Wednesday, September 09, 2015

How to talk about a self-published novel in a query

You've said that a self-published novel is not considered a valid credit when approaching a publisher or agent, but then I was wondering what you'd write at all if you happened to have one? Say I have one book I can't sell and have to give up on, my plan is that I'd self-publish to at least do something with it while I work on improving my writing for my next book which hopefully I can sell. So what then should I say about the first book while querying for the second? Is admitting I self-published a previous book bad because I'm admitting my last attempt was too poor to sell? Should I not mention it at all as a relevant credit? Or should I just avoid self-publishing as long as I'm trying for commercial publishing?

The reason self-published books aren't a writing credit is there was no independent selection process. You wrote the book, then you, yourself and ewe edited, copy edited, fact checked, sent it off to the typesetting elves, and presto, one ISBN later, it's a book.

There's nothing inherently wrong with self publishing. It's not something you have to speak of in hushed tones after hastily shepherding the children out of the room.

Very good writers have self published very good books. 

A query letter however should focus on where your work has been selected from a wider pool than your own repertoire and published. Thus, a literary magazine with an editorial winnowing process, a contest (as we discussed yesterday), are both publishing credits.

If you elect to self publish your novel you say simply that: I self-published my first novel Fifty Shades of Felix Buttonweezer.

You can leave out the rest: and I learned that it was a whole lot harder than I thought, and boy oh boy did I find out  I'm writer not a marketer etcetera;

or as we like to say in Siam


Now, as to whether you SHOULD self publish your novel, I will simply say this: the most common thing I hear from writers who query me again after a period of a year or more, and query for a new book is they now realize they queried too soon with that first novel.

I well understand your impatience with the glacial pace of publishing and the idea that getting the book out there is better than not, but that's impatience and inexperience talking. And lo! I have heard their siren song myself and always to my detriment I must confess.

Self publishing your first novel is a whole different kettle of fish than publishing a novel AFTER you've had several published already.

"At least do something with it" reveals a mind set that equates novels with fish. That is not the case. Your novel will not lose value in staying home from the big dance.You can always publish this novel at a later time, after you've gotten some experience, and practiced patience.

If I can persuade you to query your second and third novel, and make sure you've taken writing workshops before you send this defenseless novel out in the cold cruel world, I'll have done you a favor.


InkStainedWench said...

you, yourself and ewe

Oh, that's baad.

Stephen G Parks said...

A reader's perspective:

OP said: Say I have one book I can't sell and have to give up on, my plan is that I'd self-publish…

Writers build reputations among readers. Once that’s blown, it’s hard to get back. A first book really has to set a foundation — a standard of quality — to encourage readers to commit to your later works once they arrive.

Readers are fickle, and inundated with choice. I’ve given up on two established writers (published writers, not self-pubs) whose most recent books read like they’re fulfilling contractual obligations, not telling stories for the love of the story. I’ve found replacement authors to fill the slots in my reading list.

If your book doesn’t soar, don’t publish it now. Put it on a shelf and revisit it in a few years. If you're still passionate about the story in a few years' time, read it with fresh eyes and see if it can't be encouraged to fly.

Susan Bonifant said...

I've had that fork-in-the-road advice, "You can always self-publish..." usually from a non-writer. It always feels like they're leaving off the rest: "...before you quit."

It's a little like someone saying, "You can always try marriage counseling," while they're writing down the name of a good attorney.

Anonymous said...

SO very grateful I didn't self-publish my first novel :D

Make no mistake, I'm a self-pubbed author, but my first novel was only published after it had had a complete rewrite from the bottom up, and is in fact my fourth published book now. It bears very little resemblance to the novel it once was.

The first one I actually published was the fourth I'd written :D
I do love self publishing, but I think it's a mistake to self publish if your sole reason is that no one else would take your book. You can still make it if that's the case (lots of niche stuff doesn't find a home in trade publishing) but it's a LOT of work and you need to have more in your arsenal than 'My book is awesome and I'm gonna SHOW YOU ALL.'

It helps to have that, too, but it shouldn't be all you've got...

(Also, I wouldn't actually have thought of mentioning it in a query at all, if I ever went back to querying. But that's just me.)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am with Susan on this. For myself, self-publishing would not get me on the bookshelf where I want to be, nestled up to Papa Tolkien. That said, I am finding patience and resolve are necessary.

Just over a year ago, my cousin who is a very successful author, introduced me to her agent. The agent was amazing and even though my story was not really in her wheel house, she gave me great feedback. However, after much back and forth, I realized my book needed a full rewrite. I had jumped the gun so to speak. My book is much stronger now. Still, I felt rather bad about taking up an agent's time with a book that still, as it turned out, needed a year's more work. That agent has invited me to submit to her again although she is now focused on non-fiction. Before I resend to her, I do want to see if I can find an agent more in my wheelhouse. This is agonizing but I feel certain it will be worth the rocky road we all tread to get there.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I wouldn't self-publish a first novel. I don't have an MFA. I'm not an agent. I'm not an editor. I don't have confidence in becoming self-published first.

