As noted a few weeks ago, I have a long list of literary agents. At present, I’m going down the list and sending out query emails, trying to find an agent who is willing — no, not just willing, excited — to market a multi-volume fantasy epic that I’m writing. So far, it’s not working. Some agents don’t respond at all to a query. Others send you their standard “sorry, not interested, best of luck” reply.
In essence, then, trying to find an agent is a little like standing on a street corner shouting, “Please, everybody — ignore me! Reject me! Ignore me! Reject me!” If that’s the response you’re hoping for, you’ll be pleased to know that the process works just fine. But if you have, let’s say, any lingering abandonment issues dating back to early childhood, trying to find an agent is likely to take an emotional toll.
This week I haven’t been working on the project at all. After drafting five chapters of Book II, I started thinking, “Why bother? What’s the point? Until I find an agent, this is a waste of time.” I’m not going to try to defend this unproductive attitude — just saying, that’s how I’ve been feeling.
I really would like to go on telling the story. I quite like the story. In order to get back to work on it, I need to engage in a little psychological subterfuge. A creative self-deception, if you like. What if 50 agents in a row aren’t interested? (That’s what it feels like already, after queries to only eight of them.) In order to move forward, I need to develop Plan B.
I’ve always rejected the idea of self-publishing. My idea of how being a writer works is, my job is to write stuff. Marketing the stuff is somebody else’s job. I know what I’m good at, and I know what I’m not good at. But alas, the world doesn’t always arrange itself so neatly.
Self-publishing can take many forms. At its simplest, you turn your word processor file into a PDF and upload it somewhere. Then maybe you give the download link to your friends on Facebook, and you’re done. No money changes hands, and maybe one or two people read what you’ve written. Or maybe nobody does.
At the other extreme, you can spend a couple of thousand bucks on a professionally designed website for your fiction. You can prepare your files for printing on paper by one of the print-on-demand (POD) services. When you receive your box of sparkling shiny new books from the POD people, you can mail copies off to the list of book reviewers you’ve carefully researched. You can become active on a variety of social media, engage in conversations on forums, and politely make sure everyone has a link to your website. Oh, did I mention the website will need an e-commerce page where people can buy the book through PayPal? You can make sure Amazon has a Kindle edition of the book. You can attend conventions that cater to fans of your genre, set up a card table with an attractive cardboard display of your book cover, and autograph copies for whoever wanders by and betrays an interest.
While engaged in these estimable activities, you will not, of course, be writing. What’s worse, you will be embroiled in pretty much the same psychological process that transpires as you try to find an agent. You’ll be trudging out into the world and beseeching people to like you. Most of them won’t. Most of them will ignore you. A few of them will take an extra minute or two to insult you and your work.
That’s Plan B. Doesn’t sound so spiffy, does it? Plan C is, you just write what you want to write, tuck it away in a shoebox, and don’t even think about getting published. Other than Emily Dickinson, Plan C hasn’t worked out too well for a lot of writers. I don’t think it would work for me. I seem to need some sort of recognition or support from the universe, some sort of feedback to the effect that I’m doing something that is, in some modest way, appreciated. A check in the mail is nice, but I don’t insist on it. Just some sort of acknowledgment that somebody cares about my wonderful characters, my lapidary prose, and my fingernail-biting, edge-of-the-seat plot.
Quite aside from the emotional barrenness of Plan C, I have a sense of responsibility for my work. If I think it has some value (and from time to time I do think that), I feel an obligation to make it available in some form. And be it noted, Emily Dickinson had severely reclusive tendencies. When her father died and family and friends gathered in the big house for a reception after the funeral, she didn’t even come downstairs. She sat at the top of the stairs and listened. Most of us are more engaged with our fellows.
As for Plan D, at the moment I have no inkling what that would be.