I am often asked why I don’t just self-publish Baby Grand.
The short answer is because I have an agent.
But there’s also a long answer too that’s a little more thoughtful and long-winded. It sounds a little something like this:
I have writer-friends who roll their eyes indignantly at self-publishing, as if self-publishers are part of a writing club that they would never want to be a member of. “Isn’t it a shame that that author had to self-publish?” they say.
I don’t feel that way. I happen to think that self-publishing has its merits and has become a very viable way to publish a book. Since I’ve been doing my weekly Q&A’s with debut authors, I’ve come across such quality authors and self-published books, books that if I hadn’t turned to the title page, I wouldn’t know whether it had been self-published or published by the traditional route.
But I’ve interviewed self-published authors who’ve surprised me by saying: “I never even thought about publishing with a traditional publisher.” I don’t know why I was surprised. It was the same for me. But in reverse. I didn’t really think about self-publishing at all when I was writing Baby Grand, when I would flash-forward to the inevitable query process. Maybe it’s because I’m a professional freelance writer, and querying is what I do. All the time. It’s part of who I am. (In the end, I was able to secure representation for Baby Grand on a partial manuscript.) I’ve always imagined publishing a book through traditional channels. Yes, maybe it’s because I’m a professional writer. Or maybe it’s because I’m scared to go it alone. Or because I’m looking for a big, fat advance. Or because I’m looking for a pat on the back, for someone to tell me, “Hey, this is pretty good.” Or maybe it’s because there’s a part of me that needs to hear “We’re going to pass” or “This is not for us,” so that I can take another long, hard look at my book.
I do believe in the idea that readers should have as much variety as possible, and I think that self-publishing has truly opened the doors to so many new writers and stories. I’m certainly not a big fan of the “gatekeeper” concept, the idea that the public needs people to “weed out” the good stuff from the bad. (In fact, it really irks me when newscasters say, “Well, we would show you this awful video, but it’s just too awful, so you’ll have to take our word for it.” What?! I am capable, as a viewer, of deciding what I can see and what I can’t. Show the video, dammit. If I can’t deal, I’ll change the channel. Thank goodness for YouTube.)
I hear that term “gatekeeper” bandied about all the time by disgruntled writers or self-published authors with regard to agents and publishers. Yet, I don’t know any agents or publishers who think of themselves in that way. They’re just people looking for a good story to support.
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner recently wrote a post in which she said she believes that self-publishing benefits the writer rather than the reader. “Self-publishing serves primarily the writer,” she wrote. “It’s a way for writers to get their books out to an audience, to get published, and hopefully get read.”
That’s true, but I’m not sure I entirely agree. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this long — and I mean, long! — traditional publishing process of finding an agent and securing a publisher, it’s that along the way, with all the stops and starts, and the revisions, and more revisions, and even more revisions, my book is better because of it.
The first time my agent suggested revisions, I groaned, not because I thought my manuscript was pristine, but because I knew that the process had suddenly gotten longer. I’m very much used to revising, as a freelance writer/editor. I know the power of a good editor and a good revision. Just the other day, I wrote a feature article for a major news outlet that was returned to me with several questions. When I handed in the revised story to the editor days later, with questions answered and a little more thought put into it, it was better. No doubt. And I was prouder of it.
I’m not saying that every criticism is correct, and there have been things that I’ve fought along the way with Baby Grand, as writers should if they feel strongly enough. But, I have to say, every time I’ve edited my book, I’ve come away thinking: Wow, this is so much better. And I am thankful for the gentle push that got me to “take just one more look at this scene” or “this character.”
And, truth be told, when I pick up a self-published book, there’s a part of me that wonders: Could this book have been better? Was the author pushed to his or her limit? When the going got tough, and the author thought, “I just can’t do this anymore,” did she read it one more time, to be sure she had given it everything she had?
If there’s a “problem,” so to speak, with self-publishing, it may be that it’s easy and fast, feeding into our desire for instant gratification, and, in that regard, self-publishing does not serve the writer who wants to publish a thorough, best-it-can-be piece of literature. Conversely, the traditional publishing process forces you to go slow — the queries, the rejections, the suggestions, the revisions. Agonizingly slow. Finding the right agent, the right publisher. All of it teaches you how to truly understand your own creative work and process. There’s no sleepwalking here. And there shouldn’t be.
All that being said (I told you it was long-winded), if down the road, Baby Grand doesn’t find a home, or a deal falls apart, I would certainly consider self-publishing. But keep in mind that I would be self-publishing the Baby Grand that had gone through the traditional publishing process and come out better on the other side.
Looking back, if I had self-published the first draft of my manuscript — something I think a lot of self-published authors do — now that, to quote my writer-friends, would have been a shame.