This article (In Praise of Editors, Agents, and Every Other Gatekeeper in Publishing by Chris Pavone) is about the importance of publishing gatekeepers in ensuring that the work that’s put out is of a certain quality. There are different paths to publishing, of course, and the quality of the work is not definitively reflective of the path – whether self-published or with a publishing house of whatever size – so much as it is the commitment to doing the work justice at the writing and editing phases (i.e. taking the time and putting the work through the firing process of making what was once rough, shine… and yet textured). All but one of my books (a small self-published poetry collection) have been published with a publishing house. That’s my choice, that’s my path, still, for various reasons. That’s not to say that I won’t ever choose a different path or different paths since I quite like the idea of embracing whatever path is best for the particular work. To my mind, though, there is value in the gate keeping process, in being challenged or being forced to challenge myself to make the work better though I know from experience it can be discouraging, that good works sometimes fail to get due consideration or get around the play-it-safe-no-risk-taking barrier that also exists in publishing. Then there’s the pay day, which can be meagre unless you have the rarest of things a publishing house that prioritizes and aggressively markets your work combined with the good fortune of a breakthrough. For many writers off the map, self publishing or publishing independently is not just the easy option, it’s the only viable option, maybe even the only option. And it can be a good one if resources are put into editing and marketing, and the distribution can be worked out satisfactorily. I get asked all the time, since the first release of my first book The Boy from Willow Bend, how do I get published or can you help me get published; and, quite recently, I’ve been told self publishing is the best route what do you think???? The truth is, I don’t really have a definitive answer to any of these questions. I only have the benefit of my experiences, no ins, and maybe no great insights as each experience has been so different. I got published by writing and continuing to work on being a better writer, by being committed to telling a good story, by shopping around including research, networking as able, and submitting and shaking off the rejection, and trying again. Two books in, I actively sought an agent to help me find a buyer for my first full length novel but really so that I could have someone working to guide me through those gates…and beyond. It takes time, it takes work, and I don’t know any way around that; and even through the ups and downs and heart breaks, and the wishing certain things had gone differently, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now (to reference Maya). I believe to be a writer you have to read, I believe you have to live, I believe you have to be daring (not jump off a cliff daring but daring-to-go-where-it-hurts-and-stick-your-finger-in-it daring); I believe to be a published writer you have to do your research, come up with a good pitch, polish your manuscript, get a good agent if you can (which I’ll be honest can be as hard as getting a publisher), and be prepared to be kicked in the gut over and over again. And even then, it’s luck of the draw. You’ve just got to keep trying until you hit. If you choose to self-publish and increasingly that’s become easier thanks to e-publishing platforms, publish on demand and other cost saving options, still take the time to get it right. Don’t be so gung ho to put out a book that you neglect the writing or the importance of having a story, and just put out any old book. When I pick up a book to read, I may not check to see if it’s self-published or traditionally published but I will judge it (and, rare for me, since I like to finish what I start, may put it down for good) if I find it lacking – if the plot doesn’t hold together, the world isn’t well drawn, the characters are unintentionally inconsistent, or, heaven forbid, the grammar’s all over the place and the writing weak. The reason why people tend, right or not, to think that traditional publishing is better (or more credible) is that it moves beyond the vanity or self-indulgence that can prompt one to say I want to publish to the proving ground of I have something that’s publishable as there are presumably gatekeepers there to catch and correct the shoddiness. It’s not as black and white as that, of course, but if you’re self-publishing, I’d recommend you apply the same rigor to the process of getting your book out and into the hands of readers as the very best publishers will, so that when they read you, they’ll want to read you again and again. And, assuming it is a goal of yours, a well executed and well received self-published book can land you a publishing deal with one of those publishing houses that didn’t give you the time of day in the first place; everyone likes a success story. Speaking of Success Stories, if you’re committed to self-publishing, one that readily comes to mind is Jamaican Ezekel Alan, who won the Commonwealth prize with a self-published book. That was newsworthy, though, in part because it was out of the ordinary – out of the ordinary first of all for international grants, awards, fellowships to consider self-published books (usually the eligibility requirements, at least of the many I’ve researched, don’t allow for that…and now the Commonwealth book prize, one of the few that did, is a thing of the past). Fair or not, in the world beyond your world there are prevailing attitudes stigmatizing self-publishing (as there are hierarchies and perceptions regarding publishing houses as well). It can all be very confusing when all you want to do is to write your stories.
All I can tell you is to do your research. And no, I am not in a position to publish you or get you published (though I do provide coaching and editing services for writers and others); I am just a writer, and a writer still trying to figure out the next move and the next a lot of the time …when all I want to be doing is writing my stories.
I still do a lot of reading and research, and to answer questions you may have about publishing, I try to share them here with you. You can use the search feature to find more, but here in the meantime are a few perspectives:
This is an exclusive interview I did with BVI author Eugenia O’Neal who is self-published, prolific, and committed to quality. I quite enjoyed her book Dido’s Prize; you’ll appreciate her insights on publishing and self-publishing especially.
This is some hard earned truths about writing and publishing by Randy Sue Meyers over at Shewrites.com – which, on the point of online networking, I’ve found to be a great resource and point of connection.
This is a short piece and a link on agents.
Anthony Horowitz asks Do We Still Need Publishers? – His answer may surprise you.
This article by Island Series editor Joanne Gail Johnson is also worth checking out
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