Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To Publish, or not to publish...not even a question

Once I'm done with this book that I'm writing, I can either print it out on nice eight and a half by eleven, bind it in a pretty ribbon, and put it in a box somewhere, or I can fight whatever battles need fighting to get it published.  The first option makes me zero money, while the second option makes me somewhere between zero and five million dollars. 

The five million, by the way, comes from the amount Sara Gruen got for her third novel, titled Water for Elephants, that some people in the industry are calling grossly overpaid.  I bought the book, and I plan on reading it to my wife on our reading nights, but so far it sure doesn't feel like a five million dollar book.  Of course, I'm sure you already realize that I would have absolutely no idea what a five million dollar book feels like, but, in any event, that number seems a reasonable guesstimate for the absolute maximum possible amount that this book I'm writing is worth. 

So...the absolute surety of a zero, or the chance for more?  You don't need my help answering that, do you?

Problem is, my plan so far consists of two steps: 1) write, and 2) edit.  That's it.  I'm even planning on having some money set aside to pay for professional editing, by someone who's edited published novels before.  But that's as far as it goes.  Why, you ask?  Well, there's so much I don't know, for the main thing, and most of it I won't know till I'm actually there.  One thing I've learned is that "the industry" doesn't really exist, any more than it does in any other industry.  I'm a career college dean by day.  I thought, once upon a time, that there was a way things were done in "the industry" of career colleges.  Then I got a job in a different company, and boy, had I been wrong.  Publishing seems to be like that too. 

I've read several blogs, for example, by apparently successful authors and agents, talking about what to expect.  Two seemingly standard rules of the road: 1) always write your first book in the 80K-120K word range, preferably to the small side, because less than 80K feels like a novella, and more than 120K is too many printed pages for a publisher to risk printing a newbie's work on.  2) never tell the agents or publishers that you've got a trilogy in the works, because they don't want to consider signing on for a multi-book deal with someone who might be a dud, nor do they want what is obviously the first book of a series coming out as a standalone and ticking off the readers. 

Only...look at Twilight, with each book well over 150K words, and the saga being sold as a unit right off the bat.  For $750K, up front.  $750K is what I make in my day job in somewhere around...well, approximately...negating the forces of inflation as well as the raises due to my obvious and resounding merit, as well as the pull of the various tides...in many years.  I wouldn't complain about that amount at all, no sirree. 

Back to the publishing "industry" and its rules, though, I suspect, from a purely business-trained outsider's perspective, that publishers are feeling a pinch these days, and are all doing what they each think most prudent in the hopes of landing the next Harry Potter or Twilight.  That means some will take stupid risks, and others won't.  Some will follow the old standard rules of thumb, and others won't. 

Thing is, none of that matters till I find an agent.  It was an agent, in fact, who launched Twilight's success by sending that series out to bid.  Even standard wisdom indicates that an agent will bring about 1/3 more for the first contract.  But...here's the rub...I can't approach the agents and say, "I'm writing a book."  Every agent's blog I've read says that.  Apparently there are a LOT of Americans who enjoy contacting literary agents about the books they're going to write.  The standard response seems to be "Look, don't tell me what you're going to do.  Go do it, then show me what you did."  It's got some sense to it, really.  One of my own favorite quotes, and the current tagline for my work e-mail, is from Henry Ford: "Nobody ever built a reputation on what they were going to do." 

So...full circle.  I write.  And then I edit.  And only then do I figure it out.  If an agent takes me, and I really don't doubt much that that will happen, great.  If not, I can always go the self-published Indie route that seems to have come a long way in a couple of years now that Amazon made it really easy to buy a book directly for a Kindle.  But I'll burn that bridge when I cross it, or however that saying goes.

Word count: 58,559

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