On a site called Creativity Hacker, the blogger does an Immerse or Die Report. He test-reads self-pubbed, mostly sci-fi, authors. After 3 WTF, he puts the book down. Not many books make it through his full 40 minutes of reading time. After 50 books, he did an analysis in August 2014 and did another analysis Aug 2015. (

Don't be impatient with that first book, Opie. Janet stated it beautifully and I'd grab WR Gingell's and Stephen Park's advice. Set it aside. It won't lose value. Then reread it.

french sojourn said...


It was my understanding that those shades were between you and I, and you and I alone. Your fickelosity at times knows no bounds. I could shoulder your forgetting me, and our wild Bora-Borean knights....however the publishing...self-publishing at that is...well, I think it's taking liberties on "vanity" publishing a bit far. ( and sadly, not my vanities.)

I remain fondly yours, you must know that, but dearest, this is a stretch for even me.

Fondly Felix

Lisa Bodenheim said...

ugh. More caffeine.

To finish up my thought above in the 2nd paragraph on the Creativity Hacker. In his analysis, he looks at the variables, the mistakes, that cause him to put the book down. And it's not just editorial problems that causes loss of immersion. It's more often story building problems or story telling problems.

There, I think I finished my thought.


Colin Smith said...

So early and already the best advice has been given. Let the first book sit. Don't feel the rush to publish. And even if you do end up self-pubbing, wait till you have time and experience behind you, and also some good cash reserves to hire an editor and do the job properly. Personally, I want an agent. I want to be confident that whenever a book with my name on it sits on a shelf, it will be one that has been read, edited, re-read, and loved by people who are much better read and far more literary savvy than I can ever be.

All the best, Opie!

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and I noticed last night they've posted the schedule for Bouchercon next month. OH MY GOOD COOGLI MOOGLIS! So many panels! How do you find time to visit the bar? My mind was spinning just looking at them all. And having to choose between "wow, that looks really fascinating," and "oh my, I'd love to go to that one!" I might have to shadow Janet--I'm sure she'll go to all the best panels. ;)

Theresa said...

I'm very content with a glacial pace. When I hear someone talk about spending a whole six months writing a mss and then starting the querying process, I really wonder about the quality--even at twelve or eighteen months. Before I send my writing along to anyone for an opinion, I've gone beyond draft four or five.

Still, I assume the exception to only very briefly mentioning self-publishing in a query is if the book happened to be that one-in-a-million that earned millions of dollars and lots of publicity.

Unknown said...

I agree with Colin! All the good answers have been taken. I guess I'll get back to work and dream about next weeks vacation.

Brenda Buchanan said...

Janet said: "At least do something with it" reveals a mind set that equates novels with fish.

This is such an important observation. Questioner, please take it to heart.

Your book will not rot if you set it on the shelf. Maybe it will gather dust forever, but you might pick it up someday and find all or parts of it can be reused/recycled. IMHO, either is a better outcome than self-publishing a book that is not ready.

My first mss did not bring any bites. It took a while, but I eventually stowed it on a shelf (it was not an easy process to walk away, trust me) and went to work on another book. That one sold as the first in a three-book mystery series. When I went back and re-read mss #1 I found (1) parts of it were rather good but (2) for all the usual reasons, other parts stunk.

I decided the good outweighed the bad, that it would be worthwhile to attempt an overhaul. I approached the task single-mindedly, as though Sister Mary Veronica was looking over my shoulder with a ruler in her hand. It was not fun. But the intervening years had provided me with a better understanding of craft and the confidence to take on such a challenge.

That recycled/revised/rewritten/retooled manuscript is the second book in my Joe Gale Mystery series, to be released September 28. I was fortunate that I didn't have to let it go for good. I only needed to set it aside long enough to learn some stuff I did not know several years ago.

Janet preaches the virtue of patience for good reason.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

This discussion reminds me of one a while back where QOTKU mentioned the questions she asks writers during a first telephone call. 'What else have you written?' was on the list.

Say OP shelves book one after querying it 600 times. Maybe even shelves books two, three and four. When finally Awesome Agent does call, OP has a loaded shelf to rework.

I guess OP has to decide why they want to write and why they want to publish. What kind of career they envision.

I pitched an Awesome Agent who told me no writing credits were not the end of the world. At least I didn't have a bad track record. She told me to simply write in the bio-line: this is my debut novel.

Craig F said...

The conundrum.

There are times that you have to self-publish. Sometimes a niche in a genre is deemed dead or you have a new niche that nobody had before explored and exploited. There is nothing wrong with that but it makes for a bucketful of extra work.

