I suppose it’s because of the times we live in—we can get anything we want and fast. Technology has placed the world in our hands. It’s just as easy for me to communicate with my friends and family back in England as with my friends in this country. We can get everything in an instant—coffee, movies, music, mac ‘n’ cheese. This godsend has a tendency to make us impatient.
I’m guilty of this. If I see more than two cars lined up in the drive-thru or people standing in front of the ATM, then screw it, I’m going elsewhere. Time and Simon wait for no man.
I’ve seen this trait for instant gratification amongst writers. They want to see their book in print the moment the manuscript spills off the printer. But traditional publishing isn’t like that. It’s a big machine that moves slowly. A lot of planning and a lot of people are involved in the book making process. I had a book release party for Working Stiffs at the weekend and one of my guests asked me how quickly it took from start to finish.
“Nine months,” I said, injecting a healthy dollop of incredulity.
“That slow?” my guest remarked.
They read me all wrong. Nine months is bloody fast! I worked my butt off for six months writing it and the publisher busted his hump for three getting the cover done, copy editing and working with the printer, etc. And this was for a small press book not bogged down by big publishing machinery.
None of this takes into account the process of finding an agent and a publisher. Take my first book, Accidents Waiting To Happen. I started it in January ’99, began sending out the manuscript that September, collected a bucket load of rejections, didn’t land a contract until October ’01, and it wasn’t published until July ’02. That’s three and a half years. If I hadn’t sold a bunch of my stories in the meantime, I’m not sure I would have stuck with it. Three and a half years is a long time to wait.
I won’t say I felt hard done by waiting this long, but I felt I’d paid my commitment and patience dues. My story pales in comparison to some successful writers out there. I know one mystery writer who waited eight years to sell that first book. Another wrote ten novels before he sold one to a major publisher. I can’t imagine writing ten books and getting nowhere. I would have given up a long time before I sat down to write the tenth book.
Vanity presses and print-on-demand (POD) services make it possible to take a freshly printed manuscript and turn it into a book in a matter of days. So I can see the appeal to the writer. Why punish yourself with the waiting game when you can have your dream today?
I won’t condescend and say that just because I waited nearly four years to see my book in print, you should too. It’s a lame and insulting argument.
But I will say you’re doing yourself no favors going for instant gratification. Writing may be an art but it’s also a craft, and crafts have to be honed. A writer, like any craftsman, needs time to develop his skills. Traditional publishing is a big machine and not everything it produces is solid gold, but it contains a lot of talented people whether it be writers, agents, editors, etc. Whether you or I like it, it takes time to be heard. The cold hard fact of the matter is just because a writer writes doesn’t mean he or she deserves to be published. Your work may not be ready yet, your subject too controversial or worst of all, you may not be good enough. Writing is a leap of faith. A writer’s belief in their work and dedication to the craft can all be for naught. Every time I commit to writing a story or book, I have no idea whether it will be published. I have a small yet significant body of work behind me, but I hope and pray it will be good enough for publication when I send it off to the publishers.
Vanity presses can bring you publication today, but they can’t give you the distribution, advances, marketing, and editing that the developing writer is going to need to become an accomplished writer. Like I mentioned in my early posts, small press publishers have published my first three books and getting those books seen has been tough. With POD printing services, those hardships are magnified. Reviewers tend not to review self-published books and stores tend not to stock them. For a self-published book to be a success, the writer has to spend the majority of their time selling the book instead of developing their writing skills.
The hardest book to sell will be the first. It may take years, but it’s worth the battle. The difference it will make to your sales and ability to build a career is immense. If you want to see your book published in every store and given every chance for success, then you have to be in it in for the long haul. There are many ways of getting there, but going for instant gratification isn’t the answer.
Every writer (new and experienced) wants their work published, but publish well, not fast. It’ll make a world of difference.