This post, by Melissa Conway, originally appeared on her Whimsilly blog on 5/15/11.
Back in 1999, after a decade of starts and stops, I finished my first novel, Uncommon Sense. To say I was naïve about what came next, about the way the publishing industry worked, would be a vast, echoing understatement. I began searching for information, and was appalled when I learned how long the process took. Months waiting on agent query responses, partial responses, full responses. Assuming you snag an agent, you wait several more months on editor submissions. Assuming the book is eventually accepted, you then wait up to two years for the publisher to release it. Yikes! I wasn’t getting any younger. How long was I willing to languish in pre-publication purgatory before I saw the fruits (recognition, if not outright acclaim) of my labor?
My search yielded an alternative: self-publishing. Because I was clueless to any repercussions, the concept appealed to me. I had no one to advise me against it. As a working mom, I didn’t have time to attend writer’s group meetings, and back then, if online groups existed, I didn’t know about them. The information I’d gotten on traditional publishing was highly discouraging. The odds alone gave me serious pause; there are millions of writers out there competing for a select few spots on the bookstore shelves. Getting published is akin to winning multiple lotteries—first you win an agent, then you win a publisher, then you win fans…or not.
So I hope it’s not too hard for you to understand how I was swayed by the promises of my first self-publisher, iUniverse. They had a (paid) program where one of their reviewers would read my manuscript and if it was good enough, it would get a ‘special’ designation as an Editor’s Choice novel. When Uncommon Sense passed muster, I was over the moon. They like me! They really like me! The reviewer had wonderful things to say about the novel.
It felt like a tremendous victory, but I realize now the thing that made me happiest was that someone other than my family and friends read it and approved. I gratefully bought a ticket and boarded the iUniverse train, despite the fact that I had to accept whatever lame cover their amateurish artists threw together. In no time my baby was in print – with a $12.95 cover price, a cost much higher than the average paperback. Marketing, as a basic concept, never occurred to me.
It was before ebooks hit the scene, so of course sales were less than dismal. I can only fall back on the excuse that I really do suffer from a pervasive naivete. This explains why I chose to self-publish my next two novels, The Dragon Diary and Dessert Island. I simply hadn’t learned my lesson. The truth is that I was still caught in the gravity pull of planet Instant Gratification. The gratification in my case had more to do with putting my manuscripts in motion, launching them as it were, rather than jumping through agent submission hoops before inevitably abandoning my books to languish on my hard drive. Certainly I wasn’t gratified by my royalties!
My rude awakening occurred at the first writer’s conference I attended. At the Southern California Writer’s Conference in San Diego in the early 2000’s, I went to lectures and workshops and generally enjoyed myself…until a small-press editor got behind the pulpit and smashed my confidence to smithereens. She had palpable contempt for those who self-published and even went so far as to say that anyone who did would ruin their chances of getting accepted by a “real” publisher because their debut status would be forever gone.
I slunk away, ashamed of myself and my three books. It didn’t take long for me to come up with a plan: I would start over using my married name and hope that no one discovered what I had done.
Thank goodness the stigma of self-publishing is fading!