If that was good enough to use as a pub cred you will not have to do so. An agent or assistant agent will have noticed the following you have built and come looking for you.

If they are searching under every rock for you it should not be considered a viable pub cred.

LynnRodz said...

Patience is not my strong suit, but that's exactly what it takes when it comes to writing. I started my MS back in 2010, then I put it away for two years because life happens.

By 2013, I thought it was finished.
By 2014, I knew it wasn't.
By 2015, again I thought it was finished, but it wasn't.
By 2016, I think it may be. We'll see.

The biggest mistake newbies make is sending it out before it's ready. That's one mistake I don't want to make.

Right now, this past month, my eyes have opened and it's like I'm seeing things I haven't seen before. I've read these words to myself, out loud, recorded them, more times than I can count.

Yet, it's like I'm finally seeing them. Here, I'm telling rather than showing. There, the voice is passive rather than active. Why didn't I see this before? So, for the umpteenth time, I'm going through my WIP. Patience? Hell yeah.

Btw, I woke up this morning from a dream where I was telling someone, "Writing isn't just putting words on paper. Writing is placing those words the best way possible." I kinda like that.

InkStainedWench said...

Way to go, Brenda Buchanan!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Lynn is so right. I learned the hard way. I started writing my latest in 2007. Put it away for 2 years, workshopped it for a year, thought it was ready in 2013. Made an ass of myself (something I do all too well) and went back to the proverbial drawing board. Be patient.

To Colin's point, you want the best representation of your work out there, and a debut novel is your introduction to the world. Which is another reason I am hunting agents. I have three previous unpublished novels, two that will never publish (I was 15 and 20 when I wrote them) and a third I wrote in my late twenties. I may one day go back to that one. I have several more at various states that may or may not go anywhere and then the one I am shopping right now.

No writing is wasted. I think most writers are compelled to write - they are incapable of not writing. And the more we write, the better we become. It is hard to be patient when you've bled your life's blood into your work, but being patient seems like good advice to me.

And it is hard especially when everyone in your life keeps asking you when you're going to be published. I mean your dad, 8 of your cousins, and several of your in laws are published. What's wrong with you? We are not sure you can remain in this family if you don't get on the ball... Oh wait, that's just me. Sorry. Please continue and be patient.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Go, Brenda! A great example for us all

Panda in Chief said...

I once read a book about the process of cartoonists(New Yorker cartoonists, specifically) and one of the questions asked was, "which is more important, the drawing or the writing," My favorite answer was, "Yes."

Self publishing is a little different in the world of graphic novels and comics. It is much more common to find self published work that is good (granted there is a fair amount of dreck, too,) so after making the rounds of agents when I wanted to do my first collection of comics, I self published via a successful Kickstarter campaign. One of the main comments was that the genre (panda satire) was a way too small market segment for them to bother with.

Since then, I have self published 4 more collections and am about to publish the 6th. I have a small but loyal following (in the hundreds, not thousands) who read my weekly posts of new cartoons and comment, and then buy the books when they come out. Would I like to be published by a "real" publishers? Well, duh! My participation in the mentorship program starting next month will be geared toward getting the Inspector Panda GN picked up by an agent and real publisher, but should that not happen, I am comfortable self pubbing this book as well, and I know I will sell at least a couple hundred copies.

Not a landslide, but as I said, panda satire is a small market.

It all comes down to what your goals are. If you feel like you have the time to keep making your novel the best it can be, and then go through the long process of finding a good agent (they aren't all Janet) then that is what you should do. If I was thirty years younger, I might be more patient.

I'm not a fan of marketing, but my fan base is small enough that I can interact with them in an honest, real way, and they support all my projects enthusiastically. They are pure gold, and some have also bought my fine art and original cartoon art. I can't say enough good things about them.

I know many people who are "serious self-puubbers" are getting professional editing, cover design, and marketing support. There will always be those who rush to self publish poorly edited work that was not ready for prime time. But then there are traditionally published books that are absolute crap that sold a million or more copies.

Bottom line? Be true to your own goals, no matter what they are.

Brenda Buchanan said...

Thanks, Inky and E.M.!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Such encouraging comments today.

Brenda: Thank you for sharing your path.

Lynn: "Writing isn't just putting words on paper. Writing is placing those words the best way possible." Yes.

Janice Grinyer said...

"It's not something you have to speak of in hushed tones after hastily shepherding the children out of the room."


Factoring in on what it takes to make an actual book - growing a tree, cutting it down, making the paper, printing, etc. etc. etc. :) shouldn't the act of published writing also have at least the same thoughtful consideration of time and effort?

BJ Muntain said...

I'm sorry. I haven't had time to get a real response written up, or to even read everyone's responses here. I will later, I promise.

