More thoughts on self-publishing

August 16, 2010

I was talking to my brother yesterday about my anxiety at the notion of self-publishing without an editor. As I was saying that I was concerned that any dumb writing mistakes I made would cement my reputation as a bad writer, I realized that there are four possible combinations of audience size and perceived quality:

Size  Quality How It Affects Me
Large Good    Jackpot!
Small Good    Something I can build off of...
Large Bad     How did I get a large audience for a bad book!?
Small Bad     There aren't many of them, so no big deal.

I’m still going to give my outstanding queries time to get resolved since lightning might strike, but I think I’ve convinced myself that the lack of an editor isn’t a good reason to hold back from self publishing.

Novel Update: Rethinking My Strategy

August 12, 2010

I’ve been in a pretty deep funk lately. A few days ago I realized it was the same kind of feeling I used to get at work when I felt my managers and/or leaders didn’t have a good plan. Since I’m essentially working for myself now, that pointed the finger squarely at me and… now that I look at it I don’t have much faith in the plan I’ve been executing to. It’s certainly possible that the depression is the cause and the lack of faith the effect, but beating myself up for being depressed has never worked before, so I’m trying to rethink my big picture plan to see if that helps. I’m not done yet, but I wanted to get some of my thoughts written down.

Querying agents about my novel has been nothing but heartache so far. I’ve queried 16 agents with my first novel. I got 6 form rejections and 2 queries that have been sitting so long that they’re effectively rejections. The other 8 might still get replies, but I’m not really holding my breath. I could keep researching more agents to query, but I think I’ve hit all of the ones who both seem interested in my kind of novel (epic fantasy) and would do a good job representing me (I’m dealing with far less than perfect information there, so I may be making some poor assumptions, but I’ve got to work with what’s available to me, even if that means I sometimes need to do things like use an agency’s website design as a proxy for their competence and professionalism).

One alternative to submitting via agents is to go through the various publisher’s unagented submission process. Unfortunately, they generally have rules against simultaneous submissions, and give themselves six or more months to respond. Maybe there’s some subtlety I’ve missed somewhere, but that just strikes me as ludicrous in the internet age (and don’t got me started about how most of them still want submissions on physical paper). I can’t see any good reason to have a low-bandwidth high-latency interface with authors, unless it’s to explicitly funnel them to the other avenues by making this one so obviously lame. The third alternative appears to be meeting editors in bars at conventions, as far as I can tell from the advice people give in interviews, etc. Even if I was good at convincing people to like me in face-to-face interactions (I’m not) and even if I had the money to spend on conventions (I don’t) and even if I had other reasons to go to conventions (I hate travelling), I would still think this was a pretty unreliable way to do business. So that’s more or less off the table.

If the traditional publishing route is looking unlikely, what are the alternatives? The obvious way to go there is e-books and/or Print-On-Demand. Getting a print book up on Amazon via CreateSpace looks pretty straightforward, and putting out a kindle edition seems even easier. My big fear with this approach is editing. I would really like to have a professional editor give me feedback on my novel, but hiring a freelance editor is not cheap (I should probably do some research on my own, but one of the hosts on a recent Dead Robot’s Society podcast said that getting a novel edited would cost around $1000). E-books and POD books are not well known as big money makers, so I don’t want to start deep in the hole before I sell my first copy (besides, I’d need a cover design and possibly a map, too). The counterpoint here is that, as the publishing industry slowly collapses, nobody else will have good editing, either…

If I do self-publish, I’d need to build an audience. Since I listen to a lot of podcasts, the podiobooks route is one that I’m considering. There are a few hurdles to overcome with that. First, like nearly everyone, I hate the sound of my recorded voice so I’d need to get past that. Second, I have nearly perpetual sinus issues which isn’t a great trait for a voice performer to have, so I’d need to see if I could figure a way around that. I’d probably also need a better mic than the one on the headset I use for Skype (I’d need to do some experiments to be sure), and I don’t have a great recording space (my computer is really noisy, and my office in general doesn’t have the best sound quality).  And, of course, recording and editing all that audio would be a lot of work. I’m also not a big listener of audio fiction (I’ve only listened to a handful of the novels on podiobooks) so mastering the medium will be tricky. There’s also already a lot of competition in the space, and financial success stories seem few and far between. Still, it’s better than nothing…

Obviously, the plan is still a work in progress, and I’ve identified a lot of hurdles without any silver bullet solutions, but I’m hoping that this will be more productive in the long run than just moping around and being unmotivated.

