Book fairies.

Book fairies flutter over your book and turn it into a bestseller.


Today a woman suggested I self-publish my novel. This woman doesn’t really know me, and she’s never read my blog and she’s never read a word I’ve written, but she is an encouraging person her comment made me laugh because, well, that’s what I do when I don’t know what to say and because it is a topic on my mind lately.

Just today I read this bog entry from Nathan Bransford on the mistake one self-published author made, and the overly high-price she seems to be paying. The Internet is an unforgiving place.

And I’ve read good arguments from Darc. He has published his own book–go see for yourself–and has valid reasons for doing so.

As the world seems all a-twitter about e-publishing and self-publishing and the-end-of-publishing-as-we-know-it, I’m trying to sort my thoughts out about this.

I like approval from others. It is annoying, but I’ve been like that all my life. And rejections, generally, don’t make me angry. Self-publishing won’t make me feel like I’m sticking it to anybody or bring anyone down. The publishing industry doesn’t care what I do with my novels.

But the guidelines are maddening. How long is a synopsis? I’ve read different answers to this question, and now I just pretend I don’t see agent guidelines requesting a synopsis. If my query gets their attention, and the first five pages gets more attention, they aren’t going to turn me down because I don’t have a synopsis. They’ll send me a letter saying, send more pages and a synopsis!

If I’ve been rejected for an arbitrary reason–I don’t know. No agent has ever fessed up to one in regards to me. And if they did, they’re not the agent for me.

The steps to publication are mental-breakdown-causing. Write novel. Rewrite novel. Rewrite. Rewrite. Edit. Rewrite. Polish. Research agents. Query. Rejected. Query x 10. Rejected. Query. Maybe find agent! If not, see other options. If yes, rewrite according to agent’s insights. Polish. Wait–while building a base!–never get published. Or. Get published! Book hits bookstores. Book sinks. Book returned. Writing career over. Or change your name. Start over. Or book sells moderately. Writing career in jeopardy. Start over. Or book becomes best seller. Fans write. Haters write. You write the next book. Publisher says–you can’t write this. It isn’t what your fans want! Start over. Or publisher loves you. Fans say–why isn’t this as good as your first book? Book sinks. Start over.

Then again, you could publish your book yourself. Rewrite. Rewrite. Polish. Research self-e-publishing options. Design cover (possibly, depending). Create a marketing plan. (What?) Research formatting and god-knows-what-else to prepare manuscript. Push the button. Tell your friends. Your friends buy the book. Go write next book. Or, your friends buy the book plus a few other people. Go write next book. Or your friends buy the book, and they get their friends to buy the book, and those people get their friends to buy your book, and you google your name to find out someone has blogged about you. They say nice things. More people buy your book. You wind up making money! Write next book. Repeat. Maybe at some point a publishing house calls you. Or a morning talk show.

I can barely get people to read my blog, how on earth would I convince more than five people to buy my book?

So, my first choice is to find an agent. Okay, so how many clients can an agent realistically have at any one time? Agents get paid when they make a sale, and let’s say, optimistically, they get a client a deal for 100,000. What would the agent get paid? 15K? And that client might write a book every two or three years. One client isn’t going to pay the bills. And taking on a client, of course, doesn’t mean selling that client’s book to a publisher. And every agent has to have to read submissions. Depending on the agent, some want just a query. Some say send the first five pages or so. An average agent in New York gets…what? 100 submissions a week? 200? Probably depends on their reputations. Donald Maas probably gets a thousand.

The agent has to read those submissions. The agent also has to do the rounds for all the existing clients, trying to sell their clients books to the publishers. The agent has to be in contact with clients–how is the next book coming, did you go over those edits, yes, I’ll call the publisher about the cover. Writers being how they are, lots of handholding may be involved. Reading contracts. Managing office. Dealing with nut jobs. Maybe even trying to sell movie rights for current clients–wouldn’t you want your agent to do that for you? Also, a good agent has to stay on top of the publishing news–reading about new releases, staff changes at publishing houses, publishing trends. Read more queries and submissions.

