A few months back I entered one of my novels into the Writer's Digest Self-Published book contest. I did very well (19/20 score, very positive comments), but the last line of the judge's comments got me thinking about a lot of things:
"The main thing I want to suggest is that Michael Galloway keep writing and look for a major New York house for his next book."
There are several possible meanings to this line.
One, the book I entered was strong, but unfortunately it was self-published, and in some circles, that pretty much means that a traditional publisher will not pick it up unless you have some astounding sales to show for it. Two, I'm "not quite there yet", but if I keep at it, I will be, and I should shop my next novel around when I complete it.
Then there is the third possibility. My writing is strong, I could have traditionally published this book, and I should traditionally publish my next book (assuming it is well written). The judge also mentioned they did not see any way I could improve on the book I did send in. So...this leads to the next question.
What if I don't want to traditionally publish at all now? What if I've been so turned off by the industry/submission process in general that all I want to do is get on with my life, write great books, and build a reading audience? Or should I continue to perfect my hoop-jumping skills and try to jump through a continually shrinking set of hoops?
I don't mean to sound sour, but I have spent many years sending off query letters, waiting for replies, etc. At times it was an agonizingly slow process. It didn't help that I was very picky about who I send my queries to. To add to the slowness, however, some agencies didn't want you to query multiple people at once. That always struck me as odd, considering many agencies nowadays have gigantic slush piles, limited staff to review the queries that do come in, and many of these agencies are under great pressure by editors and publishing houses to "minimize risk". So, why then, should I spend several weeks in waiting when the package I spent hours creating gets reviewed in 30 seconds or less?
I've read innumerable articles and books on the art of the query process. I've read many articles on how to build the perfect synopsis. I've read many articles that dissected successful authors' query letters and how they made it through the hoops. I've tried innumerable techniques. I also went to a writer's conference where the seminars were good, but when I overheard a writer cornering one of speakers (maybe "trapping" is a better word here) and the editor sounded polite but kind of miserable, I cringed.
Would there come a day when I would spend my time attending conferences just trying to corner agents and editors?
Sorry, I'll pass.
So again I ask, am I in the business of hoop jumping or writing great books?
At the end of the day, I'd rather look back and say I helped to push the art of fiction writing a little further forward, and pushed myself to my limits. That, to me, is a job well done.