Ten years. I’ve been writing professionally—making money for my work—for just over ten years now. Sometimes it seems as if that’s all I’ve done; other times, I can’t believe it’s only been that long. Things have changed in the industry, almost as much as they’ve done over the past 115 years of time. The goal of an author: to be read.
Self-publishing was a nasty word in 2000; worse than vanity publishing, not as bad as getting a contract with a small, independent publisher who might help sell a couple of hundred copies, where on your own you might sell a hundred books on the open market. In 2003, all I wanted was an agent, someone who believed in me and my work and help get those contracts with the bigger publishers. Since 2005, I’ve had three and a half agents. I’ve published a dozen novels (and am sitting on four manuscripts), a series of children’s historical books, probably a hundred articles to magazines and newspapers, had several radio plays produced, some devotionals. Okay, so I can contribute my first novel sale partially to my first agent, who signed me about the same time as I landed the contract for the novel, but who couldn’t negotiate anything about the contract, and who later couldn’t salvage the contract gone to the South Pole. I had to dredge it back up with my own team of sled dogs. I had another sale with my last agent that ended up floating in a nuclear waste dump. I had to suit up and go fetch my manuscript, with the agent cheering me on and negating the sale. But not one of those dozen published books was directly through an agent. My first novel was with a respectable publisher who no longer publishes fiction. The rest with were with those smaller, independent publishers, and a new fad—micropublishing.
But self-publishing has become somewhat fashionable—sort of like taking the waters in a bathing costume that covered most of your flesh became fashionable. If you have enough credentials, fame, the correct innovative marketing strategy, and paid help, you can pull it off well—well, as in making enough money to keep yourself fed.
Publishing your own work with minimum help is still for amateurs. Amateurs are those who do something for the love of it, versus Professionals—those who work for pay. The lines between amateur and professional are messy, as amateurs are now offered the opportunity to offer their book for sale in public forums. They don’t need agents. They don’t even need a publisher. Nor do they need to write all that well, and have no need for someone to believe in them and their work. They publish because they can; an anonymous printer/e-pubber will gladly take two-thirds of any profit of the top and make it sound like a good deal for you.
Are agents still necessary? Of course. Good agents with contacts and interminable energy and big credentials and a project they believe in that have almighty authorial credentials might be able to land a contract with one of those larger publishing houses—the kind that are still offering advances based on projected sales, good editing, salable covers, the right kind of marketing. But even agents are limited on how many sales pitches they can make to the ever-shrinking larger publishing houses, and many are negotiating contracts with the smaller publishers who don’t offer advances. Many independent publishers won’t work with them at all.
Authors can pitch to agents and publishers at conferences and other venues in person.
What hasn’t changed in the last decade? Professional Authors still want and need Someone Acceptable to believe in them, to vet their work, and tell the public that their financial and reading time investment is worthy. We want to be read, to make a difference in someone’s life. It’s a little harder, but possible. Just possible.
Photos from morguefile.com.