Writers probably don’t stop sending queries because you’ve got the flu. The submissions keep piling up. If your a good-hearted person who means well and loves stories, you’ll want to read those submissions. You’ll do your best. After you return a few phone calls and argue for that cover that your current client wants. If you’re a less good-hearted person, you’ll flip carelessly through the submissions looking for keywords like vampire or whatever the hot thing is.

Maybe you read something you think is great and you then you think about the market. You think about your current clients. You think about your bills. You think about your love of reading. You think about that annoying editor at such-and-such publishing house who moans about the state of publishing today. You think about the books you loved that failed and the bills that must be paid.

Depends on the kind of agent you are of course. Some agents are terrible. Some are even criminal. But I can’t muster much anger towards the rest. And when an agent tells me he can’t connect to my writing, he’s probably telling the truth. And if he can’t connect, then he shouldn’t be my agent.

Maybe I can’t get people to connect to my writing. Maybe the agents are right about my book.

The things is, I don’t self-publish not because I want approval from the powers that be, but because I suspect I can’t make my book good enough. Self-publishing would simply be self-embarrassment. My books are not best-seller material, and I’ve no idea how to make them that way.

To those of you who haven’t done so already, would you publish on your own? And to those who have put your own work out there, what would you do now if a publisher called and offered you a deal?

How do you know your work is ready?


And when is Oprah going to release the book fairies anyway?

16 thoughts on “Book fairies.

  1. “I suspect I can’t make my book good enough. My books are not best-seller material, and I’ve no idea how to make them that way.”

    My heart hurts for you Marta! Those have to be some of the most painful words a writer can say. *hug*

    Is that why you’re looking to traditionally publish, because you’re looking for editorial help with your books?

    1. I suppose. A writer must have her novel as good as it can be before she submits (and too many writers don’t do this), and while I think I’ve done the best I can, I just feel that isn’t quite what it should be. Several times I’ve heard this, “With a little bit of work, this will be ready.” But I don’t know what that little bit of work might be. Really.

      And I’m an amateur. People in publishing have worked with many writers, books, and all that go with them. I’m teaching myself, and like many of my students who teach themselves English, there are gaps they can’t see.

  2. I would publish on my own if everything came together the right way. I don’t have a problem with it in general. The reason I’d prefer going with a publishing house is because I need that support system. I need the professional validation that my family and friends, supportive as they are, just can’t give. And right now I don’t believe in my work enough to sell it directly. I need a cushion. Someday, maybe.

    1. I have to jump in here dolly, because something you said made me feel slapped in the face and I know you didn’t mean it that way.

      “I need the professional validation that my family and friends, supportive as they are, just can’t give.”

      As a reader, that line says to me that my opinion of a writer’s work counts for a big fat hairy zero. It’s MY dollars that are buying the books that are enabling the publishers and editors and agents and writers to even exist – without me there IS no validation, professional or otherwise. So, when I’M the bottom line, why does my opinion count for ka-ka?

      I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way. Right?

      1. Right. Of course not. That’s why I said professional validation–validation from other professionals. You’re coming at this as just a detached reader of my work, as if you just spent money on my book and expect to be entertained. Don’t forget, I don’t have “readers”, people who read my stuff just because they like it, and not because they like ME. 🙂 I think having readers as fans and not friends is another kind of validation.

      2. Reading back over that comment it sounded crappy. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. Apparently my tactfully typing fingers have decided to take the year off. And I tried to type an explanatory comment and it came out sounding crappy too, so I’m giving up discussing things till another day. Sigh.

  3. I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t be tempted if I got contacted by a publishing house that wanted to represent my self-published work. I do like the level of control I have over it – I get exactly the cover image I want, if perhaps not quite to the level of quality as a professional book, I get to make all the decisions on the interior layout, etc. – and though marketing is daunting and difficult to result in return, I’m starting to enjoy what I can do to get my book out there. Even still, my original desire was to be published traditionally, and the idea of that level of exposure – even knowing that the publisher’s marketing will be weak – is very enticing.

