
Yours in laying down the law,
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