In about 1 minute, Writer's Digest is hosting a conversation with Sophie Littlefield, Lauren DeStefano, and Ms Poelle on its Faceboook page:

Writers Digest on Facebook

Noon, Eastern time. Seeya after.

Anonymous said...

Back in my younger days when I used to try and do the writerly thing by hanging around writer's forums and blogs and participate, I had a discussion with a lady who wanted advice. I still hang around two forums, but they are well-moderated and peopled by serious writers types.

Anyway, one day Polly Purepen asked a question about her excerpt. I said it didn't work for me because the characters were two-dimensional and performed unrealistic heroic acts. Now don't get me wrong, I study heroic people: Audie Murphy, Mad Jack Churchill, Boudica. Some of them do superhuman things, but don't make it cartoony like the vampire Amilyn death scene in Buffy the movie.

I tried to couch it diplomatically, but the response was, "How many books have you published? I've published six and will publish three more this year."

Got me. I'm unpublished.

It's odd how often you hear that from self-published authors as if they've done something terribly special.

I'm not saying there aren't some good self-published books out there, but do keep it in perspective. Some people just prefer self-publication and kudos to them if they do.

Anonymous said...

Barbara Poelle linked to Sophie Littlefield's query letter. Which addresses yesterday's question nicely.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: If I didn't have to work, I'd be there for that chat. And I think Sophie's query letter about answers questions about how to construct a great letter, and what to do with publishing credits. Thanks for sharing!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

When you query your second or third novel, might an agent check out your self-pubbed writing stew. Do you want an agent judging your new dish after taking a taste of something everybody else spit out?

Colin Smith said...

Julie's comment (the long one) reminded me of something:

When I was 11, a computer magazine in the UK published a very simple math program I wrote. It really wasn't complex, and they may well have printed it to humor me. Nevertheless it was selected by the editor, printed in the magazine, and I was credited by name.

So, I am published, and I suppose that now gives me the right to say what I want about everyone else's work, and you can't criticize me unless you, too, have been published!

Yeah... right... ;)

Pam Powell said...

Thank you! Very helpful!

I self-published a Y2K technical book because there was a definite deadline: the year 2000 comes once and that's it! There was no time to seek a regular publisher and there were a lot of small and medium-sized businesses that had bought into the idea that they didn't need to do anything.

Best compliment I received: "Your book saved our company".

No sequels are planned.

Colin Smith said...

Poof!: I think you should go ahead and plan for your Year 3K book, based on the success of the original. Though I think the next major problem will come with the year 10,000. Have we accommodated for an extra year digit? :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Poof gives a valid exception to the rule. Now I am worried about timing after all this convincing myself to be patient. My book is post-apocalyptic and I have it on authority the apocalypse is starting this Sunday, September 13th (So says the book, The Harbinger) and it's very convincing. Will my book still have a market if the apocalypse actually comes? What do agents do during an apocalypse? What to do. What to do.

Anonymous said...

Self-publishing is an option. There's always been that option (it used to be called 'go to the printers and print up your own books') but it's so much easier today. That can make it very tempting.

I do agree that OP may want to wait on doing so, though. It may not be a first book, but it may be a second or third... When talking to an agent or editor, you may be asked what else you have, and lo! (I love 'lo!') You just happen to have this other completed novel.

I've been considering changing up my plans for the book I'm shopping. Maybe going with a small press or self-publishing - but I'm not ready to go there yet. There's a few agents I haven't submitted to yet, and a couple who have requested partials. Even with an agent, I might self-publish some stories or novellas or something - but I really, really, really want an agent's advice.

Self-publishing is a business decision, and I'm not much of a business person. I'd rather have someone else handle the business, and I'd rather have a lot of good industry advice before I do anything that might impede my success.

Self-publishing is also a LOT of work, to do it correctly, and if you want to be successful, it also costs money: editing, cover design, layout. And then there's all the time (and/or money) that goes into marketing it, once it's published.

If you don't want to put in all that work and money, the book most likely won't sell well. If that doesn't bother you, then why self-publish it anyway? Chances are, it will garner almost as much money just sitting on the shelf, waiting for the right time to come to life.

Just got back from the Facebook conversation with Sophie Littlefield and Lauren DeStefano. They, too, were asked about previous novels. They both have previous novels, some of which have been repurposed as subsequent novels, some of which will never been seen again.

Now to tweak my query letter with some thoughts from reading Sophie Littlefield's...

Anonymous said...

EM: If that is, indeed, the day of the apocalypse, then I'm afraid you're already too late. Even if you get your book self-published in the cheapest, fastest way, it's not going to be ready. And then it won't be post-apocalyptic. It will be contemporary.

However, the pricking of my toenails tells me that the apocalypse isn't going to happen for another five years - it will be caused by flying cars and hoverboards. (With the youth on the hoverboards going too fast and high and the elderly flying their cars too slow to keep airborn, two generations will be wiped out in a matter of months.)

