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my first novel in hard copy via print-on-demand with ~50 copies for my friends and family and still call myself unpublished?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.