Why I Self-Published – Part 1 – Double Agents

After completing Discovery, I briefly sent it to a few agents. In truth, I never expected a positive response. Rather, I wanted to understand what they would say. Here is a sample response. Only the name of the agency has been changed, to reflect the truth.

“Thank you for submitting to Bill Picked Our Name Out of a Bloody Hat Literary and for allowing me the opportunity to review your work. Unfortunately, we will not be requesting more material at this time. Please keep in mind we accept less than 1% of submitted work and the decision-making process is always difficult. We wish you the best with this and future works.”

Now the other responses were nicer, and only 2 of the 5 were form letters like this. However, this answer is why I ended my quest to for traditional publishing. They accept less than 1% of submitted work. Said differently, this Salesperson is proud that over 99% of her potential clients are rejected. In a nutshell, this means the agents do not work for you. Rather, their sole job is to screen for Big Pub, and try to find, and sell them more of whatever sold recently.

So, what other things have a less-than-1% success rate?

  • National Football League – Nope, sorry. According to statistics, around 215 of 9,000 college players go on to play pro football. That would be 2.4%. It’s twice as easy to play pro ball. Now, of course, if you look at the high school level, the figures drop to 0.2%. But we are making the assumption that few people expect to write a published novel straight out of high school. Some have, no doubt, but most of us actually learn to write well before plunking out a book.
  • People Attempting to Live After Being Struck by Lightning – Nope, wrong again. Approximately 66-75% of those struck by lightning will live. They will, however, have a really bad day.
  • Doctors or PhDs – Sigh. You’re not very good at this are you? Approximately 3% of the U.S. has a doctorate. I tricked you though – it used to be 1%, but we’ve figured out how to educate more people longer.

That does beg a question, though. Why is it that the percentage of people accepted by a large, premier literary firm never improves? Why are they satisfied with numbers that mirror the number of military officers that make General or Flag (Admiral) Officer? Why is it acceptable to fail with the same percentage as that of a high school athlete trying to make the NBA?

The answer is simple. They are not trying to get your book sold. They are trying sell books that the publishers have already decided they want to publish. In other words, they are simply trying to scout for the publishing houses, and sell them what is popular.

None of this is precisely why I decided not to try and go mainstream publishing. Nor is the reason the fact that the money isn’t better, or I doubted my talent. The simple reason is that most of the books big pub has pushed through in recent years have been formulaic, and not well-written. I can be bad all by myself, I decided. This is not meant to denigrate the 1% of authors who made the cut. Rather, this is about being a part of the 99%.

I, and other indie writers, think what big publishing has done – controlling the product, weeding out creativity, favoring the known over the surprising – has fucked up damaged literature. We are taking it back. Even if I were fortunate enough to have a lucrative publishing contract, there is not a chance in the world I’d be able to write fantasy fiction, science fiction, and then mystery, simply because I want to.

Sure, my books would be a little better edited (assuming I paid for it), and they would cost more (but I wouldn’t get the additional money), and they would look pretty on Border’s shelves  (er, never mind), but then I would have others telling me how to fix my books. They would take out the things that don’t fit, and add more of what does.

But see, the thing of it is … I put those things that “don’t fit” in on purpose. There is poetry preceding the violence. There is laughter amidst the tears. There is goofiness when concentration is called for. And there are lesbians, because, well, I like lesbians. And it’s my fricking book.

So, I decided I didn’t want to kiss butt, change my books, decimate my confidence, and chase rainbows with an empty pot of gold at the end, all to garner the attention of a damned double agent. When I go to sell my place, I hope the realtor doesn’t turn her nose up, and ask me, “Where have you sold your houses in the past? Can you send me a sample of the decor? And, you do understand, I’ll have to ask you to pay someone to remodel if I find a buyer.”

I’ve asked myself, what if someone “discovered” my books (most likely Roxx, which kicks ass), and offers me a deal? Would I take it? You know what? Only if somehow, it made my writing better. Which it wouldn’t.

So the truth is, what I would rather do is learn to write beautiful, simple, entertaining books, that sell like hotcakes. Then I’d go on tour denouncing what we have allowed literature to become, and hope to spearhead a movement to take it back. Yes, being a rich writer would rock. I could give 25% to my daughter and her future kids, 10% to fulfill my promise to God, take 5% for me, and throw the rest away.

Just to piss Big Pub off.

6 Comments

  1. Bill Chance says:

    Really well done. I think that self-publishing print-on-demand and self-done ebooks especially is the wave of the future. The publishing industry as it is now constituted is broken and dysfunctional (if they really only publish less than 1 percent – why is there so much crap being printed?) and only by taking the mantle ourselves will we fix it.

    Thanks for writing this up and good luck.

    1. Bill, thank you very much. I think the only advantage traditional publishing has to date, is the potential for quality control. However, as soon as people start buying more indie-published books, authors will also be able to afford to hire people to ensure high publishing standards are met.

  2. Very well said Bill! And I agree- why jump through hoops for years just to have to change our books? My YA is 98,000 words how many would they want to cut to fit it into their mold? As for editing- maybe it would be better- I’m doing another read out loud edit due to friends kindly letting me know there are mistakes- more then I’d hoped for- so I’ll work on it and re post it when I’m done- but still the mistakes are few enough hat percentages wise I think I’d still have an A LOL

  3. I just read an article by Andy Horowitz, who writes Sherlock Holmes and other mysteries. While he touts quality control as the reason to stick with traditional publishing, he points out that one of his more recent books was published with 35 typos. So far, I’m under that figure.

    We can hire editors to find those mistakes, but it’s an expensive endeavor for a newbie writer. I think it’s just as effective doing what we’ve done in corporations for decades: get a group of inspectors (reader reviewers) and have them go through the books together.

    I’d like to see that – which I call the Inspection Model – replace the current Critique Model that I feel is designed to break your spirit and make you think you’re not good enough.

  4. Chris Semal says:

    Hi Bill.

    Good post. Though I did have an agent for a while and it didn’t get me published, I also have an impressive list of over 300 rejection letters from those agents who didn’t feel my project was right for them. I would’ve been discouraged had more than 10% actually read the story. Subsequent revisions have significantly improved the writing, though my story remains relatively unchanged. I understand that they don’t want to take on newbies, but the whole experience made me want to take the DIY route. Every great writer was a novice at one time and if you don’t encourage these people, you get left with, well, what we have left.

  5. Chris, I was left with the impression that getting published requires building a readership and an online presence. It seems that if you’ve done that, all the hard work has been done. I guess the industry is too financially challenged to take chance anymore.

    It’s sad though. Books shouldn’t have to be blockbusters to get published.

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