Archive for March 8th, 2010


Rejection and the World of Self-Publishing

There is an old saying that when you can’t play by the rules, change the rules. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of self-publishing, and for the first time in my life I am beginning to understand. Just recently I finished editing my own novel, a futuristic romance called Social Conscience. The first thing I did was attempt to contact publishers, but quickly discovered that publishers do not publish non-solicited books ( i.e. books that aren’t represented by agents). So I need to find an agent, and using the Writers Market, I quickly made a list of one dozen agents that I thought were best suited for my novel. So far I have contacted seven of them, and already two have rejected me. Although I hold out hope that I will contact at least one agent willing to represent me I know that the odds are long against this happening.

The reasons that it is difficult to find an agent to represent your book are numerous. If you are a fictional writer, particulary a first-time fictional writer (as I am) then a publisher may not want to take a chance on you. They have no way of knowing whether or not what you are writing will sell. Even well-written fictional books may have difficulty selling depending on the market-place, and how people perceive your book. Furthermore fictional books are often difficult to categorize, and although readers may pick up twenty different westerns in a given month no one knows if your’s will be one of them.

Established writers, and non-fiction writers (who write for a very specific audience) are much easier to sell, and to market, and so many publishers stick with these tried-and-true’s. Another reason that selling books has become so difficult is that many publishing houses have consolidated into large corporations (think Amazon) that have C.E.O.’s running the show, and C.E.O.’s look only at the bottom line. Why invest in an unsure thing and risk losing money when you can continue to invest in sure things and only gain money? For these reasons a lot of agents don’t take on new books, or are very selective when they do. This has led many writers to turn to the phenomena of self-publishing. I will get to this in a minute.

Sometimes I hear people in the news bemoan the loss of traditional medium, such as old newspapers and the nightly network broadcasts. These have been replaced by the non-traditional medium such as cable news, on-line news and the bloggers. In the world of news I could understand this. Young people are trying new technology and older people are dying out. But I was surprised to find that the world of publishing has gone the same way. Although I was aware of alternative publishing (sites like and Book Surge, which is owned by Amazon) I always felt it was preferable to have a real agent and use a traditional publishing house. After all, when you hire an agent and get your book published a whole army of people go to work for you, editing, marketing, and selling your book. If you self-publish you have to do all this work yourself, and who wants to do that? Who has the time and money to do that? But now I am beginning to see why so many people have abandoned the traditional world of publishing. Don’t blame the writers, blame the agents.

You see, agents have a job, and last I checked that job was to find writers and publish their books. Sometimes this is difficult, but hey, guess what, you signed up for it. When I worked at Whataburger I had to clean up grease, I didn’t enjoy it, but I took the job, so I did it. And if you are an agent sometimes you have to wade through some grease in order to find a few pieces of gold. A long time ago somebody discovered Stephen King, and somebody discovered John Grisham ( actually it was the same man, bet he made some money) and somebody discovered J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and about a million other people. If you are an agent then your job is to find those people and perhaps I am being naieve about this, but it seems to me the more books you read the more likely you are discover somebody. Sadly, most agents don’t see it this way.

In my attempt to find an agent I have been hampered by all kinds of lame, pathetic rules and guidelines that agents impose on young writers. I have been told not to contact agents directly. I must send a query letter in order to get in touch. The query letter must be a certain length and style, and comply witht the agents requirements or it will not be read. Some agents even have a query form to fill in, lest you be so bold and come up with your own statement about your book. I must wait for a response from my query, and not contact anyone in the meantime. Usually I must get a response before sending any of my book. If they are willing to look at the book, then only the first ten pages, please! And of course, one should never be so bold as to just send the whole, whopping book into an agents office, and force them to read it. What are you trying to pull writer? It’s anarchy, I tell you!

So let me get this straight. I write a book for over a year. I spend two or three months editing it. I format it and print it according to editor specifications. I package it and mail it to you at my own expense, and then… You reject it on site? And your job is to find writers? Give me a break. I know it may be a little unpleasant to read a bad manuscript. I sometimes look back at my own work from ten years ago and wince at how bad it is. But how long does it take to read five, ten, twenty pages of a book and see if it has some potential? And I doubt all of these agents have some Milton from Office Space sitting in a basement somewhere besieged by bad manuscripts, destined to spend an eternity in limbo, readng page after page. How many books come in on a day to day basis? One, maybe two.

Agents will one day find themselves out of work, and one day big publishing companies will find themselves publishing little more than textbooks, and they will have only themselves to blame, sad but true.

Now, as for self-publishing… I must admit I was surprised to read how many self-publishing methods, and companies there are out there. Some of them, like Lulu are free, as well. But just because something is free or cheap doesn’t mean it is easy. If you wish to go the route of self-publishing (something I may have to consider) you will have to edit your book professionally by somebody on the outside (unless you really think it is good enough as is), you will have to use soft-ware to format the book professionally, you will have to handle all of the design, and marketing of the book, and you will have to spend considerable time and money getting the book out there for people to read.

The process of self-publishing is a daunting one, but at least you have all of the power, and a vested interest in seeing your work succeed. Self-publishing may be difficult, but it beats getting turned down by agents who aren’t doing their jobs. Like most things, in the world of book publishing, if you want something done wright you have to do it yourself.


Jack B.