The Query Process Sucks!

August 4, 2010

I’m still querying my novel (no luck yet), and it’s really driving me nuts. I just sent out a query e-mail and I realized a second after I hit “send” that I messed up the gender on the salutation. Argh! The whole “wait and see” aspect of querying is bad enough, but now I can obsess over whether I just shot myself in the foot, and wonder how many other little mistakes I’ve made in the process, and whether I should send a follow-up e-mail apologizing for the mistake or if that would just make it worse… It seems like there has to be a better way of doing this whole thing.

Novel Update: The Agent Query Process

July 11, 2010

Other than the rejection I mentioned previously, I haven’t heard any responses from the agents I queried. I did some more research on agents that might be a good fit for me and sent out a few more queries.

I find the agent querying process to be incredibly emotionally draining. First, researching agents involves lots of meticulous, detail-oriented work which is the kind of thing I absolutely hate. I tend to be a “big picture” guy, so tracking down details like agents who represent authors with books similar to mine, their genre preferences preferences, their submission guidelines, etc., is very tiring. This is exactly the kind of task that an assistant would be great for, but aspiring writers don’t have assistants.

Second, sending query letters to agents triggers a lot of my social anxieties. Meeting new people always puts me on edge, talking about myself always makes me feel self-conscious, and I always feel awkward when I initiate a conversation. Query letters roll all of that that into one horrible package. Hooray! I’ve been employing the irrational anxiety coping mechanisms of delay and avoidance very generously, which means the sources of the anxiety end up hanging over my head for extended periods, drawing out the discomfort for maximum effect. Intellectually I know that just getting them over with will be easier, but the rational brain isn’t the part that controls motivation.

Third, while rejections hurt, lack of response is soul crushing. I haven’t had much response to the queries I’ve sent, and I imagine that’s going to be par for the course. Having outstanding queries makes every day an opportunity to build up my hopes and not get them fulfilled. Not getting closure on these queries is difficult. (It probably doesn’t help that the other creative project I’m working on, my tabletop RPG, is similarly stuck while I try to drum up interest from playtesters).

I also need to start digging into the editing on my second novel, but I’m having a hard time getting motivated for that. The first hot weather of the summer hit Eugene this week, and getting motivated in the heat is even harder than usual. To be honest, I mostly need to stop making excuses and get to work.

Novel Update

June 15, 2010

I’ve been letting the issues I found on the re-read percolate in my brain for a few days. I don’t think I have solutions for everything yet, but I feel like I’m making progress.

Low: 0
Medium: 132
Priority: 37
Showstopper: 2

Resolved 1 Medium issue. Upgraded 13 Medium issues to Priority.

Current wordcount: 74788

Novel Update

June 9, 2010

I finished re-reading the novel today. As I expected there are some issues with the ending that I’m going to need to rework. Changes that I want to make to the “magic system” cause events of the current ending to not make sense so I’ll need to write a new ending. I haven’t worked out exactly what the new ending will be, but I think it’s going to be an improvement over what I’ve got. I may also have some pacing issues with the later parts of the book. I noticed a lot more awkward sentences and passive voice issues the later I got, too, which indicates I was getting a little sloppy at the end of the original draft. Even though there’s still a lot of work to do I think I’m still a lot happier with this novel than the first one, and hopefully the editing won’t be as painful.

Re-read: 100.0% done

Low: 0
Medium: 146
Priority: 24
Showstopper: 2

Added 2 Showstopper, 10 Priority and 25 Medium issues.

Current wordcount: 74788

Novel Update

June 8, 2010

I made more progress on the editing re-read today.

Re-read: 82.3% done

Low: 0
Medium: 121
Priority: 14
Showstopper: 0

Added 2 Priority and 20 Medium issues.

Current wordcount: 74788