Writing is a tough business. Novel writing, specifically. And the only thing more difficult than writing that novel, at least in my own experience, is getting it published. The competition these days for literary agents willing to take a chance on an unpublished novelist’s first work — to say nothing of the fight for a place at the table of a traditional publishing house — is daunting and nearly impossible to break through. Do some first-timers find lightning in a bottle? They do, and more power to them. But for the rest, like me, the challenge is a mountain to be scaled — with the peak increasing in altitude with each attempt.
While my novel, The Mermaid Mahjong Circle — A Fairy Tale for Women, was met with enough enthusiasm by literary agents for many to request to see an entire manuscript after reading a few sample chapters, the result after that was often this: “We’ll get back to you in a few months … maybe a year.” Or, “We love your book but we only take on at most one new novel a year so …” Or, my personal favorite, “Please submit an overview of today’s fiction category trends, including titles and sales numbers, and cite how your book is different, which other novels it is similar to, and how you see us trying to sell it into a publishing house” — wait, I thought that was your job.
Tinkerbell and I have something in common; that is, we both believe. I believe in my novel enough that I didn’t want to wait for an agent to decide to sign me on — I was looking at a couple of years before I’d see my book in print and that, to me, was not acceptable. I also believe that my book is a little jewel, and I wanted my story told the way I’ve written it, not the way an editor might reimagine it. (Even as I write these words I’m hoping that the publishing gods do not wreak havoc on me should I ever try to submit a second novel.)
My experience is why so many first-time novelists turn to self-publishing as a way to get their work out into the world. The advantage to self-publishing is the amount of control it allows the author in terms of every aspect of her book — from not having to make anyone’s edits but her own to how the book will look and feel.
The downside is that self-publishing means that the marketing of the book, and the dollars and effort it takes to do that, fall onto the writer herself.
Instead of publisher-arranged book-signings and tours (à la Carrie Bradshaw), there are me-arranged Zoom-style book talks, podcasts, mailings, and virtual appearances at private book group get-togethers.
Instead of publisher-contracted advance reviews from New York Times bestselling authors on my book cover, there are lots of reviews on places like amazon and goodreads, generated by my doing the legwork (and my proverbial legs are pretty weary, I must say). And instead of publishers getting my book to celebrities who have their own book clubs, I’ve been working the phones and email, finding celebrity reps who are actually interested in forwarding my book to their clients (yay, me!).
Mostly it’s been all about my finding creative ways to break through the clutter of social media and get the book into readers’ hands.
Indie writers love their work in a way that makes them unshy about asking friends to “like” and “share;” that makes them untiring (well, sometimes a little tired) in efforts to find new audiences to reach; that makes them unrelenting in wanting to get their work out (like right now — enter to win a free copy of my book here from now through December 15!).
Which brings me to my point — next time you’re in the market for something new to read, whether a thriller or a romance, a tale of espionage or a fairy tale, think about choosing something self-published by an indie writer. Often the only thing standing between their book and a bestseller list is an opportunity, a stroke of luck, or perfect timing.
© 2020 Claudia Grossman