the day self-publishing died

Imagine you have written six novels, a handful of novellas, and a bouquet of short stories.  Many of these you self-publish, because seeing your work in print is like a drug, and because you want feedback, and because, like most people, you want results without having to work too hard, and because, well, dammit, you’re naive and you actually think that the works are solid, they’re done, or, they’re close enough to completion that some agent or publisher on a white horse will review the prose and gush, “You are just what I’ve been looking for!!  Let me help you polish this drivel and let’s make a million dollars!”

For a couple of years, off and on, you have been submitting to agents.  The agents you basically pull off of the AAR list online and most have Madison Avenue addresses.  After initial submissions decrying “I have this great body of work, please represent me,” you realize that an agent is only going to want you if you show them your best piece and they know they can sell it.  So you refocus and select certain works and query more agents.  Only now, the form rejections you’re getting are indicating that blindly querying agents who represent the big guns is not doing you much good.  An unproven writer with a book over 130,000 words with no celebrity status or noteworthy accolades hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of capturing the heart of such a frou frou agent.

Time goes by.  You keep writing.  You keep working.  It dawns on you: you need to submit directly to the smaller presses, okay, the little guys who are doing God’s good work out there these days.  They don’t need no stinking agents.  They’re willing to look at material direct from the writer.  So, you target a few and submit to one.  Bingo!  A hit.  A publisher interested in seeing more after your initial query.  So you send your most recent manuscript.  He shows it to one of his staff editors for review.  The editor has some good things to say, but also says, “some of the prose too descriptive, distracting – albeit a beautiful distraction.  Transitions rough between chapters.  Loss of pacing.  Recommend rejection.”

Boom.  It’s a meteor hitting the truck.  But, you keep the dialog going with this publisher, telling him that, yeah, you were worried that an editor may find such problems.  And he says, “Really?  You thought there were problems with the manuscript and you sent it anyway?”

EEEEEEHHHNNNNNTTTT.  Thanks for playing, kid.  Publishers don’t spend time and resources cleaning up your mess.

So, you wonder, clawing your face, desperate, how in the hell do I know what it is to be “cleaned up?”  One guy over here thinks this work is too mainstream, the other gal over there thinks it’s not mainstream enough.  This one guy, he wants the genre rules, the other cat, he wants those rules broken.

The publisher recommends, however, that perhaps you can seek outside consultation.  Join a writing group, he says.  Hire an outside editor.  Throw some chicken bones in the snow and see what auguries you can discern.

You tap your pen to your lip.  You wonder how in the hell you’re going to take all of these projects, decide on the best, most viable one.  For what?  Commercial success?  Literary sensation?  Dennis Lehane, or Denis Johnson?  Choose a publisher who specializes in genre fiction, or upmarket?  You can’t decide.

A liberal is only a person who has yet to be burned by the fire, so they say.  Ouch.  You think you just got singed.  And as the smoke starts to boil around you, you decide you need to take the books down off the self-publishing shelf.  All of them, gone.

And so this is my long-winded way of saying that I will no longer be offering any books for sale through my website, or even out of the back of my garage.  Just letting you know.  All three of you.

samuel taylor coleridge

In Biographia Literaria XIV, Coleridge writes:

The thought suggested itself (to which of us I do not recollect) that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one, incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural, and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions, as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real. And real in this sense they have been to every human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself under supernatural agency. For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life…In this idea originated the plan of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least Romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. … With this view I wrote the ‘Ancient Mariner’.