Am I the only one for whom the proverbial lightbulb takes several small clicks of the switch before it glows brightly enough to get my attention? Last year I read and reviewed Noah Lukeman’s free ebook, How to Write a Great Query Letter. In it, Lukeman berates authors who spend years working on their manuscripts only to pound out sub-par query letters in one sitting. His opinion is that writers should spend as much time on the query letter as they do on writing the book. Click one of the light switch: Why does one have to waste so much precious writing time “crafting” a god-damn query letter? Oh, yes, I get that it is supposedly a work of art that showcases the writer’s talent, abilities, and intelligence. But, really? I’m getting a bit jaded in my thirties. I’d rather write another book that could, hopefully, be read by many eager readers, than “showcase” my writing talent in a letter to one person who may not even exist*.
I stall at some part of the editing phase of almost all my novels and I’ve now started wondering if part of it might not be due to a reluctance to deal with the query letter and tracking down of the contact person. I’d rather start a new novel than finish an existing one and have to get it out there. Click two. I get nervous when I start thinking about what agents and publishers might require from me. Television interviews? Yikes. A rewrite turned around in two weeks while I’m dealing with a sick child? Eek. Click three.
A report on publishing non-fiction on Kindle, how Amazon is geared to help authors sell books, and a decision to make some extracts of my Word 4 Writers course available through Amazon, followed by the information I mentioned previously on the success of fiction, and trilogies and series in particular, in ebook format. Clicks four and five.
Then I read the first part of John Locke’s book, where he comes from the position of having owned two highly successful sales businesses, and points out that in any career other than writing and publishing, owning your own business is a legitimate and often impressive road to take. And just look at the independent film industry. There it is downright icy cool to be indie. The publishing industry is the only industry in the world that stigmatises those who choose to own their own businesses.
So I took his analogy and applied it to myself and my own little corner of the universe. My world has been affected by another industry that seeks to stamp out anyone choosing to trust their own natural instincts and manage their own process–obstetrics.
And that was the stadium floodlight at full wattage right in my face. I haven’t spent the last four years on a political battleground fighting for my right, and my daughter’s right, to birth our flesh-and-blood babies at home and to birth naturally without intervention, only to turn around and meekly take my ink-and-paper babies along to the hospital to hand them over to a bookstetrician. “Yes, dear, I am fully committed to natural writing. But if you go longer than forty chapters you will have to attend an induction. It’s a requirement of our insurance policy. Sorry. If you choose to labour on a Friday we will have to cut the book by fifty pages. If you need more time, you’ll have to pay back your advance. With interest. Oh, and, by the way, you won’t have the final say on your child’s name, personality, or what it looks like. Sign here.”
And that was the snap of the final string tethering me to the dream of a traditional publishing contract (preferrably with one of the big six). Although it’s something I’ve wanted since I was 18, I’ve now found the freedom to let it go and try to get my novels to my readers myself. After all, authors with trad pubs have to do a lot of the marketing legwork themselves, anyway. The big houses are bringing fewer and fewer benefits to the deal, and a lot more drawbacks. A wait of a year or more before publication versus publish whenever you are ready? Holding back the publication of the ebook version until the print version has sold “enough” copies, and then pricing the ebook higher than the paperback, versus the option to bring out the ebook first and price it at 99c (or free) so that readers are willing to take a chance on a new author? Seems so obvious now.
The field has never been more level, and I am so ready to play.
* Namely, “Daniel Carlyle”, supposed “Aquisitions Editor” of Pan MacMillan – a pseudonym for a pseudo-person given out to anyone cold-calling their switchboard. I imagine letters addressed to Mr Carlyle got no further than the post room before they were opened and returned in their SASEs, unread. You know what? My time is more valuable than that.