    But, if I was to be honest with myself, I couldn’t let that become a pattern. I do like having the control I do now, and as an aspiring small press, it wouldn’t be right for me to sell out all my books. Not only do I find publishing an enjoyable career – the first I’ve ever come up with – I’m also looking forward to the satisfaction I’ll feel when I can publish someone else’s book that might otherwise never leave their home.

    Now, I’m fortunate in that I can do all parts of publishing myself. I have a strong grasp of grammar, experience with formatting, and can do cover art myself, so it’s not so big a challenge with me. I’m also just as interested in the actual publishing as I am with writing novels at this stage, so I’m probably an unusual case among your audience. But, there’s my .02 anyway.

    1. Wow. That sounds great. I’ve never polled my audience, so I don’t know. At least one other reader here self-publishes and he certainly seems to have a good grasp of all those things. And the control aspect is tempting. But, I work during the day, I’m raising a child, and I’m trying to be a good wife, and just writing and doing this tiny bit of blogging is enough. I make and sell art as well. Anyway, to add all the work that would take to self-publish and promote and all that you have to do to do it well…I’d have to give up sleep.

      The control is a great thing. Sometimes though, not having control is okay if you trust who you’re giving control over to. Tricky that, of course.

      I love that you have a small press. Now that is truly impressive. I’d do that if I could quit my day job! (And I actually like my day job, but be a publisher… so much of that appeals.)

  4. Wow, Marta. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard another writer anywhere admit the work they’ve invested so much time and effort in isn’t good work. I don’t know too many who wouldn’t look at what they’ve created and compared to what’s available from the industry and see, with their own eyes, if it measures up to what’s there without saying “yep, I’m ready.”

    And I don’t know if I know anyone else, who isn’t working in the industry, who’s pumped a million-plus words through the keyboard and still feels their work is sub-standard, sub-par.

    I’d challenge you by saying, to what are you comparing yourself? You must have a measure, a mark. Did you always feel that way, or did the rejections you’ve gotten create that sensation?

    I guess I want to know why gatekeepers in the industry are “experts” while you’re an amateur, after a million words? Why aren’t you qualified? I disagree that it’s like learning to speak a foreign language without help. That’s completely alien, but writing in your native tongue? No, there’s nothing new about that. There’s nothing new about telling stories and there’s no magic juju you don’t have to make it special. It is or it isn’t and you know when you see it in someone else’s work, don’t you? And if you don’t see it in yours, you have some idea what seems to be missing, yes?

    I wish I could share confidence with people as easily as I can share the freedom of the new publishing world. Even if the traditional medium never goes away, and I hope it does in lieu of this brave new model, it will have to adapt and change. Why not dabble in both of them? You have many books written, don’t you? short stories? articles? fairy tales?

    I’m sorry to hear you say you can’t believe in your work on its own merit, Marta. Truly I am. It’s a sad thing. But you will never know what the readers of the world will think if you can’t get it to them and they don’t get to judge for themselves.

    Oh, and if all you’re looking for is editorial help, well… saying this isn’t the best way to go is a radical understatement. There are many other ways to do that, but I bet you already know.

    🙂 Be of good cheer.

    1. Well, you’ve said yourself that many published books suck, so maybe a few more writers ought to say their work doesn’t measure up. But sub-par might be too strong. I don’t think my work bad exactly. It is hard to explain but I can’t shale the feeling that it is missing…something. Maybe that something is an impossible thing.

      What do I measure myself against? Hmm. Good question. Hard to say, but when I look at books I love, they possess a sense of completeness. They have a scene, a moment, a character, that switches something over in me and I love the book.

      Even in college with my academic papers, I had professors say that my writing was original, my ideas creative, but I had trouble stringing everything together. As complete pieces the papers didn’t quite work. And I’d stare and stare at my papers and realize they were right, but not know how to fix it. I felt they were asking me to change the way I think… but a novel is supposed to make some narrative sense.

      Hmm again. I guess I feel this way–I write a few scenes, conversations, moments that are gems, and (for me anyway) they sparkle and make me quite happy. And then I’m given a string to put them all together to make an actual something, but when I go to thread each piece they roll away from me.

