Leaping Into the Abyss of Self-Publishing

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He doesn’t have to wait thirty or so days, for a literary agent with an exclusivity agreement to finally say, “Yes, I see potential in your work and would like to see more,” or, as is more often the case, “While your story is very good, I am not the person to represent it.” This, by the way, could go on for a very long time.

Back Stories, Crossing Over, Homepage Sub  •  Sep 26, 2012

By Suzette Francis

My first novel, Rules for A Pretty Woman, was published by Avon in 2003 and winner of the Romantic Times Multi-cultural award that same year. My second novel, Hello, Goodbye Again was self published in 2011.

There are many reasons why I decided to self-publish.  First and foremost, it is the most expedient way for a writer to get his work out to the public.  The writer is an independent agent, free to write whatever he wants.  He has no literary agent or publisher criticizing his sentences, the plot or character development, the POV shifts.  He doesn’t have to wait thirty or so days, for a literary agent with an exclusivity agreement to finally say, “Yes, I see potential in your work and would like to see more,” or, as is more often the case, “While your story is very good, I am not the person to represent it.”  This, by the way, could go on for a very long time, as publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts and literary agents are the gatekeepers to this process.

While studying at Oxford University last year, I self-published Hello, Goodbye Again.  I couldn’t find an agent willing to even look at it.  Perhaps I needed to explain it more compellingly in my query letters.  There wasn’t the promise of steamy sex scenes, or a brutal murder, or the kind of perversions that both repulse and captivate.  Then again, I suppose I could have tried harder by sending out more queries.  I had only contacted a few agents before deciding to do it myself.  The more I thought about going it alone, the more intrigued I became.  I had a story worth telling.  I could do this, I thought.

Before writing Hello, Goodbye Again, I was aware of the fact that publishers were not eager to take risks.  This is why there has been so little innovation in literature for many years.  Out of thousands of excellent writers, there are only a few who manage to consistently get published and make it to the top of bestselling lists.  These writers have a proven market, and the large publishing houses know that with the right marketing campaign, they can turn a tidy profit.

As a writer, I believed wholeheartedly in my work, and rather than spend another day watching my dream die on a shelf, I took a leap into the abyss of self-publishing. Nowadays, many writers are pursuing this approach.  Just as I have done, they are making the decision to do for themselves what commercial publishers are often unwilling to do, promote their own books as much as possible.  They shop around for the best independent publisher, one with the best printing rates.  Some independent publishers even offer marketing and advertising services that are comparable, if not better, than what commercial publishers offer.

Serious indie writers are willing to have professionals to edit their manuscripts.  I paid an English graduate student two hundred dollars to edit Hello, Goodbye Again the first time.  The second time, I paid a literary agent five hundred dollars.  The third and final edit was done for free by an English professor.  Even though the upside of doing it myself was being my own boss, my job was first and foremost to satisfy potential readers.  It was tantamount that I hire people who would criticize my sentences, the plot or character development, and the godforsaken POV shifts.

Public perceptions of self-published books have historically been very low. There are those who believe their stories are exciting and unique, when they should never see daylight.  They become convinced that the masses will fall in love with their labors of love, when this almost never happens, especially for first time writers.  Indie readers are very discerning, discriminating readers.  Their standards are very high, if not higher than what gets produced for the mass market.

Readers want truthful, moving stories that are coherent and well-written.  They need to be convinced that the books catching their eyes are worth their time and money.  To that end, serious indie writers are working hard to produce the sort of quality that is often lacking in bookstores today, absent from The New York Times Bestselling lists, and aren’t strategically placed in advertisements.

The best of these writers are rising to the challenge of explaining our multifarious and swiftly evolving culture.  Because self-publishing has become much more legitimate in recent years, there are bestselling authors like Darcie Chan who wrote the breakout novel The Mill River Recluse and Matthew Mather whose bestselling first novel Atopia Chronicles soared to the top.  The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishers, an independent company, started by a group of friends in 2009, happened to produce E.L. James’ astonishing bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey last year. These writers, and others like them, look with new eyes at history, inspire thoughts of what might have been; and with creative and daring determination, they write inconceivably about the present, as well as the future.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Suzette Francis wrote her first novel Rules for A Pretty Woman in 2003. It won the Romantic Times Multi-cultural award that same year. Her second novel Hello, Goodbye Again was published in 2011, while Francis completed her MFA from George Mason University and studied as a Creative Writing Honors Fellow at Oxford University. Also while at Oxford, Francis wrote as her thesis what she hopes to publish as an English historical novel Scraps from the Master’s Table. Her third novel The Midlife is currently awaiting publication.

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