The Princess and the Dragon of Publishing
“The Princess and the Dragon of Publishing”
Once upon a time there was a writer (really she was a princess) and she created characters and divided the light from the darkness, the good from the evil, and she looked at it and said, “This is good.”
But, her Beta-Readers said, “Not so much.”
And the princess revised and said, “Let there be magical agents and publishing contracts and oodles of green money!”
But, the agents said, “I wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.”
Now the Writer Princess had a decision to make. Should she self-publish, submit to editors, start again, or quit?
Before we get into this I should tell you that I am a traditional kind of gal. I believe in children and family and happy endings. I think Bruce Willis should be forever young and blowing up stuff on the Silver Screen and that all men should be Spiderman down deep inside. That said I also love audio books on long drives and the magical poof of a digital book appearing on my reader-because it’s way cool, right?
But really, the question is not Traditional Publishing versus Digital or the Wicked Queen plotting against the Beautiful Princess. The big publishers have embraced the digital age. Agents work their collective behinds off to keep up on each innovation and trend. The big question is: Does she want a happy ending?
I can tell you from my own experience that earning an agent’s representation is glorious. Good agents have spent years and countless hours learning the business and establishing sterling reputations. They keep up with the thousands of things that a serious writer simply has no time for. They have a mysterious ability to take what you write and to see where your manuscript will fit in this confusing whirlwind of modern publishing.
Princess, I have nothing against self-publishing and if you’re impatient, honestly, it may be what you need. Because even with computers and super-fast email, traditional publishing still depends on eyes to read and brains to think. Unfortunately, technology hasn’t developed a way for these to work faster. The only difference I can see between self-published authors and traditional ones is the ability to wait for months and even years.
However, if you self-publish, you need a lot more than the ability to write. I’m not saying it can’t be done, oh, no. But, you can’t self-publish for free and your writing time goes out the window when you make the switch from writer to marketer. From the information I can gather, it seems that the average book sell numbers for a self-published author are around 150-200 copies (unless you have an excellent, well-edited book and oodles of time and money to publicize it). In my humble opinion, 200 copies aren’t worth the effort. If you can’t put yourself out there and promote like a pro (and pay for the promotional costs) maybe another way would be better.
The princess might submit to editors but, if she’s lucky enough to be found in the slush pile, how will she understand the contract she signs? Will she have the necessary contract negotiation skills? I asked Deidre Knight, President of The Knight Agency, to name just a few monsters that could hide in a publishing contract waiting to eat our princess:
One of an agent’s many contractual tasks is to make sure that your option clause doesn’t prevent you from taking on additional projects-or that it prevents you from offering a project elsewhere if the publisher passes (to name just two elements that arise with this clause). An agent also inspects the non-compete clause, so it doesn’t bog down your ability to publish with other houses, create sequels and prequels or even go self-publish as you’d like. Not to mention reversion clauses! Do you really want that publisher to own your rights forever and always, even if they’re only selling 15 copies a year? What if the publisher declares bankruptcy-how do you reclaim your rights? If someone uploads your book as fan fiction over on some Harry Pottery site, how do you and the publisher proceed?”
Princess, when you pour your heart, mind, and energy into your book you deserve more than worries and a learning curve the size of Mount Rushmore. You need a knight.
Her third option would be to start again with a new book, query, and this time find an agent. Think about it Princess, a shiny new storyline, new characters to discover, and a plotline full of adventures. But now you know more, your writing is cleaner and your descriptions sharp. You have more tools in your writing toolbox. This time you understand how to plant the seeds of the ending at the start of the book and a million other things you learned along the way.
We’ve all read authors who started out good, progressed to great, and are now keeping us awake all night to finish their new books. I’d bet green money that they all have a manuscript (or six, or eight) under the bed that will never see the light of day. Writers write. Agents sell. Publishers publish. Tuck your manuscript somewhere safe. Print off the rejection letters, put them in a file, and start again.
Work, patience, and a hard head with an open mind will get you where you want to go. Anyone can, with effort, live the fairy tale.
Or, you can quit-but you won’t be a princess anymore.
Written By Julie Butcher-Fedynich
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