      But you are right. I’ll never know if I don’t have any readers. The conundrum.

      Thank you for your wishes of cheer.

  5. @Sherri –

    No hon, I guess I didn’t make myself clear. I’m NOT coming at this as a detached reader of your work. I’m coming at this as a generic reader seeing the comment of *any* writer. If I didn’t know you, I would be offended by that. It’s only because I DO know you that I gave you the benefit of the doubt.

    See, I think you’re not being fair to yourself to presume that agents are professionals. They don’t have to be certified – ANYONE can be an agent. *I* could be an agent. If they were professionals, they’d be WRITERS, and they AREN’T. They’re just a middleman between you and the publisher and they don’t have your best interests at heart. So why would you seek their approval? Their “validation”?

    Publishers ONLY care about sales – again, that would be ME, the READER. You’re just a commodity to them, a means to the bottom line, which is ME. The publishers USE people like you to court MY dollars. You’re just fodder to them, so again, why are you seeking the approval and validation from those who just want to use you? They’re only professional salesmen, not writers, so why why do you think their opinion is more valid than the reader’s?

    My point is that it’s the READERS who are the only ones who can give you that professional validation you seem to be seeking. The READERS are the ones doing the actual buying of your work, NOT the publishers or agents or anyone else. Without READERS, the only thing you’re writing is “Dear Diary.”

    Having readers is not “another kind” of validation, it is the ONLY validation.

    1. I honestly don’t see why you would be offended by my saying you’re a friend and not just a reader. I see your line of thinking, but I couldn’t disagree more. They are professional because they get paid to do what they do. Most of them have been in the business a lot longer than I have. It’s not black and white–not all book publishing professionals are greedy, exploitive assholes, just like not all writers are worthy of being published. Agents and others aren’t writers because that’s not their talent. My talent is not marketing and book binding and cover art.

      Honestly, Fal, I’m a bit offended by your vehement insistence that the path I’ve chosen is completely without value. They are both valid paths.

      @Marta, I apologize for taking over your comment trail.

      1. Fal, I wouldn’t be offended. Once someone becomes my friend, it is hard for me to feel as validated by them as I do by someone who is not my friend. Not because of the friend, but because of my own issues, but I know that if I tell someone who I care about that I like their work, they are not as assured as if it comes from someone who cares about my friendship.

        I mean, lots of friends like my work, but when a total stranger paid good money for my art–without even having met me–wow. That was a level of validation I had not felt before.

        And the first time I got into the Austin art festival was because a friend of mine was on the board and sponsored me. And so I couldn’t shake the feeling during the festival that I was there as a favor (though my friend insisted this was not the case at all) and not a “real” artist. The second time the festival jury approved and accepted my work without knowing who I was–and that year I felt more like I really belonged.

        You’re right that anyone can be an agent, but most agents who are listed on AAR for example ( and who are highlighted at Preditors & Editors ( have proven themselves to be professional. They know editors. They understand contracts. They know what different houses like and don’t like. They talk to marketers and designers. They know things that would be hard for me to learn–and if I tried to learn would mean less writing because I’d have to take time away from my writing to do all that work.

        I’ve read blogs by agents who did give up on writing. And I’ve read blogs by agents who are published writers and still are agents. And I’ve read interviews/blogs/etc. by agents who have never wanted to be writers, but love helping writers. And I’ve rather thought that agents who gave writing, and better agents because they know how rejection feels.

        But saying they are agents because they can’t write reminds me of how people say, “Those that can do. Those that can’t, teach.” As a teacher I’ve always found that insulting.

        Of course, readers are the ultimate validation. Fat lot of good it does to get a book deal and then have no one buy your book. Having readers reject you is more painful than having any agent or publisher reject you. I’d love and value readers more than a publishing corporation. But I have to reach readers to have them, and my little blog is not exactly a massive platform or marketing plan.

        The literary world needs both the self-published writers and the traditionally published authors. Both sides benefit from having the other in the room. And the publishing business is hard either way.

        @Sherri, no need to apologize. I brought the subject up and it has been good to see how the discussion unfolds and the different points of view.

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