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Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Waiting Game

Steve Laube from the Steve Laube Agency said a few words about waiting on Monday. One glance and I could hear the Militant Self-Published Mob screaming, "We told you so! This is why you should do it our way!" It makes me cringe.

First and foremost, you should never publish the same day you write "THE END" on your manuscript. Just... don't. There are entire blogs devoted to why you shouldn't do this, most of them run by self-published authors. One draft was enough to get you through a high school essay on a book your teacher has never read, it isn't enough to make readers who have handed over money in the anticipation for a good book.

Second, for every part of the traditional waiting game the self-publishing and Indie Press venues have an equivalent.

Start with the assumption that an author has done everything in their power to make their manuscript beautiful. They've written, revised, run the MS through beta-readers and critique groups, and done a final line edit. What comes next?

Traditional Publishing: Find an agent
Indie Publishing: Find a house
Self-Publishing: Find an editor

But, I hear you stutter, but I already edited! You did. You did a great job. But that Confirmation Bias we talked about yesterday comes into play in editing too. It made sense to you when you wrote it, you know where all the commas should be, and so your brain will miss mistakes even after dozens of readings. Every author needs an outside editor. Not a family member, beta-reader, or friend, but someone who has no preconceptions of the book and no need to flatter you.

The next step for all three is...... WAIT.

Everyone, from literary agent to professional publisher has a life that doesn't revolve around you. No one will see your email and push everything else aside to focus on your problems - er - I mean manuscript. o:-)

Next step for all three... REVISE.

It doesn't matter if you've landed an agent, a contract with a small house, or have sent your baby to a private editor you will be revising again. Maybe more than once. This is not the time to pull your Speshul Snowflake routine and insist that leaving out punctuation has artistic merit.

Next step...

Traditional Publishing: Sell to editor
Indie Publishing: Sign a contract (possibly after negotiations)
Self-Publishing: Find cover art (also includes a contract in most cases)

This is where the smaller houses and self-publisher cut out a step. The number of revisions may be the same, but Traditional Publishing has a two-tiered entrance system. The agents help you stumble through contracts, some which exceed 300 pages if anecdotes from friends are correct (I have no reason to doubt the source). Smaller presses and Smashwords have much shorter contracts. Be thankful.

Next step...

Traditional Publishing: Edit/format
Indie Publishing: Edit/format
Self-Publishing: Format for publication

In the final stages of publication all three forms look eeriely similar. It's a matter of final edits (fixing a typo, comma gone missing, ect) and making sure your manuscript fits the style guidelines for the house, press, or e-book venue of choice.

Next step...

Traditional Publishing: Cover Art and Publish
Indie Publishing: Cover Art and Publish
Self-Publishing: Publish

For everyone but the self-publishers cover art is largely out of your control. Sometimes you get to give a lot of input, sometimes you don't. It varies from house to house and editor to editor.

Next step for all three... WAIT FOR PAYMENT

The argument here is that in self-publishing or with an Indie press you'll get paid monthly. In theory, that's correct. But that theory relies on someone buying your book. With a larger press you're waiting for an advance of some form, and then waiting for people to buy your books. The difference here is that only one of the three is guarenteed payment of any form, and that's the advance from the traditional press.

... I can see you toe-tapping from here, you know that right? You want to know about actual calendar time, not wait-time equivalents.

The thing is, there is no standard. From finished final draft to publication usually takes 1-2 years with traditional publishing, but it depends on whether you're a debut author who needs to find an agent and editor or an established author who already has those waiting. For an established traditional author the turn around from THE END to ON THE SHELF can take well under a year.

The same problem applies to an Indie press. A debut author who is looking for a press will take longer to publish than one who can drop a quick email to their favorite editor and say, "Hey! Look at what I wrote!" I've seen Indie authors putting out a new book every few months.

Ditto for self-publishing. Professional editors are easy to find, but the ones who come recommended have wait times, sometimes over six months of wait time if you've never worked with them before. Once you have a working relationship with the editor that can change. An established self-published author can feasibly publish something every month, although it may not always be a novel.

The real determining factor in every scenario is the author. How fast can you write? How fast can you edit? How fast can you make changes on demand?

Self-publishing is faster, but only if the author is motivated and can put in the work that needs to be done. If you're someone who works better with external motivation then self-publishing might very well fail you.

It all comes down to knowing what's best for you and your manuscript. Do your homework. Find your market. And then sit down and write.


  1. My non-writing friends look at me as though I'm insane when I try to explain to them why it takes so long for a book to come out. When I signed my contract in July, they expected it to be out by August.

  2. Timely post, for me... Yesterday I was starting to get seduced by articles on self-publishing. Mainly due to the higher rate of return in sales, and I thought the shorter time to press was an added bonus. I talked myself away from that option yesterday because I really want to try the trad. route first as I think I need their guidance more... This post helped me solidify that... Though indie is interesting, hmmm...

  3. Pippa - I don't tell my extended family anything until the book is for sale. It saves weekly phone calls asking why they can't find it at the store yet.

    Angela - Self-publishing is an option, but you need to weigh out the pros and cons. Done right, self-publishing is very good. There are more up front costs, but also more control. Done wrong, self-publishing is very, very bad. There's no one to do an outside gut check on you if something is off in the book.

  4. My comment is on the editing issue. You can never have too many eyes checking it out. Two reasons i believe this. 1. I have a misspelled tattoo. 2. As the elder son I was in charge of my mother's headstone. I showed the proof to my brother, nieces, wife, daughters and son-in-laws. She died 1 June 2007.. The headstone says 1 June 2006..Two of the people who looked at the proof make a living proofing stats for the state. Two others are teachers and one was a nurse. You would think someone, like maybe the stone company, would have caught it. Not so. This is a true story. So help me. My mom would have laughed at it. Like I am sure she did when the cloudburst and wind storm came out of a clear sky and almost blew the tent down at the graveside service.

  5. I started my book a year ago (the 29th) and I'm going the self-pub route. I'm hoping to get it out by Dec 15th, but it's going to be close.

  6. Self-publishing isn't for everyone, but it might be for folks who read articles about the waiting involved in the traditional system and die a little inside. :P

    No, we don't type The End on the first draft and hit the publish button, but it's a pretty speedy process, especially after you've done your first story and learned the ropes. I have my editor booked before I've finished the first draft, and I send a note to the cover art fellow early in the process as well, because those people are busy, so it's good to schedule things in advance.

    Now, I do let a story cool between the first draft and the second, and after the second it's off to beta readers, so there's another break from it, but I'll just be working on another project during those breaks, so I never really feel like I'm waiting.

    Not everyone is like me, but I'd have a tough time waiting two years between finishing the manuscript and seeing my book out there. It seems like it'd be hard to have as much enthusiasm for promoting a story you're two years removed from as well. At the least, it'd be hard to stay enthusiastic about promotion when you're not able to see the results of your work. I think one of the reasons self-published authors try so hard (maybe too hard sometimes) is that they can log in to Amazon's DTP and see their sales stats at any time, and they're updated hourly. It's a blessing (because you can see which of your promotional efforts are helping), and it's a curse as well (pretty depressing to log in and see goose eggs in the sales column).

    Anyhoo, just rambling. Write on, folks. :)