People ask me why I decided to self-publish my books. I’m 57-years-old and I’ve been trying to get published since I was a teenager. That’s why.
The submission process for getting a publisher (or agent) is so long and nerve-wracking that I have burned out on it more than once. If I had spent half of that time, energy and effort on writing more stories, I’d have improved my writing and have a lot more stories now.
Some might assume I’ve been unsuccessful at getting a “real” publisher (or as we self-pubbed prefer to call it, a “traditional” publisher) because my stories aren’t good enough. Sometimes I fear that myself. However, I remind myself that Matriarchs won Best Genre Novel from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Arabella’s Gift won Best Bet for Bestseller from the Los Angeles Romance Writers. I’ve had short stories published by Literary Mama and Fabula Argentea and Brain, Child among others.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time and money chasing the publication dream. I did a lot of my chasing before the internet existed, when every submission had to be typed on paper and sent through the mail with a return SASE if you wanted to get it back. It was painstaking, time-consuming, expensive and frustrating. There were years when I did not have the time and/or the money to pursue it. There were years where I just did not have the energy or the heart.
But I have always been writing, and I want to be read. So when I saw that Amazon had something called Create Space and that I could do all that work for FREE and do it myself, I thought, YES! Finally, I can see my books in actual physical print! It was such a rush to get it done at last.
Later, when I tried to market those books to agents and publishers, I discovered that I had given them the kiss of death. Most publishers will not even look at self-pubbed books — even though a few self-pubbed authors have gone on to become bestsellers. Yes, I know that many, MANY self-pubbed works are poorly written. I’ve read a lot of them and posted reviews about the ones I thought were worth reading. (I won’t sabotage a fellow author by posting a bad review.) But you can’t tell me that many of the works coming in through a publisher’s so-called slush pile aren’t just as bad.
The process of submitting is so time-consuming in itself that it amazes me sometimes that anyone is willing to go through it. I’ve spent hours researching, trying to determine which editor or agent would be a good fit, following their directions about queries, bios, sample pages, etc. I’ve waited weeks or months to hear back. I’ve received hundreds of rejections and – Oh Joy! – a rare request for a full ms. Then I’ve waited another few weeks or months. Once, I even had an agent who tried for a year to sell my novella Snail’s Pace. That was exciting — and heartbreaking when she gave up and sent it back.
Snail’s Pace subsequently won a contest and a publishing contract from Publishingonline.com, which has since gone out of business. Arabella’s Gift was accepted for publication by Wordbeams, which then went out of business. Before that, I had had a short story accepted by Weird Tales — which subsequently went out of business. (I got paid but not published. A bad bargain, from my point of view.) At that point I was wondering if I was cursed — or perhaps I was the curse.
I’m 57-years-old, and if you had told me when I was seventeen, and the deliriously happy winner of not one, but TWO awards from Scholastic, that I would still be trying to find a publisher forty years later, I would have — well, my imagination fails me, which is rare.
But I would not have stopped writing because I can’t. However, I do now choose to spend my — I won’t call them twilight years because that’s a cliche and I’m not that old anyway — let’s call them my afternoon years — I want to spend my afternoon years writing, and not forever researching and formatting and pitching and subbing.
Writing a book is hard work, but it’s fun. Trying to sell that book, whether by trying to find an agent, a publisher, or doing promo to get it in front of readers — that’s hard work for me and no fun at all. I already have a day job which is partly fun and a lot of work. As I approach retirement, I want to spend my time writing the stories that fill my ideas folder. It’s a big folder.
If I could go back in time, I would start by writing a series, maybe about Susannah from Snail’s Pace, my first heroine and the fearless explorer I aspired to be. Maybe I would have built up a readership that way, back in the early days of self-publishing. But I didn’t know I was getting in on the ground floor of a new industry, back when I had my first website (anyone remember Netscape?) And regrets are a waste of resources — which is a crime on the planet Gaia in Matriarchs.
So. I am resolved that I will spend the bulk of my time writing now. I know I will occasionally get sucked into the promotions/ pitch party whirlpool, because I’m on Twitter (@SusanMcdW) and I can’t stop hoping for that elusive contract. But I am not going to spend inordinate amounts of writing time on that merry-go-round, making myself dizzy and sick with disappointment over and over again.
I’m going to write my stories and throw them out into the world to sink or swim, poor things. It sounds heartless, but that’s the way it’s going to have to be.