Man, am I about to piss you off. It is amazing how furious a good number of you are going to be by the end of this blog post. Just to let you know, before I get started here, I am a writer—a fantasy writer—and I am unpublished. I feel as though I need to embark upon this by saying that, after ten years of working and polishing, I have a final draft ready for line editing, and a professional editor ready to do it. My first novel will be ready for submission in, I’m thinking, October of 2015.
It is called Chaste. It was my first attempt at writing a novel, and it was, by and large, a horrible book when it was completed in 2005. Horrible, I mean really, really bad. There is one person, God love her, who will argue otherwise. Her name is Traci and she loves that draft of the book so much it’s actually alarming. But for the most part, it was a disaster. When the story had been told, it was 776 pages of diluted nonsense.
I sent it out for submission and, after mailing out 50 packets and getting 50 rejections, I decided I had failed. At that point, I was deep into the writing of my second novel, not as bad, but again, really bad. It would be another two years before it would be finished. I submitted that one and was again ignored, and for good reason. My work was horrible. Everyone started talking about self publishing, and I started thinking about it myself.
The main problem was I didn’t want to work. The idea of rewriting what was already down and done pissed me off. Why should I touch it? It was perfect as it was. I thought of self publishing as an out for all that work. Why not just publish the thing and be done with it? I would have two books on the shelf in my office. I would be a published author, and I would have a book to sell. After about a year of thought on it, I decided that was an idea as horrible as my books.
The true reason writers self-publish is because, like me, after a hundred or so rejections, they get fed up and think they know better than the publishing world about what is good and what is crap. They think they are ready, and they step off with dreams of success and fame. When they actually do step into this world, most find there is something missing from their work and it doesn’t catch on. They spend thousands of dollars, and they can say they have published. No one buys their books and they end up with crates of books in their garage waiting for reading.
At first, all I wanted was to be a published writer. That was it. I wanted the fame of being a crafter of words. But deep down in the shadows of my heart, a struggling bloom wanted more. He wanted his characters to be known. He loved them dearly and wanted them shown to the world. He wanted them talked about and studied, and he wanted to use their voices to begin a dialogue with the world.
Not possible with self-publishing.
I heard agent and writer Donald Maass say something about this once, and when he talks, I listen. I do not have the exact quote, so I am paraphrasing here.
What if you had gold? What if you had a best seller? You had a book that was good enough to be translated into different languages and sold all over the world. What if you had a book well-written enough to reprint over and over again? If audio books were a possibility, and book tours were falling into your lap, and movie rights were jumping out at you? Would you still self-publish? If you had written a book that had it all and was poised to take flight, would you still self-publish?
The answer to that question is, “No.” If you had a diamond in your hand and the whole world wanted it, you would find an agent and a publisher and you would sign the contract. There is no way you would self-publish and try to peddle it one buy at a time. So why settle? Why would you take something that is not that good and want it published in the first place? Why would you want to produce an inferior product when you could work on it and make it a star?
Mr. Maas has an excellent point here. When I first read it, I started thinking about the publishing industry in a different light. I had heard up to then that there were these sadistic “Gate Keepers” who held new writers at bay, refusing to let them in to paradise for the cruelty in their hearts. Editors, agents, publishers, and their ilk held you back and broke your resolve until you gave up or self-published. I heard this term “Gate Keepers” so many times. Every time, I saw in my mind guards standing watch, sending away droves of worthy writers who just wanted to their shot. Dark souls, intent on the suffering of the creative, denied the world of righteous voices for jealous reasons based in their own insecurities. They can’t write themselves, so they hate writers and won’t give any of them a chance. Well, after reading Mr. Maas’s comments, I revisited these individuals, and I fell to my knees and thanked God for the Gate Keepers.
What if they had published Chaste?
What if they had published the book as written in 2005? What if readers had bought it and read it, or at least read the first few pages of it before tossing it? It was a horrible book. Simply abysmal. If I had published it, if the Gate Keepers had not banished me back to the land of practice, what would have become of my career? I’ll tell you. I would have failed utterly. I would have never published another book as long as I lived. No matter how good my books became, I would be remembered by the world as the writer of Chaste and I would be out. As it is, I was sent away. I didn’t self-publish, and I worked.
Bob Mayer says in his book The Novel Writer’s Toolkit that in order to learn how to write a book, a writer needs to write ten. After writing ten books, the average writer has figured it out. I read that and I got started. I didn’t go to the vanity presses and self-publish. I went to the office and worked. When I finish the first draft of this blog, I will close this out and get back to writing book number 13.
I have cut 500 pages out of Chaste, rewritten much of it and re-imagined even more. It goes to my editor soon, and then out to be examined by agents.
If I’m ready, they will let me in the gate. If I’m not, I will be banished back to the world of practice, and I will get back to work on it. Either way, I will not produce a lesser product. I will forsake the vanity presses and get back to work. Sooner or later, I will be ready.
6 thoughts on “Vanity”
I think self publishers run the gamut. There are some who clearly typed up something they wrote on the back of a cocktail napkin. There are others with talent who put the work in and just fell through the cracks.
Best of luck to you in your quest for an agent.
Hello Bookshelfbattle, thanks for your time and comment. I think that it is important to talk about this topic and I appreciate your feedback.
I guess I’m an optimist. I believe that cream will rise to the top. If they stop printing fantasy next month because Game of Thrones has saturated the market, I don’t believe that it means that I should stop trying to submit my work. The truth of the matter is, if I write the greatest fantasy novel since Tolkien, I will be picked up. No matter the market, no matter the trend, if I write a piece of genius, I will be picked up. Cream will always rise to the top.
It might be wishful thinking, it might be naive, but it is, what it is. True genius cannot be held back. Great work will find a way to break down barriers. I have dedicated my life to creating that great work. I don’t believe that traditional publishing is a pipe dream. I don’t believe that it is unattainable.
But I do see why some people choose not to strive for it. They have forgotten why they write in the first place. That being said. It is the only thing that will make me happy. Until I reach that goal I am not ready.
The work will save your soul. The work will tell you what it wants to be. It will tell you how it wants to be written. It will tell you it’s content and it’s style. The work is all there is. It will bring success, it will bring satisfaction, it will bring peace.
I know this because when I stop writing, for whatever reason, I fall apart. My life falls apart. I can’t sleep, I can’t think, I cant find happiness if I’m not working.
I fear that most writers have forgotten that the work is what they love, not the rewards. It is the act of crafting the sentence and pounding the keyboard like a blacksmith at the forge that fulfills the need within them to tell a story.
Right now I gotta go. The forge calls.
I will be ready to devour every word and be the first in line at the book signing.
Scott, my friend, you have always been a source of support and love for me and my work. It will not be forgotten, and is forever appreciated. I love you brother.
Jesse, I’ve been thinking about your post for several days, and I’m ready to step on some egos myself. I do agree with bookshelfbattle’s comment that self-publishers can run the gamut. Also, in the last few years self-publishing has become relatively respectable. But too often I find beginning writers who simply want to get published after not having perfected their craft, after not having gone through the gauntlet of submissions and rejections. Rejection is a huge reality in this writing business, and I say, Thank Goodness. Rejection letters make us work harder, make us rewrite what needs to be rewritten. I’m glad there are high standards. That said, publishers are sometimes wrong. If we have written something that we know is good, we need to keep submitting until it finds a home. J.K. Rowling, Margaret Mitchell, Louisa May Alcott, and Stephen King all faced rejection. They just didn’t give up.
Thanks for the good read!