As some of my non-writer friends have asked when my book would be available, I've decided to put together this summary of the publication process, as I know it.
First, let me touch on the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Traditional publishing means dealing with a major publishing house. Random House, Penguin and Harper-Collins are the three biggies that come to my mind. They all have smaller subsidiaries -- "Imprints," as they're called in the literary world, these little guys tend to work with niche fiction and debut authors, whereas the main imprint tends to sticks with proven winners in mainstream fiction. Thus, if I -- a nobody in the fiction world at this point -- were to get accepted by one of the biggies, it would likely be with one of the smaller imprints. But I'm jumping way ahead of myself. First, I have to land an agent.
In today's competitive literary market, where editorial staffs are stretched thin and the "real" money is in best-sellers, editors at the major houses generally won't waste a blink on an un-agented manuscript. For that matter, agents usually won't blink at manuscripts that didn't come to them via referral from someone in the field -- a published writer, for example. The importance of networking in this biz cannot, therefore, be underestimated.
So now it is time to sing the praises of Twitter. Is the band rehearsed and ready?
Unlike Facebook, where you get slapped on the wrist for trying to "friend" people you don't already know, on Twitter you can follow anyone. It is then their choice to follow you back. In the writing world, where so many are striving for so few chances at getting noticed, it is rare that a writer won't follow another writer back. This has been true for about 90% of the writers I follow. Voilá! After a mere three months of tweeting, I have a Twitter following! And if one of my followers happens to be a published author who's visited my website, read my excerptsand likes what she sees? Well, maybe the sky truly is the limit.
Now on to self-publication: There are many avenues for self-publishing these days. As a matter of fact, many of these avenues have been around for generations. Without further research, I can think of at least one self-published writer who became a legend in his time -- Baltimore denizen and father of the short story, Edgar Allen Poe. That's not chicken liver, folks! Self-published writers are in good company, indeed. That said, writers who self-publish and see success from it have what is known in the biz as a "platform;" that is, a following. Many of them teach. In a community college writing course I took a few years ago, the instructor used 2 of her self-published novels as teaching material. The end result? All 20-some of her students had to buy her novels. I thought that was a rather cheap way of getting sales but perhaps she had more than a few books gathering dust in her garage.
And there are other ways. California-based romance writer Katherine Owen boasts sales of 8,000 copies of 3 novels in the past six months, mostly through e-book sales on Amazon. Most self-published e-books go for $2.99, leaving the author with a $2.00 profit. Pretty paltry, you might think. I did. Said so, in fact. Then another writer friend pointed out that once the publisher, the agent and everyone else with a hand in the traditional publishing pot gets their cut, the writer is left with the same $2.00.
So self-publishing is an option. For now, though, I continue to build my Twitter following while sending out query letters and exercising great levels of patience with the agent-finding process. On that note, I received my first personalized rejection letter today. From a well-established N.Y. literary agency, it stated that while my work wasn't right for their agency at this time, they hoped I'd keep writing and take heart in the fact that there are agents out there who'd be interested. This might not sound like much, but it's a ray of hope in a world where, usually, when there's no interest, there's no reply. Period. And, as ABNA 2011 winner Gregory Hill advised, the minute you get a drop of encouragement, start writing your next novel. Perhaps this is that drop.