But it will take at least 5 years for those two pieces of technology to be available to the public, so we're safe until then. (Don't worry - I'll never be able to afford a flying car, so you don't have to worry about my poor driving. I'll be the sucker at the bus stop that gets caught in an explosion when hoverboard meets flying car.)

But in any case, you've got plenty of time - even with the galacial speed of publishing - to find an agent and get published before it happens.

Colin Smith said...

Thinking out loud here (inspired by bj's comment)...

Think about how much it costs in terms of time and money to do the self-pub thing correctly (writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, hiring an editor, cover design, promotion, etc.). Doesn't that put the whole traditional publishing machinery into perspective? After all, when your novel is submitted to, say, Penguin to be published, you are asking Penguin to invest time and money into your book with editing, doing the cover layout, promotion, etc. Why should they do that? Why your book and not my book or someone else's book? That's why there's a process in place (must come via an agent, must go through a submission process, must be accepted by the editorial board, must go through an editor, etc.) to select which books the publisher wants to invest in. And at the heart of the process are two important questions for a publisher: 1) Do we really believe this book needs to be published? 2) Do we really believe we'll make money off this book?

Sometimes publishers get it wrong and they turn away books that could have made them big money. Self-publishing is one way to get those otherwise overlooked books into the market. And maybe you really can't find a fit with publishers because your book doesn't match their vision for the kind of books they want to publish. That too can be a good reason to go it alone.

But I think it's a mistake to self-pub because you want to short cut the process from first draft to publication. If you're going to go it alone, go in with eyes open, and prepared to do for yourself all that a publisher would have done for you.

Again, just thinking out loud... :)

Kate Larkindale said...

My first 3 novels will never see the light of day. I'm just lucky self-publishing wasn't what it is today or I might very well have jumped on that bandwagon with one or all of these awful books and potentially ruined any future reputation. Thank goodness I didn't go that route…. And now I have a large group of characters I know well to pillage from on occasion.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

BJ: if flying cars become available, I hope Uber can navigate the adolescent hover boards. I am in no mood for an apocalypse so I will defer to Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimon on the subject. The antichrist has been misplaced and demons are too lazy to do all that work so I will continue my hunt for agents while avoiding the kale and Lima bean pits in Carkoon.

Once more a very good discussion. Loads of non-writers have asked me why I don't just self-publish. And bravo to the authors that can do that well, but I would be a disaster at self-publishing. I love this blog and all that participate in discussion. Great information.

Andrea said...

"You can always self-publish... before you quit" Thanks, Susan, that made me laugh :-) The amount of times people (who are not writers) have told me that self-publishing is the way to go these days... and every time I smile and try to point out politely that I have actually done a little research into the publishing industry myself and yes, I do know about Amazon and Wattpad, and no, that is not the writing career I have in mind.

I decided before I started querying my first novel that self-publishing is not for me, and I'm glad I was never tempted to self-publish that first novel because although I think it has potential, it could also be a lot better. I did query too soon, but it was an experience that has actually helped me with my writing, despite the minimal feedback I received from the first querying round. And I'm not terrified of rejections anymore. I survived. I now belong to a very large group of rejected writers, some of whom turned out to be great writers afterwards :-)
At the very least I'm not in such a hurry anymore to query. I've left the first draft of my second novel in a drawer for five months before picking it up for a read-through, I'm completely rewriting my first novel (which is great fun because I already know these characters), I'm working on my third and I've got the beginnings of a fourth and a fifth. Not being in a hurry to get published makes writing a lot more fun.

Susan said...

I have a feeling I'm about to jump into the lion's den and wear out my welcome here, but I've been reading the comments, and while I agree with a lot of what is being said, I feel like there's a whole other point that is being missed, so--respectfully--I want to address that.

When most people think of self-publishing, they immediately think of the novel that couldn't cut it in the traditional publishing world (or that didn't even try)--the one that was finished, put through spell-check with a cursory edit, then uploaded immediately to Amazon so that the author can claim publishing credits. I agree with what has been said here as it relates to this type of self-publishing--don't rush into it just to say you're published. You put your time, energy, and heart into this book, it deserves to be the very best it can be. Absolutely, 100% agreed. That's not the self-publishing I want to address.

It's been said that self-publishing is another (newer) model of publishing, and I believe this to be true. It's a business just like any other, and if you go into it armed with knowledge, manage your expectations, and work hard at it, putting into it what you want out of it, you can find the success you're seeking. For many people (yep, myself included), the decision to self-publish stems from a variety of factors, one of which is a knowledge of the publishing industry itself. I spent 3 years on my book before deciding to publish, then took over a year researching the industry--both traditional and indie models--before making my decision to go indie (with a personal situation cementing that decision). There wasn't a market in traditional publishing for my book (a 'quiet' novella), and I knew that. But I didn't want to pad it to bring up the word count, nor did I want to cut it to make it a short story. It was the story I wanted to tell in exactly the way I wanted to tell it, and I have no regrets.

