Yet another “why I don’t” blog entry. I promise I’m not deliberately rabble-rousing, it’s just that I’ve been watching some fairly omnipresent debates out on the Interwebs lately, and doing some thinking of where I stand on them.
As folks know, I have a 3-book deal with one of the “Big 6” publishing houses based in New York City. That’s what’s commonly called a “traditional” publishing deal, and makes me, according to Mike Stackpole, a “house slave.” But what folks may or may not know is that, during my long road to securing the deal I currently have, I was strongly tempted to self-publish. I saw the success of the now legendary Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath. I felt that I’d written a good book, and I knew that the Big 6 turned down great manuscripts all the time that they later wound up regretting they’d passed on. If I believed in my work, if I truly wanted to be a writer, then why didn’t I just run my writing up the pole and see who saluted?
Now, before I answer that question, let me make this unequivocal statement. Self-publishing is absolutely a legitimate way to get your writing before an audience. I think it’s a lot less likely to be successful than the traditional route, but there are plenty of examples where it’s wildly successful. I am discussing why *I* CHOOSE not to self-publish. I am not lambasting anyone else’s decision to get their work to market in any way they choose.
So, let me explain why I don’t self-publish by way of an anecdote. When CONTROL POINT was first going out to market, the manuscript (then called LATENT) got some serious interest from the folks at Ace (an imprint at Penguin). But they had a problem with the second section of the book. They were willing to give it another look, but only after I’d essentially gutted this section and completely replaced it.
The section in question? 2nd out of 4. Which meant that the other 2 that followed would also have to be completely reworked. The publisher was essentially asking for a 75% rewrite.
You can imagine my heart sinking as I read that email. They weren’t offering a contract, they were offering to take another look AFTER I tore my life’s work down to the studs and reconstructed it. And this was AFTER one of the leading agents in the industry put his full faith in the manuscript and signed me to a representation contract.
So I did what I always do: I whined, I bitched, I called my friends and complained bitterly for as long as they would listen.
And then I shut the f$#k up and got to work.
And wouldn’t you know it? As the new outline came together, the novel got better. By the time I had completed the prose, it was orders of magnitude better. Sell to a major publisher in a 3-book deal better.
The lesson in all this? I am not the best judge of my own work. I am too close to it. It is tough for me to see what needs to change, tougher for me to know when my novels are “cooked enough,” ready for prime-time before a demanding and hyper-critical public. Heck, even my agent thought it was fine as it was. But you know who is a good judge of my work? Who spends pretty much all their time looking at writing trying to figure out what makes it good enough to go before the aforementioned public? Editors at major publishing houses.
Remember, I thought LATENT was fine as it was. My agent thought it was fine as it was. Had I been willing to self-publish, I would totally have trotted it out there at that point in the process. But it *wasn’t* fine as it was. It was NOT GOOD ENOUGH. It took an expert, someone with skills, experience and a gut instinct honed over years in the trade to first see that, and then guide me to bringing the changes necessary to make it fantastic onto the page.
The most important thing a writer has is his or her reputation. Once you put crap work out there for public consumption, you are well and truly screwed. People are not going to forgive you and pick up another book by you if they’ve read one that sucks. I, for one, am TERRIFIED of that possibility. The thought of trusting my own judgement on whether or not my work is ready for prime-time consumption about throws me into a panic attack. I would never have that confidence until an editor with decades of experience and a proven track record of shepherding major writers to success gave my manuscript the nod. I suppose I could hire such an editor out of pocket to vette my work before self-publishing. But such talent doesn’t come cheap, and guard officers don’t exactly make a lot of money.
So, the only way for me to access that kind of talent is to get a traditional publishing deal, which is what I wound up doing. There are people out there who have the ability to read their own work and judge it fit for public consumption. I will doubt I will ever be that person. Until I build that kind of confidence, I am unwilling to self-publish.