Recently, a friend and former schoolmate wrote a blog post about her decision to publish independently. One of the factors, she said, was watching me win the 2015 Golden Heart® for Paranormal Romance, only to fall short on getting a publishing contract.
Just for the record, I have to confess that I sent out a grand total of 12 queries. That included two requests for full manuscripts that I received via contests I entered in preparation for entering the Golden Heart®. From conversations with other GH finalists, I gather 12 queries constitutes a pretty lame effort. One of the 2015 group told me she made over 400 queries and/or pitches before she secured a contract.
Four. Hundred. Attempts.
By that standard, I gave up without a struggle.
I have to tell you, though–I found the querying process soul-destroying. The crazy hope when someone likes your work enough to request to see it, followed by dwindling confidence as months and months tick by in silence. Once, after a year, I got a note from an editor saying she was cleaning up her files and “thanks, but no thanks.” No explanation of why she decided against it, or why it took her a year to reach that conclusion. One agent said she really liked my voice and found the premise of the story intriguing, send her the full. A year later I followed up. It’s now been two years and I’ve never received a response.
After working in business for many years, I found the level of rudeness in the traditional publishing industry appalling.
As all this was happening (or, more accurately, wasn’t happening) I observed the publishing industry essentially implode. It became clear that publishers had no idea how to deal with a paradigm shift on the scale they were seeing. I watched as they tried stupid stuff–getting into wars with Amazon, doubling-down on pricing strategies that make no sense (e.g. pricing ebooks as high or higher than paperbacks; pricing ebooks for debut authors higher than titles for superstar authors). Several times I’ve seen statements from major traditional publishing figures suggesting that ebooks were a fad that are now on their way out.
Haven’t any of these people seen Singing in the Rain?
There was one (sort of) bright spot. One agent requested a full from a chapter contest. I sent it, she read it, and a week later she sent me a very nicely worded rejection, saying the book lacked sexual tension.
I knew that. What I didn’t know was how to fix it. After putzing around with it for a while, knowing it still wasn’t right, I bit the bullet and paid a substantial amount to a freelance editor to help me understand how to address that problem.
And then I read the statistic that was the coup de grace. Once I signed a contract, my publisher would keep approximately 90% of the revenue from my work. Out of my 10%, I would pay my agent, if I had one. If I was smart, I would plow every remaining penny back into marketing my book.
In law, there’s a term for contracts formed between two parties with vastly different levels of power: contracts of adhesion. It was increasingly clear that if I signed with a traditional publishing house, I would be signing a contract of adhesion, giving up nearly all rights to my work in return for whatever crumbs they chose to toss my way.
So I was faced with a choice: I could try sending out my new-and-improved manuscript, hoping for a nod from an industry that had given up nodding at debut authors, or I could take the project management skills I honed during my working years and build a plan to publish my own book.
When I was a kid, my mother used to quote the poem, “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley to me and my sisters.
“I am the master of my fate,” she would declaim, “I am the captain of my soul.”
No one other than a handful of friends may ever read my books. I don’t have any control over that. But it feels like, with this approach, I’m at least the master of my own fate.