It was hard work. I had to decide on a cover design that would be appealing, I had to determine which audience to market my book to, I had to create marketing initiatives and events to increase sales. That research and experience in self-publishing has given me a firsthand look into what goes into publishing a book, and to me that is invaluable as an author.

But now I do have a few novels that I would like to see go bigger, and I'm looking forward to working with others as a team to help bring that to light (self-publishing is exhilarating and exhausting!).

I don't view having a self-published book as a detriment, but as an asset to that: I know how to work with a team to produce the best product through cover design and editing; I'm still having trouble figuring out my audience (that pesky Adult vs YA debacle), but now I know about segmenting and its importance; and I know how to market my book on a smaller scale, with ideas on how to do so on a larger one.

That's why when I query, I include a mention of my book. I'm still in many ways learning, but I've also learned from this experience. Whether agents will look at it that way or not, I don't know...I just think that there's value in all things and wish it weren't always so quickly dismissed.

Donnaeve said...

Nope. Didn't read all comments. By the time I got here, we're almost 40 in and some were loooong. Big apologies all around cause I know ya'll had great advice.

That said, the "do something with it," did seem so...IDK. Like, "Hey, I have this "thing," here," and the comparison to fish is the best, and I also thought of the way it was said - like having one sock. I.e., now what? Make a sock puppet? Throw it out?

Either way, don't ever rush a decision regarding publishing - either traditional or self. The work is too hard and you need to act like what you have is GOLD. Even if a year later you think it sux. You NEED the time to know. Don't just toss the noodle at the wall.

Adele said...

"It's been said that self-publishing is another (newer) model of publishing"

Hmmm. Not newer, just revived. Centuries ago, modern publishers didn't exist. You'd write your book and then take it round the printers and have it printed up. You could then take it to the booksellers, or if you couldn't interest them in it, you might find yourself flogging it on the village square on market day. I think this last scenario is quite close to modern self-publishing.

I don't think modern writers have yet reinvented the subscription list (where you sold people on the idea of the book, they paid you for it, and then you went away and wrote it) These days purchasers want their book right away, and they're much less trusting.

BJ Muntain said...

Hi Susan

You did self-publishing right. You researched, you learned, you worked darn hard at it.

I don't think anyone is dismissing it, and if you want to mention it in your query letter - it's your query letter, right?

I think the only thing Janet was saying was that it's not considered a publishing credit. Any more than the years I spent in technical writing, communications, and marketing are publishing credits. But I do still sometimes put that into my query letter - especially if the agent specifically says they want a bio. Because, while it's not a publishing credit, it is writing experience. My experience shows I've been paid for my writing and I can meet deadlines. Your experience shows that you have put in the work, know the industry, and you know how publishing works.

Now, if you've had really good sales, then it just might be a publishing credit. I'm not sure how many would be wothwhile to mention - as you said, a novella isn't in the same market as a novel. You probably know a lot more about that end than most of us, so I can't advise you there.

The publishing credit - as I understand from Janet's blog posts - is simply to show that others in the industry have vetted your work, and believe that you can write publishable copy. That's it, really. It's not the same as experience.

Adele: Perhaps modern writers *have* reinvented the subscription list. Crowd funding is simply an internet form of the same thing. :) And a lot of anthologies get funded that way, and many writers (usually those who have a following anyway) will self-publish that way.

Panda in Chief said...

Thank you Susan for your very articulate and well thought out comment on why you chose to self publish, and the difference between the rushed, poorly done, quickly written and self published book, and the book that was well thought out, appropriately edited with a small team of proffessional editing and cover and formatting help.

I was starting to feel a little like I'd stepped in dog poo and tracked it into someone's house from some of the comments on self published work.

Granted, I am not writing literary fiction, the rules of which are likely very different from comics and graphic novels. I queried every agent I could find who had any interests that seemed even marginally appropriate. I got many personal reply/ rejections, along with a small number of no response and form rejections. I got a very warm personal rejection from a medium size publisher of comics collections by well syndicated cartoonists. The overwhelming response was: your work is funny and charming, but it is too small a niche for us to publish/represent.

I don't regret my decision to self publish, because had I not, I would be only the proprietor of an online comment with a few hundred views a week, and would have no books.

There are many similarities between traditional publishers for writers, and being in the gallery system for visual artists. I started showing my work in galleries very early in my career and do not regret it, because painting has been my day job for over 27 years. The economic meltdown changed all that, almost overnight. If I regret anything it is not developing an independent side business to take up the slack when things went south. A gallery and an artist are a business team, just like a writer and their agent. Each has their specialties in the business equation. I understand what work they do for their commission, and know this is part of the process.

