I’ve known since I was in the third grade that I wanted to be a writer, but I’ve never been able to get an agent or a publisher to give me the time of day. So … what happens then?! Giving up on my dream isn’t in my nature.
There are a lot of blogs dedicated to discussing the pros and cons of either going indie or staying with the traditional publishing industry. I won’t go into those arguments. I really don’t care – I want to get my books to readers. Period. I will tell you what I’ve learned over the years and why I’m happy I went guerrilla.
1. I played the slush pile lotto game and agent game off and on for ten years without success. Even the agents who got back to me initially didn’t get back to me again after reading whatever it was they requested.
Before I epublished Damian’s Oracle, I sent queries to quite a few agents, of which, roughly 1/3 didn’t respond, 1/3 eventually responded with a form letter saying they didn’t have time to read all the mail coming into their office and 1/3 that responded with one sentence form letters that said thanks-but-no-thanks.
After I epublished Damian’s Oracle, I sent queries of a different kind. Instead of using the industry standard form letter for query letters you see advertised EVERYWHERE, I spent the letter telling them not only who my audience was, but how many readers I’d reached to date with my books, what their demographics were, what the reviews were, and so on. I included ONE SENTENCE in the letter about the actual project.
My ratios were: 1/3 didn’t respond; 2/3 responded within minimal time requesting more information/partials/full mss.
Lesson: What others tell you to do in terms of form letter queries is less likely to land you an agent than a sales pitch. Write a sales pitch with substantiated information that shows you can not only move a product, but produce a product people want, and maybe you’ll increase your chances.
2. ePublishing removed a lot of the stink that accompanied the dreaded ‘self-published’ label. You’ll still find the literati snub their noses at the self-published, but you’ll also find more people – especially readers – open to self-published ebooks.
Before, I believed the misperception that only people who weren’t good enough to land a publisher decided to self-publish. It depressed me, because I couldn’t land a publisher (or agent!) either, and I had no alternative to put my writing in readers’ hands. I’m a compulsive writer with a gift for storytelling – was there no way for me to do what I love with my life?!
With the advancement of technology, I began to see something different: technology offered writers (without connections to the industry) a means to get their work out there, and market themselves and their writing to an international audience. It’s accessible, CHEAP, and puts my books where people can read them. I stopped believing ‘self-published’ was for losers (like me!) and began to appreciate what technology offered me: the ability to do what I love and share it with the world.
Lesson: Technology + my writing = happy readers.
3. I realized publishing is a business. Sounds stupid, but new authors are risks to companies with slim profit margins. I cost them money. Would I give my money to a paperboy who won’t guarantee he’ll deliver my paper every day? Nope. Neither do publishing companies.
This, too, helped me realize that my inability to get an agent or publisher wasn’t necessarily tied to my skills as a writer. I’m not a loser – I’m a risk no one was willing to take.
Lesson: I’m taking the risk no one else will and throwing myself and my writing out there for the world to judge for my 12 month experiment.
4. If I don’t invest in my writing, no one else has a reason to, including agents, publishers, and READERS. It’s not enough to write a good book and a query letter. There’s more: improving my trade craft, investing in an editor to guide my growth, pursuing my online presence, continuing to grow as a writer, and refining my story telling ability based on readers’ reviews.
Lesson: My growth as a writer STARTS when the book is done.
I’ve learned more from the first three months of my 12 month experiment than I did in ten years of following the rules laid out in mainstream writing books/digests, how-to books on writing/marketing/online advertising, and participating in critique groups and contests. I look forward to everything I’ll learn through the rest of 2011, and I’ll be sure to share it for other guerrilla writers out there!