“I have finished the first draft of my novel.”
Almost a month has passed since I earned the right to say those words, and they still make me warm and fuzzy, even on an in-the-teens-out-there-cold kind of morning like this one. But even as I celebrate, I am gearing up for the next leg of the journey. Edits and rewrites. Readers and feedback. That little old “getting published” thing.
For the first year of my book’s 18-month journey, I was convinced I would dive straight into the world of self-publishing.
Then in October of 2012, I attended a conference held by the Maryland Writer’s Association. Out of curiosity, I attended a session on the pros and cons of working with a literary agent and the guidelines for seeking representation.
I walked out inspired and completely rethinking my plan. I mulled over my new action plan as I finished my draft, and came to the conclusion that I would seek an agent.
I’ve shared this plan with a few writer friends. Some are already published. Others are newcomers too. Almost all are a little surprised at my decision. Why take such a long and meandering detour, instead of rolling right down the self-publishing highway? Why invest time and energy in the long shot that an agent will “take on me,” an unknown writer?
1. Learning to market myself
With or without representation, I’ll have to market the heck out of my book. Yikes. My lifelong work experience is in higher education. I’m not exactly a marketing guru and my bank account has no extra padding for procuring assistance.
What better way to learn to market myself and my book than to try to get an agent? As a new novelist, I’ll have to convince a good agent that I’m worth the risk because my story is unique and I’m the best person to have written it. If I can do that, I can certainly become a salesperson when the book is available.
2. Overcoming Fear
It took me forever to get serious about writing in part because I hate rejection. I stay in a stable job rather than taking risks that might make me happier because I can’t stand financial insecurity.
If I’m honest, part of my original decision to dive directly into self-publishing was based on fear too. I know the odds of landing an agent are slim. Getting a major publishing house to take on my book is an even longer shot. Traveling this path means putting on my big girl pants and steeling myself for rejection after rejection.
But I don’t want to look back and say I made another choice based on fear. I learned to deal with rejection when I began sending out short stories for publication. Now, I want to put myself to the real test.
3. Old School Dreams
I’ve wanted to be a published writer since I was a kid. I was dreaming this dream this back when the only option for most writers was to get their work published through the “traditional” avenues. All the author heros of my teens and twenties went through the grueling, painstaking process.
Now, I don’t have to. But, crazy as it may seem, a big part of me still wants to.
4. Sticking with Slow and Steady
For a new novelist, the temptation to rush to get your finished product out there is overwhelming. I feel like I’ve waited for this time in my life forever. The fastest route to the finish line is as tempting as that “one more drink” at last call or that extra slice of pizza.
But I have seen many writers make the mistake of succumbing to this “hurry up” urge with less-than-ideal results. For some, that meant getting their book out there but not knowing how to sell it. For others, it was putting a poorly edited or even poorly crafted finished product on the market.
The truth is no one would describe me as thorough and methodical. I am impulsive and flighty. But I need to learn the art of patience for this project. The exercise of seeking an agent will help with that.
5. When One Door Closes …
So my plan is to spend the next several months editing and seeking an agent. What if no one takes me on? Well, I’ve lost nothing but time, and I haven’t really even lost that if I’ve also been perfecting my manuscript. I’m better prepared for the self-publishing venture. I have a carefully edited book, I’m a better marketer than I’ve ever been. I move forward knowing that self-publishing is the best route for me – not just the one I’ve chosen because I’m too afraid or impatient to try the other path first.
6. I Love A Challenge
A speaker at the conference shared a quote along the lines of “an agent’s dream is to find the next up-and-coming writer. An agent’s nightmare is to be the one who said ‘no thanks’ to that writer.”
I’m a realist with no delusions of grandeur. But who doesn’t love the long shot of being that writer? I’ve carried that quote with me. It reminds me that ultimately, agents are people working towards their dream too. As a newbie in this publishing game, I’d love the guidance and support a good agent can offer. But as a “do-it-yourselfer” who hates to ask for help, I needed to be reminded that there’s something in the deal for an agent who takes on a good writer, too.
I’m always interested in hearing the experiences of other writers. Have you sought the representation of an agent, and if so have you been successful? Have you self-published, and if so what have been the pros and cons of that experience for you? If you are a “first-timer” like me, have you decided how you’re going to navigate your publishing journey?