Last week, I talked about why I decided to trunk my young adult fantasy trilogy. During that post, I mentioned that I had intended to publish that series through traditional means. This is not something that I will be doing with Red and Black, my forthcoming superhero novel.
This wasn’t an easy decision. As someone who grew up wanting to become a writer, I had always assumed that I would go traditional, and that’s even after self publishing became a viable option. But once Red and Black got to a point where I was ready to start submitting, I began to realize that traditionally publishing just wasn’t the right option.
And here are the reasons why:
I really hate the submission process
Writing the perfect query letter. Carefully researching agents and trying to find a good match. Going over submissions policies with a fine tooth comb. Does this agent want a synopsis that’s a page long? Two pages? More? What about a synopsis for the whole series? Should the query letter ruin the ending of the book, or keep it a secret? Should I expect a response within a month? Longer? Not at all? Is it better to try a small press? A contest?
Don’t get me wrong, most people who are traditionally published seem to think that every hour spent on the submission process is worth it, and I respect that. But the truth of the matter is, while I was trying to find a home for my young adult fantasy work, I was pretty miserable. So when it came time to start shopping around Red and Black, I found myself dragging my feet. And once I did start looking, I started to come up against another roadblock.
The genre problem
Trying to find agents looking for young adult fantasy books? There are plenty of them out there. Superhero books on the other hand?
Not so much.
Sure, there are successful superhero books, even if you remove those associated with Marvel or DC comics: Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, or Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex, for example. But the impression that I’ve gotten from listening to agents is that superheroes just aren’t that successful in books. Now this may sound strange considering how well they do comics, movies and television, bit it actually makes sense. When it comes to superheroes, most people show up because they’ve fallen in love with a certain character or team, and want to follow their journey. They may not feel the same for some rando created by an author that they’ve never heard of.
This left me with a much smaller pool of agents to chose from. I tried more urban fantasy-focused folks, but that’s a genre that’s not nearly as popular as it used to be. Some people might call Red and Black new adult, but that term tends to imply… erm steamier circumstances then occur in my superhero book.
The one thing I’ve seen emphasized over and over again by blog posts and podcasts related to finding an agent is the importance of finding someone that’s going to be a good fit for you. And I wasn’t really finding that, at least not when it came to people who were currently available.
A higher degree of control
As I’ve been working on Red and Black, I’ve come up with a lot of ideas of how I’d like to release the series, as far as supplementary short fiction and such. But if I were traditionally published, a lot of those decisions wouldn’t be up to me. Many traditionally published authors say they have very limited control over how their books are released, including picking cover art, or even the titles of the books. The more I’ve looked into self publishing, the more having a higher level control over my own content has appealed to me.
High quality self published works
I’ll admit it. For a long time, I was one of those people, viewing self published works as little more than poorly written vanity projects with clunky cover art, and typos galore. And I had read one low quality indie book several years back, so that meant that they were all trash, right?
Then I read Rachel Aaron’s Nice Dragon’s Finish Last Back in 2014, and my mind was blown
Nice Dragons Finish Last (and the Heartstriker series as a whole) was like a breath of fresh air. A book that melded multiple genres (urban fantasy! science fiction! romance!) in really exciting ways. And it wasn’t published by a traditional publisher, but self published. Reading this book made me realize that I was being too judgmental when it came to indie books. In the years since, I’ve watched authors I respect (Gail Carriger, for example), happily go hybrid, causing me to more carefully examine indie publishing and the benefits that come along with it.
Being able to start small
As much as people like to complain about gatekeepers, there’s a good reason why getting traditionally published involves jumping through a lot of hoops. After all, they’re going to invest a lot of time and money into your work, and want to make sure that it’s worth it. And authors who don’t make a significant return on that investment are going to be penalized for it. Maybe that publisher won’t want to sign a new contract with them. Or maybe they’ll do it, but for a much smaller paycheck. This is something that Mur Lafferty has talked about recently on the Ditch Diggers Podcast in regards to selling her sci-fi murder mystery Six Wakes. Given that the book has since been nominated for a Philip K. Dick award and a Nebula, it’s clear that smaller advance had nothing to do with the quality of the book.
But when it comes to self publishing, the higher degree of control you have means that you can decide how much of an investment you want to make into that final product, and what you consider a financial success to be. In self publishing, the game is all about building an audience over time, rather then making a big splash with a debut, which I find very appealing.
Which brings us to our last point.
This is going to sound awful, but do you want to know the real reason I decided to go head with self publishing Red and Black? I finally had the money to do so.
At the end of 2017, I ended up switching jobs. Previously, I had been working two part time jobs. This added up to full time work, but from multiple locations. When I quit these positions for a more traditional 9-5 job, each place paid me out for my unused vacation time, and a portion of my sick time.
And let me tell you, I do NOT take a lot of sick days so those fuckers had built up.
This allowed me a small cushion that I used to pay off a few hundred dollars in medical debt, and invest in a professional editor. Self publication, for all of it’s benefits, is incredibly difficult to do when you don’t have a lot of wiggle room in your budget, but still want to put out a high quality product.
The decision on whether to self-publish or traditionally publish can be really tricky. Hopefully, in explaining why I decided to self-publish Red and Black can help someone who’s currently waffling back and for between the two options. Because there really are benefits to each. Despite my decision to go indie, I still strongly believe that traditional publishing is the best way to reach a larger audience, faster, if just based on the fact that people are more likely to trust a work that has already been vetted by a team of professionals. Regardless, I think that self publishing is the best decision to make with my little superhero book Red and Black, and I’m really excited to see what the results will be.
This post is part of the new Author-in-Training Project, where I document my path to publishing Red and Black, and the lessons I’ve learned on the way. Please click on the Author-in-Training tag for more posts. There’s not much yet, but more will be arriving in the future.