Monday, March 4, 2013

In Defense of Traditional Publishing

There's always a firestorm of comments shot back and forth across the internet regarding that topic. You know the one. Self-publishing.
Is it bad? Is it good? Should you do it?
(Oh, c'mon.... You know you want to do it!) I'm sure you've heard it too.

I'm not going to talk about self-publishing. As much as I want to douse water on those who use it as their own private word-waste dumping ground. I don't think it should be used that way. (No, I don't want to buy your unedited 580-page YA novel about a unicorn princess who falls in love with an alien space fungus and shuttles to Venus to participate in the Peckish Games for .99 on amazon.)

I'm going to talk about how wonderful, and awful, and beautiful pursuing traditional publishing is.

You've all heard the Cinderella stories of how a young writer gets noticed in her first blog contest, at his first conference, from her first query, and immediately signs with his or her Dream Agent. This isn't that story.

This is the story of a dream. My dream.

When I was in junior high, I realized I liked to write. I liked to write so much that I thought one day I would write a book. No, better yet, a series of books! I would write them, illustrate them, and then I would get them published and share my world with as many readers as my books could reach.

I'm still following that dream, and still trying to publish my first novel in that series. I've learned a lot in a short time. I've learned that everything moves slowly, and the only things you can control are your own skill and your own choices. You hone your skill, and you choose carefully when you query, how you query, and who you query. (First, you have to learn what makes a 'good' query.)

You must let your manuscript sit awhile before revising it again. You must get someone you're not related to to read your manuscript and give feedback/edit (and you must take their responses into consideration). You must not lose your love for the story you started out to write. And you must continue to move forward no matter how hard or often you're pushed back down. Get back on the horse.

Among my musts isn't "you must self-publish when you get angry, frustrated, depressed, or desperate", because that isn't the right reason to self-publish. (And that would only add to the festering cesspit of word-waste out there in ebookland.) You might be getting rejections from agents because your work isn't ready yet. You might be getting them because you queried the wrong agent and need to keep trying. You might be getting them because the market isn't ready for your book and you have to wait awhile. (And if the market still isn't ready for your book after you've waited awhile, you might want to consider self-publishing.)

You should never assume there's a huge conspiracy against you, that the agents and editors are all evil, and that you will show everyone once and for all what your grandmother has known for years - how talented and amazing you are! In your FACE, Gatekeepers!

Agents know marketing, they know if they can sell a book or not. And I, for one, trust their judgement on that. If they've been in the business long enough, they know the big ones and small ones in publishing, and they've seen a ton of stories similar to yours over the years. If yours is the one to catch their eye, consider yourself on the right track. Even if they reject you. That's right. I said it. Rejection isn't the end. It's only the beginning. It means you're trying, and that you are getting attention. It means your work made it in front of an agent (who sees a LOT of writing) and was considered. Next time, it might be an offer of representation.

I've been through the muddy trenches of querying and I'll be going through them again before it's all over, but the worst for me wasn't the rejections. It wasn't the waiting (though the waiting is pretty horrendous). It was the pain of feeling like what I made wasn't good enough, when I know better! It was the slow piling on of self-doubt, which is as deadly as quicksand to a writer. When I went back to my book again, read it, really looked at it, the doubt went away. But I saw my book for what it was. I saw how it can be pulled here, tweaked there, improved upon. But not thrown away. It's worth however long it takes to get published, and I have to make that my determination. So do you. If you believe in something enough, you'll do whatever it takes.

Traditional publication isn't about the Cinderella moments, since those don't happen to everyone, and probably won't happen for you. It's about the perseverance. It's about not letting yourself stay down in the doldrums of rejection, not letting yourself take it personally, not letting yourself doubt. It's about not letting yourself and your book down. You know that when it's over, it'll be worth it.

Go, trad pub!


  1. This is a really heartfelt post. Thank you for sharing. I too haven't had much joy querying yet, but I'm not going to give up. Best of luck to you too, Donelle :) It's not an easy choice, but I still believe traditional publishing is absolutely worth it :)

  2. Thanks. It's something I'm definitely passionate about and that I'm glad I can speak freely of on my blog.

    Definitely don't give up! Take a break, get a fresh perspective, and don't forget why you're doing it in the first place. One of my reasons is because of the standard it holds me to and that I know when I've made it, I'll have earned it many times over.

  3. I'm 110% with you on this! As I've been participating in different blogfests I keep on hearing the advice "have you ever considered self-publishing?"

    I don't want to self-publish for a variety of reasons. Sure, someday I might consider it, but for now, I like the gatekeepers. I like that they keep me accountable. I like that they have a finger on the pulse of the marketplace and will alert me (aka not take on my project) if marketing will be waay too much of an uphill battle.

    I'm a writer. Not a marketer. Not an editor. Not a lawyer. One day maybe I'll want to put on those hats, but today - as much as I gripe about it - I'm staying in the query trenches =)

    When I put my work out there, I want it to be the best it can be.

  4. Hi, Donelle,

    I'm proof that if you go the distance, dig in and really fight for what you want, it can be achieved.

    I was fortunate enough to get an agent on my first query for my first novel. Whi-hoo! I thought I'd made it. I revised the manuscript using her suggestions, polished it up, and it went off to lots of publishers. I had nice feedback - but no-one bought it.

    My agent (who was well established with a long list of earning clients) seemed to lose interest and eventually we parted company.

    It took me over a year of querying to find another agent who would represent me, this time for a different novel I'd written in the interim, and I'm a lot happier, because it's a smaller agency and I sense she'll fight harder for my work.

    I have no contacts, no connections, no secret handshake to open doors. I'm doing it the old fashioned way, and it's working for me.

    I thank God e-publishing wasn't around 20 years ago, when I was starting out, or I wouldn't be here now, doing what I love.

    I have that poem saying "don't quit" fixed above my desk. No-one likes rejections, but they're purple hearts earned in the heat of battle.


I'd love to hear what you have to say!

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