Monday, March 29, 2010

Self-Publishing and Your Quirky Novel

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.

Just kidding.

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,


Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, in print form for just $5.

Try Ghost Notes the Audio Book as an unabridged digital download.

Or try Ghost Notes the Ebook.


Mary McDonald said...

Great post. I found your blog via NB's forums. I love your take on the reality of publishing being a business. If I had more time right now, I'd take a look at your links here. (is that your book?). However, I'm at work and stealing this time away as it is. lol

I plan to come back and look later though.

Art Edwards said...

That's my book.

You can buy a print version of Ghost Notes from me directly for the low, low price of $5 plus shipping; or you can digitally download the audiobook for $5; or you can sample the first half as the ebook for free! Follow the links above.


Celia Hayes said...

Nathan B said pretty much the same thing as we have been saying all along at the Independent Author's Guild - especially those of us who have gone indy with more than one book.
My first novel, To Truckee's Trail, was read entirely by a couple of agents, and the one who had read it and loved it as much as anyone else who had read it online, or in MS - but he just admitted regretfully that it had niche appeal and thus would present too much of a hard-sell in presenting it to a major publisher. I gave it a year, went POD with it in 2004, did an Amazon Kindle version the next year - and even though I hardly do any marketing for it, sales of it just keep trickling along. I also pitched my follow-on project, (the stand-along first book of a projected series, the Adelsverein Trilogy) to agents, and got pretty much the same response: niche, regional appeal.
I have come around to believing that the agents and the big publishers just want to put their resources into an easy 'sell' and a sure-fire big thing. If your book is quirky, and can't be easily categorized - take a chance, put them out there, let the readers decide. Even if you might have been better advised to move on to your next book project - at least you can listen to the feedback, and do a second edition, if you have published it yourself! ;-)