I was hanging around the ForeWord Reviews table at the American Library Association Conference & Exhibit in Anaheim this last Saturday, checking on “Sleeper’s Run” to be displayed among their Book of the Year finalists. “Why don’t you walk around the floor and see if a publisher wants to pick up your novel?” I was recommended by some one at the booth. I smiled and explained that 1) I seriously doubted a publisher was going to give me a better deal than the one I already had by self-publishing my book, and 2) What could they do for me now? I already had done all the heavy lifting. “Sales, marketing, advertising—” my interlocutor started numbering. “If they pick me up, they’ll do so as a mid-list author and they won’t pay any attention to me,” I quickly countered. The well-intentioned person look away shocked, the she laughed and said, “OK, you really know what you’re talking about.” Yes, I’ve done my homework.
“So, what do you want to do now?” my wife asked as we walked towards the exit. She was wondering if I wanted to take the opportunity to approach anyone from the publishing world. I didn’t, but then it occurred to me that this was a pretty unique opportunity to deal with publishers face-to-face. My curiosity got the better of me. What the hell? I was already there. If anything, I could get an entry in my blog out of the experience.
“Excuse me, is there anyone here from acquisitions?” I asked smiling to a lady at a major publisher’s booth. “No,” she said. “Anyone along those lines?” I pressed. “You have a manuscript,” she condemned looking from under her eyebrows amused. “Yes,” I said. “Do you have an agent?” she asked. “No, I’m self-published.” Her face flashed a look that seemed to say “Great, another one of those.” The woman went straight to the point saying, “Let me save you a lot of walking.” She said that if I didn’t have an agent no publisher was going to give me the time of day. I love a straight shooter, so I thanked her for her time and left the convention center as previously intended.
This little experiment showed me that as thin as the line is separating the publishing and self-publishing worlds, it still runs quite deep. To a publisher, an indie writer is nothing more than a delusional reader with an Internet connection, access to Microsoft Word and a lot of free time in their hands. The implied metamorphosis on talent that occurs when an agent takes on an author is lost on me. So, for argument’s sake, if “Sleeper’s Run” becomes an indie hit ala “Fifty Grades of Grey,” what does that mean? It’s the same author and the same book, nothing changed. If it was crappy before it should crappy then, right? What does the few indie crossovers say about the publishing industry as a whole? Are they hypocrites? Liars? Clueless? Is their resistance to accept independent writers a resentful response because we can basically do their job—connections aside—single-handedly? It’s like a business unwilling to hire entrepreneurs in pro of humdrum workers. Do they get the difference?
As I left the convention center with my wife, I wondered how my fledgling career as an author would have been if I had stayed with the mentality that getting an agent, and hoping for a publishing deal was the only way to go. It would have been a life of rejection, frustration and unhappiness; dictated by an obsolete system that could only claim their connections and mechanical know-how as their only true assets. In my opinion, you can find an army of editors, proofreaders, agents, sales people and the like, but creative people are few and far apart. Anyone can tell you how to put a book together; writing one is a different story altogether. So here I am, navigating the waters of self-publishing with its ups and downs, but at least I’m happy that I get to create freely. My fight is to promote my work and get it to the reader, not convince a bloated system to give me a chance to realize my vision. A system that if any of us ever makes it commercially, will gladly jump down their pedestal, cross the dividing line and welcome us like their long-lost children.
Keep on running!