Just because I have self published some books, It doesn't mean I don't still want to get in the door of traditional publishing. The kid lit market is not terribly accepting of self published work, although that is beginning to change. I hope the market continues to move in the direction of accepting all good work (there's another can of worms, isn't it?) and hope that I can be one of those hybrid authors with a foot in each camp.

Pam Powell said...

Thank you, Colin Smith.

Yes, the Year 10,000 will bring a jolt to computerdom. Do you think I could use Kickstarter to finance my Y10K book or would it be best to search for an agent? Janet would be great but she doesn't hand techie stuff.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Susan, for many of us it's easy to jump on board the (well at least I can self publish if traditional doesn't want it) bandwagon and how foolish that sounds.

Sometimes we forget that the original aim of some authors is to do-it on there own despite, or in spite of, traditional.

I always think of WOOL and Howie's success and the amazing publishing story of THE SHACK. Are they the norm, no. There's no norms in traditional publishing either. We can only pray for the writing-gods to bless us with the 'write' words and the best path which leads them to being purchased, read and appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I don't really have anything to add on this topic that I think anyone particularly wants to hear. But I do want to say that I LOVE that movie and the banter/sparring between those two and it has been way too long since I watched it. Sure hope it stands up to the test of time once I get around to it again.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ PandaInChief- I don't write deathless literary fic either :D I just do rewritten fairytales with a surprising amount of murder and mayhem in them, which is definitely a niche market (though perhaps not as niche as Panda Satire).

Susan, it sounds like you did your homework properly :) I did a lot of research before going self-pubbed (started out wanting to traditionally publish), and when I chose it, it was (like yourself) for a variety of different reasons.

For an example (apart from Howey) of self publishers doing it right, you really can't go past Lindsay Buroker: her website/blog was immensely helpful, not to mention immensely interesting. She does stuff in her sleep that I'm still working into my daily grind as a self-pubbed author.

Panda in Chief said...

@WR Gingell: Ha ha! No one has ever been able to acuse me of going with the popular trends, that's for sure. Not in Painting, and not in writing. Panda satire...what WAS I thinking? I think I am the leading practitioner of the genre, though.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

@Brenda, congrats for you success, you Joe Gale Mystery Series sounds like what I like to read.

No disrespect to self-published authors. I know several and they make it work for them. They work all the time at it.

A self-published author, Felix Buttons, sends enticing query and pages and synopsis. Agent Euphoria loves it googles them finds self-published books. Buttons didn't mention the self pubbed books in the query. What is Agent Euphoria's reaction?

Would it be better to mention "I have self published" and not mention titles. Or not at all, realizing it is not a credit but knowing that Agent Euphoria will have some type of reaction to the discovery.

Anonymous said...


A lot of people have been self-published with great success. Bob Mayer is self-publishing and he's no light weight. Barbara Rogan was talking about self-publishing some of her older titles and re-releasing them, if I remember correctly. I don't know if she has or not.

The person I referred to is the type who dashes off a new book every few months and races off to Amazon to publish it.

I have a friend who has a small publishing company. She's encouraged me to seek an agent, but she's also said if I get tired of looking that is always an option. She wants to see me move on to something else. She's familiar with some of the other things I have on the back burner.

I realize even with traditional publishing authors are expected to actively market their books, but let's be honest, when you self publish there's a lot more pressure.

This article discusses some self-published books and authors who did rather well. We all know about Amanda Hocking.

Zach Recht basically published his book Plague of the Dead: The Morning Star Strain on his blog in installments. Permuted Press noticed all the buzz about it on horror fan sites and bought it. It did so well for Permuted that Simon and Schuster bought up all the rights to re-release the books.

If Mark Twain and John Grisham can self publish, that means self-published doesn't automatically mean trash. However, just because you can click upload to Amazon or whatever it takes to publish with them, doesn't make you a writing expert and it doesn't necessarily make you good. Of course, there are a lot of traditionally published authors I don't think are that great either.

I read the interview with Hocking and it exhausted me just reading it. I don't want to spend all my time marketing. I'm not that young. I have other books I'd like to write.

Laura Mary said...

Confession time - I'm definitely guilty of being a publishing snob (and I am trying to stop thinking like this!). My husband was chatting about his friend at work who had a book coming out this month and how amazing that was. When we looked into if further it was via a sci-fi website that you pay a fee to publish your work through, and I said 'well it's not properly published is it, anyone can do that'
I'm pretty sure the green eyed monster got the better of me in that moment - I know nothing about the guy, or the book, or the circumstances that led him to publish there. It could well have been the perfect avenue for him.

I think the reason behind my knee jerk reaction is the point Janet made - there was no independent selection process.

