As you know, at the end of July (on July 24th to be exact), I finished a pretty-polished draft, or so I hoped, of my first novel. On August 16th, I shared my anxiety as I waited to hear back from those first, trusted beta readers, fearing the worst but hoping for the best. Two weeks ago, having finally heard back from several of them, I bared my soul (and my eight-hundred pound gorilla of an inner critic) about how hard it was for me not to privilege, obsess over, and take to heart the critical feedback I received, even in the midst of some very positive responses. I got so much wonderful support and heard so many great stories from all of you about both of these things--thank you.
Two weeks have gone by since then. And guess what? The last piece of feedback I got was the best. It was from my agent, who loved the book so much she said, "This could be big. I think it's ready to take to publishers."
So yesterday, with my okay, she started making calls. Talk about freaking out a little bit.
I don't know what's going to happen yet. But I wanted to blog today and share this with you because there is something larger at issue here -- as those of you who have followed Brooke's and my founding of She Writes Press a little over a year ago may recall. My plan was always to publish this novel with the press, something I have said very publicly from the start. At the time I made this pledge my novel was still very much a work in progress, and as a first-time novelist I felt fairly certain that I'd be a lot better off investing in it myself, controlling important decisions like my cover, my title (yes, even that a traditional publisher can ask you to change), and reaping the rewards of my investment not just in the form of larger royalties, but in what I hoped could be a boost to the press as I focused my energies on promoting both it and my book. And I still couldn't believe more strongly in the advantages of working with a partnership publisher like She Writes, particularly now that we are signed with Ingram and can provide that last, most important piece of the puzzle that is successful publishing--traditional distribution--to our authors.
In talking with friends, family, and a few other trusted advisors, one thing became clear: it is really dumb to make a decision about the single most important thing in your career without thoroughly exploring ALL the options. I have no idea what's going to happen now. It's very likely I will have an experience a lot like the one I had with my first book. First round of submissions: nothing. Second round: zip. Third round: no, no, no, no, no...and then, finally, yes. One yes. (I got that yes when my older son was exactly four days old.) But one editor's yes was all I needed, and I am still so grateful to her for it because it truly changed my life.
Once I delivered the book, however, I quickly discovered the disadvantages to being one of hundreds of small bets publishers make every year in the hopes that one or two will hit big. Because mine wasn't that "one"--the one out of ten that earns out its advance and keeps the business afloat. It was one of the other ones. And reality soon hit: I was going to be an entrepreneur whether I wanted to be or not. There was no huge team of people helping me. Instead there was one well-meaning but overworked publicist with a list half a mile long. I ended up doing most of the legwork and plenty of investing--in my website, my "tour," which consisted of begging friends to come to events I booked and using miles to get there, and in a freelance publicist--myself. Most of my advance went to these costs, and to the unstated but substantial cost of not writing anything else while I practiced the painful art of promotion.
Again, I am still grateful. Publishing a book gave me the legitimacy to teach, and the courage to start She Writes with Deborah Siegel four years ago. Doing that book with a traditional publisher taught me worlds of things it pays to know now, particularly in starting SWP. But if I had to do it over again with that deal...I don't think I would. Partly because in the six years since it came out, the world of publishing has changed more than any of us could have imagined. (Some context: it was 2006, the year Facebook opened its doors to the world beyond universities.) Partly because if I'm going to do all the work anyway, with pretty minimal money up front and pretty minimal support when I publish, I'd rather own it than feel owned.
So what would I say yes to? What would cause me to go with a traditional publisher rather than doing it with She Writes Press? Brooke asked me that just this morning. And the truth is I don't know yet, because I don't know what my options are. But money will be part of it. The editor will be part of it. Control will be part of it. And the opportunity to promote She Writes and our press on a stage bigger than any--I must humbly admit--that I can build for myself will be part of it too.
Either way, I hope you'll continue on this journey with me wherever it leads. Because whatever happens, I will always bring what I learn, what I know, and all that I can give, back here. That I know for sure.