Taking a break from editing stories to write up some of the general advice I’ve gathered lately. The above question keeps coming up again and again in various incarnations. Because the ultimate dream of every writer is to have a novel published by a big publishing house. At least it is, for most writers, for now… er, yes, this is where the caveats start.
Everyone agrees that the market and the industry are changing faster than you can say boo. Nobody knows how.
Print publishing can work, but is hard to get into, harder to sell well, and you can get milked financially by various parties.
Online (self) publishing no longer has the pariah stigma, is easy to get into, just as hard to sell well as print fiction, is a lot more work but pays you a greater percentage and gives you (much) greater control.
Based on the above, what do you aim for? The answer depends on who you talk to.
Agents are great when they are good, not so great when they turn out to be a poor fit, inexperienced in your (sub) genre, or lose enthusiasm before your contract with them has run its course. A good agent is worth his or her fee many times over, but not all agents do the best by your work. Maybe they start off being enthusiastic, but are overcommitted and/or lose heart after your book doesn’t sell. You still have another x amount of time on your contract with the agent, and the agent is not shopping your book actively. You (the author) lose. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. Based on the above, do you want an agent? The answer is different depending on who you talk to.
So, taking everything I’ve read into account, I believe the following:
– Spread your risks and pursue both the electronic and traditional avenues for different works. Treat your ebook collection as an artist would treat his or her art portfolio.
– As emerging writer, the agent you can get is unlikely to be the agent you want. You might just be lucky that you snatch the next big-name agent on her way up to super-agent status, but, yeah, more likely this is not the case, and the agent will turn out to be overcommitted, a poor fit, or just in general not very successful as agent. This will happen despite best intentions on both sides.
– Similiarly, if you put out ebooks, the editor you can get is not the editor a big publisher uses, because the editors of that calibre already work for those big publishers (ergo: do your darned best to edit as best as you can yourself, as if you’d be sending the book on submission, and ask a friend to proofread. In other words: don’t waste money on ‘cheap’ backyard editors).
– Don’t treat your self-published material as legitimate publication credits. That makes you look like an arse.
– Don’t be apologetic about self-publishing either.
– And don’t stop sending stuff to as many different places as possible. Don’t rule out any options.