I pretend my aversion to self publishing is because I wouldn't know what I was doing (true, but I could learn) really it is the sad fact that I *need* constant reassurance that what I have written isn't utter poop! If it gets past an agent, and gets past a publisher, surely it cant be drivel right?
Well no, not really. I'm sure we've all read some drivel at one time or another!

I suspect I shall need a therapist alongside an agent! :-/

DLM said...

Susan Bonifant - such a well put early comment! :)

LynnRodz's dream advice: nomination for the next banner of the week. Boom.

Love. Hank's (sorry, Felix's). Letter.

Janice L. Gryner, good aspects to factor in, indeed!

Poof!: hahahahaha! That's great feedback, way to go.

One of my best friends is self pubbed, and she is a dynamo. She has supported her work and learned the tech, GOTTEN all the support she could, and went both hard copy and electronic. She's astoundingly savvy, and I adore her concept, AND she's working on getting the sequel out soon. Watching her is the sort of lesson that might have tempted me to brave the self-pubbing option; but instead it has cemented my understanding of myself: that I am not built for that type of business and work. I will do a lot in stewardship of my writing, but - it turns out - not *anything*. And I know better what I am drawn to doing and NOT, because I've been close enough to see the sausage-making, which is a huge advantage.

Starting with Susan, I admire the hell out of those who do this work, and do it seriously, and do it with the vigor and talent and integrity so many bring to the indie table. It's not a job I believe I could do at all well.

If my novels are fish, they are brilliant, glimmering, strong and beautiful fish.

Susan said...

Panda: Took a trip over to your website and fell in love with your comics! Well done!

Carolynn: I *just* started reading Wool last week based on a recommendation, and it's fantastic! I didn't realize it was self-published, so kudos to him on his success. It's a really good story.

Julie: I think most people's reaction when they hear a book was self-published is to cringe because it's so easy for people to upload on a whim, which saturates the market with lackluster works. I completely understand that, 100% agree. But I wanted to address the people who have higher quality writing (and presentation--Howey, for example), who have done the research and the work, but that just didn't fit into the traditional marketplace. They may not have been vetted, but they still have experience publishing, for the reasons I'd listed above. Can/should you show that you have that knowledge in a query letter? Where is the line drawn to where it matters and where it doesn't? To me, there's value in quality work no matter how it came about, but not everyone is going to feel the same, and agents certainly may not. So that's the question: what's the line? Not questions for you, just questions in general that I have no answers for. :)

I think the best model of publishing depends on your goals, as others have mentioned above. Some people write only for themselves. Some people write with the sole intention of having their works shared and read with the world. Some people write for money. All are legitimate, personal reasons for writing, and those decisions play into how they feel about publishing. For those who are only concerned with having their works shared and read, maybe self-publishing is a viable option (it certainly played a part in my decision for my first book based on personal circumstances). Traditional publishing is excellent because it offers a mix of all of these things: wider distribution, validation/respect from the community (one could hope), and income opportunities.

Personally, I still have no idea how I did all of what I did to self-publish with my circumstances. I loved every single second of it, but, Julie's right--it was exhausting! I don't want to do it again--at least, not with the intention of reaching Amanda Hocking level of success on my own. Also, it's a different book with an actual market (+1!), so I'm more willing to wait in the trenches a while and persevere. However, I'm also driven by wanting my works to be read more than anything, so that's the balance I have to find for myself. I don't consider self-publishing a fall-back so much as it is an option.

I'm getting wildly off-topic here. Clearly, I have no answers--just a lot more questions and opinions. ;)

Panda in Chief said...

Susan, thank you again, both for visiting the pandas, and your excellent comments above.

As my background is in visual arts, I equate the slap dash self publishers with the folks that take one class from me (as a painter) and think because I've shared what brushes I use, what brand of paint, and some of my techniques, that they are ready to make a bundle being a painter because they will be able to paint just like me.

Maybe the answer for self publishers who have done the work to make their book good is NOT to mention it in the query, but to bring it up if the conversation with an agent progresses to the serious conversation stage. Because they ARE going to research you if they are interested and your self pubbed work is going to surface (whether you are proud of it or not.) I am proud of my self pubbed work and in my small niche way, I have built a loyal reader base, which should be to my credit should I make it to the serious conversation stage with an agent.

S--H said...

Hi, everyone, and Janet. This is the asker here. Thank you so much for your reply! And also to all the other commenters for their very eye-opening options. I've taken some time to review it all and wow okay yep. I think I will be holding on to any old manuscripts after all.

Several of you have talked (very well) about the positive points of self-publishing, but I've always fully admitted that I'd have no idea where to start when it came to self-publishing and would only do it sort of as a 'why not' rather than a serious endeavour. So ...bad reasoning. I hadn't really thought about reputation among readers either.

I'm feeling now just how impatiently I've been thinking, oops. If my goals are traditional publishing, I guess I'll hold on and keep trying. Thank you again to Janet and everyone else for your perspectives.