Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing is art; publishing is business

A couple of years ago I joined Sisters in Crime, on the advice of author Susan Wittig Albert, and then the AgentQuest listserv--postings by authors who were trying to find agents. It's a pretty difficult thing to get an agent,  yet this group is uniformly supportive and there's not a trace of competition--okay, a few admit to occasional twinges of jealousy but they rally. News of rejection after rejection is met with condolences and advice to get out there and submit again. Some of these writers  have submitted twenty queries, some a hundred or more, and still they keep going. Agents have a variety of canned reasons for rejection: I just didn't love it enough; I don't know where I could sell it; your writing is excellent but it's just not for me. Bottom line: this is a tough market, both for writers to place with an agent and agents to place a work with a publisher. It's partly the crowded mystery field and it's partly the economy--at least that's my take on things.
As I posted not long ago, I had an agent for a  year. He sent my manuscript to eleven publishers and announced he couldn't sell it. I'll give him credit--he sent it to all the "big" names and then a few. There are actually six "big" publishers these days who can make your fame and fortune. I guess I never really thought of achieving fame or fortune, and after that rejection, I got honest with myself. I am not a "breakout" writer (at my age I probably don't have enough writing years to establish a Sandra Brown-like career and maybe I don't have the talent or the chutzpah--take your choice). But I do believe in my writing and want to publish it.
My manuscript, "Skeleton in a Dead Space," has now been shopped; no other agent is going to look at it when it's been rejected by all the major mystery pubishers. Like a lot of others, I'm weighing the pros and cons of small presses vs. self-publishing, probably with Amazon, which offers an attractive package of print-on-demand paper copies and e-book publication. Self-publishing has lost the stigma that it once had, and I am truly tempted by this route. Fred Erisman, my mentor, has re-read the manuscript (for the umpteenth time, poor man) and declares he still thinks it's publishable, has no corrections or changes to suggest but a few ideas. I hope to get with him in the next week to hear those ideas. And to talk over with him the merits of various means of publication. One thought that keeps coming back to me is that it can take a small publisher a year to consider a manuscript--at 72, I'm not that patient. I want to see that manusript published and move on to others, lke the one I've almost finished.
The point I've been workikng around to is that someone posted on the Guppy (Going to be Published) Small Press Quest list how free she felt once she had given up the idea of an agent. She was enjoying writing again and not dreading the next ding of her e-mail, which might well be a rejection. The Guppies also have a wonderfukl role model in Susan Schreyer who has just posted her first novel on Kindle, Death by a Dark Horse. She's done a terrific job of marketing, and her book is selling--it's next on my reading list.
I have one e-book available from Smashwords and Kindle (the short story collection, Sue Ellen Learns to Dance and plan to post my 1988 Spur Award-winning novel, Mattie, soon (see, it's a business. You learn to overcome modesty and go for blatant self promotion). The trick is to build up readers, and the more titles you have the better. I have also created an Amazon author's page ( The trouble is, I'm posting western Americana titles when I want to build a mystery readers' base. Maybe that will come next.
Wow, I have gone on too long about this. But, yes, publishing is a business. And figuring out marketing e-books or choosing a small press takes as much research as getting an agent. It just doesn't bring the rejection, and that's good.

No comments: