Friday, July 18, 2014

Query: no confetti, no cake, and no bound mss.

I'm nearing the end of my agent search and it looks like I'm coming up empty. I'm already 67,000 words into my second novel so I'll be considering my first one a drawer novel. Worse things happen in the world.

My first novel is a mystery, a cozy mystery, and my second novel will be more mainstream fiction, book club fiction, women's fiction (these categories still confuse me somewhat). I would have written a long series with the first set of characters but if it's not going to sell, I'm going to move on.

My question is this: Can I "self-publish" my first novel in hard copy via print-on-demand with ~50 copies for my friends and family and still call myself unpublished? I wouldn't put it on Kindle or take out space on Goodreads or anything like that. My peeps have been so supportive of me throughout this whole process and I just want to gift them with a copy of the book (it's been professionally proofread but still would be considered a nicely bound manuscript). It's a good book even though it may not be good enough to make cash for agents in this particular market. I want to share it with my people. But I don't want to shoot myself in the foot by being one of those "who cares if you don't like it, big publishing; I'll publish it my own damn self" people. I want a traditional publishing career, even if it takes me a book or two more to get there.

If it ultimately doesn't find an agent, it's because it doesn't deserve an agent. I'll have queried every single agent repping mysteries of any kind by the time I'm completely finished. I've cast a wide net. But it is good enough for my friends and family, especially if I don't charge them for it, which I wouldn't.

Pitfalls? Draw backs? Legitimate to go ahead and commission a cover, get an ISBN, print-on-demand and move on to my next book and pretend to the marketplace like this one never happened? What say ye, oh wise Shark?

Well, the first thing to do is remember that once that book leaves your hands you have no control over what someone does with it, and I recently ran into a guy who found out the hard way that a "friend" had posted his early work for sale on Amazon.  Ooops. The early work was a manuscript he'd sent out to friends for feedback. Nice, huh?

Second, if this is a trunk novel, it belongs in a trunk, not sashaying around like a book. Five years from now you're going to look at that book and weep.  Please trust me on this. It's not that you're a bad writer, it's just this is your first book.  

Your peeps aren't expecting this and they're not going to feel slighted if you don't give them a copy of the book. In fact, if you do, all it does is create expectations that you'll do this with EVERY book, and trust me, when you get a contract, and you need sales, you want your peeps in the habit of BUYING books, not getting yours for free.

And honestly, not every event needs some sort of marker or celebration.  I still remember my father being a bit rueful about sixth grade "graduation" festivities at Sister Mary's School for Wayward Sharks.  "We expect our kids to complete the sixth grade," he said to Sister Mary.  Now, Dad did NOT feel this way about graduation from college and the tassels beyond that point.  He reserved his huzzahs for the achievements that really meant something.  Getting your first book published means something. Not getting your trunk novel published is like graduating from sixth grade.

If you absolutely insist on ignoring my advice, don't put an ISBN number on it, don't use CreateSpace, and pray your friends aren't douchecanoes. 


JeffO said...

I like the way your father thinks.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Wait a minute - I wrote that question - no I didn’t - yes I did.

Your papa shark? Did you and I come from the same ‘claspers’ because my dad sounds just like yours?

I have come to the conclusion that at one time or another we all have the same questions and they all are answered by Janet.

You are the Anne Landers, Heloise and Dr. Ruth of writing. Thanks.

Kitty said...

Just asking here....

If you have confidence in your work and think it's "a good book," then why not try putting it on Kindle? Amanda Hocking had great success with it even though she "didn't have a lot of hope invested in ebooks" at the time.

Melissa said...

I just read the most interesting blog post from someone who shopped their drawer novel three years and three manuscripts down the road.

She workshopped her latest and greatest with an agent who said that while book 3 was great, it wasn't a subject that was selling. The author realized that book 1 was what was selling. So she edited again with a fresh eye and critiques, had another reader go over it, and started shopping it. THREE WEEKS later, she had an agent.

Print a copy for your mom on your printer, dedicated to her, and set it aside. You never know.

Anonymous said...

I still have hopes for my own first book, although I'm not sure what I'm hoping for at this point. That it won't suck as bad as I think when I finally crack it open again? Maybe at that five yr mark?

I am in total agreement with your dad.

LynnRodz said...

"SMSFWS" Janet, you crack me up! They say, "laughter is the best medicine." Well, you definitely help me stay healthy! Thank you.

Craig said...

Oh My, I seem to be even more confused than usually. Maybe it is the drugs the doctor prescribed yesterday but I dither.

I seem to have seen thousands of posts about Agents looking for that magical first book. Now you say to lock it up, wrap it in chains and dump it overboard. Is it that Agents tend to call first "published books" as first books or is it something else?

Susan Bonifant said...

Now I just have to find a way to use last week's "whilst" and this week's gem, "douchecanoes", in the same sentence.

K Hutton said...

RE: Is it that Agents tend to call first "published books" as first books or is it something else?


If you're chatting with other writer friends, your "first book" likely means that first foray you made into the land of writing, by typing until you had 90 computer pages full of words.

When talking with agents, publishers, hearing about an author's "debut" or "first" book in a review, that means the first one published. At this point trunk novels need not apply.

Aoife.Troxel said...

Off topic but I can see I'm not the only one commending your father's way of thinking. I'm not one to celebrate if something is not a true achievement.
That said, I've always appreciated a good un-birthday celebration too (any excuse for a party)

Beth said...

Another consideration:

I'm a librarian. A number of years ago, a gentleman donated his entire collection of books to our library. He accidentally included a manuscript a friend had given him. Not knowing the backstory, we cataloged it and made it available to the public. The author found out about it and was livid. We pulled it from the collection and returned it with our apologies. If the author hadn't happened to find it, it would still be out there.

Accidents happen.

Lance said...

Thank you, Ms. Reid. Your post is packed with super-saturated timeliness for me. I don't think any of my friends are douchecanoes, but then I don't think any of them read Dino porn either. I could be wrong on both counts.

DLM said...

Part of the problem with celebrating non-events in publishing is that we're still *learning* what even is an accomplishment, for what can seem like an inordinately long time not only to us pupils under tutelage at SMSFWS (and elsewhere ...). I can't say I didn't think my very first request for a partial was an event - and I am *still* capable of, at least privately (and with certain friends), squeeing my head off at certain requests for fulls.

It ain't champagne and a party - but there are celebrations, and there are celebrations. It's good to learn when there's real cause, but it's also good to keep your energy up with enthusiasm and even the support of those around us.

Michael G-G said...

Douchecanoe is a delightful addition to the lexicon.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Douchecanoe is the new asshat.

And yes on 6th grade graduation.

As to the book, my brother bound his personal journal and collection of emails he'd exchanged with me and his daughter discussing his life and politics.

He did it via Lula and now that he is gone those books are precious to those of us who got a copy.


Susan James said...

THANK you for this wonderful advice! Heeding as we speak. And Kitty, I may put the book out for sale, so as to prevent my douchecanoes from getting used to free books:)

I don't doubt I will weep in five years when I read this book. I hope I do. Lots of very successful writers weep when they think about their first book. I would trunk this novel in a heartbeat but since it takes place in my hometown, I'd like to make it available for my peeps who live here and who have visited here. They'd all be happy to pay a Kindle fee to support me and my efforts. Since it wouldn't be professionally published, they'll all know it's not as good as what's on the market otherwise. Just a personal triumph of completing a whole book, a lifelong dream.