This post won't be about why one avenue of publication is better than another. I have a few links on my recursos page that talk about indie publishing more in detail if you're interested. I'm also going to be adding a few links about traditionally publishing there from other people not named Chuck Wendig in the coming few weeks.
A writer is a writer. A writer is someone who writes. A person who has 15 self-published novels on Amazon KDP isn't any better or worse than the person who just has one novel through a traditional publisher.
I wanted to talk about my process for those considering this avenue. Full disclosure: My process is my own and it's not in any way an indicator of how your process should or should not work. Some writers spend 10 years before getting their first book deal signed. Others spend 10 weeks.
Let's talk about square one, which is you having an honest-to-deity-of-your-choice manuscript in your hands and deciding you want to go the traditional route. This process can be as frustrating as getting stuck in traffic for hours. If you're in Texas, picture 290 on a bad day.
So here's what you need to start:
1. Query Letter
3. Sample chapters
4. Tough skin
5. Willingness to embrace rejection.
I'm going to start with number five because I think this is key for writers. I'm extremely fortunate that I have a background in journalism and so when I started writing creatively and sending my shit (short stories and poems) out in 2014 I had a built in tolerance for rejection. But it's not always easy if you don't. I remember how I felt when I turned in my first piece for my editor one August day in 2006. She tore that ish UP. I thought i was a good writer but when she returned the edits it looked like my paper had attempted to give a bath to a cat.
But I got better. Every rejection, to use a Dragonball Z analogy, makes you stronger. There's no cap to self-betterment. And you're going to get a lot of rejections as a writer, and worse, when you start querying, you'll be lucky to even get that much. During my querying process, which lasted approximately from March 2016 to late January 2017, I sent out around 70 different query letters. I had a 10% response rate, and of the response rate, 10% of that was an actually personalized letter. If you're counting: 70 rejections, 7 responses, 1 response that wasn't "Hello, AUTHORNAME, thank you for your submission but unfortunately at this time.."
and I was THRILLED I even got that one.
So, accepting that, next step comes knowing who you're submitting to. If you write YA romance, don't send your piece to an agent who's only looking for hard sci-fi. Even if you think your piece is the greatest thing since Jesus walked on sliced bread with the Beatles. Don't get cute. See what the agent posts, see what their submission requirements state and for the love of the aforementioned deity of your choice, STICK TO THE REQUIREMENTS. If the agent wants an email submission with 10 point times new roman font on a .txt file, you don't send them a .doc with Calibri 11 point font. The logic is simple, and it's a logic readers and editors in lit mags stick to as well: If the author's not going to have the simplest regard for following the directions, then they're not going to be people we want to work with.
Some people suggest having query letter templates. I don't like the idea because there's a lot of room for mistakes. I know because I made them and burnt two bridges by accident. That being said, it's handy having 2-3 sentence pitch, word count, and genre written somewhere that you can just copy and paste.
Again, pay attention to what you're doing, pay attention to what the agent wants. There's a database off in Manuscript Wishlist that gives you good pointers on this. And please, don't get cute. Don't think you're better than the agent. Don't tell them that your book is the best book they'll read on the topic of Belmont Horse Jockey Erotica. That just adds obstacles on yourself. If i tell someone, wow, I think [redacted] is the best anime, check it out, then that someone's going to go into it thinking, well, let's see, COMPARISON MODE!
If I recommend things, I tend to go with "I really enjoyed this, and here is why." then there's no expectation.
The agents, by the way, are human beings. Don't be a dick to them. Don't take their rejections personally. Thank them. I did the math and it literally costs $0.00 to reply to a rejection with "Thank you so much for taking the time to read! I appreciate it!"
I have seen cases where an author who felt slighted that an agent rejected him went on an online tirade attacking the agent and her appearance. I can confidently say that that man will never be traditionally published.
Back to the trenches: It's going to be a slog. This is going to take patience and commitment and there's no guarantee of an actual payoff. It's an incredibly frustrating process. It also doesn't help that you're surrounded by others' instant-gratification. "You're -waiting- for an agent? Lol, I'm publishing my book through [redacted]! I have a book launch and I'm going to make a lot of money and be a best-selling Amazon author, haha!"
I've made about $15 from my writing directly. (Two short stories sold) and I've made $350 due to creative writing-related things (the honorarium for three lectures). $365 in three years. There are indie pubbers out there who make that in a month, a week, a day! And because I write literary fiction, the idea of me ever making enough money for a comfortable and young retirement is a pipe dream's pipe dream.
But here's the fun thing about success: You get to define the parameters of what the word means and to hell with someone who tries to define them for you. I favor a live and let live attitude, but the second you cross my personal boundary and try to belittle me for my choice, then my claws are going to come out.
I remember during one of my busy querying months, i was listening to a podcast by [well-known indie podcaster] and [pronoun] had a guest on [pronoun] who was accusing traditional authors of being elitist and literally said the words "living in an ivory tower" and all because this person queried for 2 years and didn't get a bite. That to me, is insulting. So I was like, 1) screw you and the horse you rode in on and 2) this is about COMMITMENT.
I was willing to wait as long as I had to to be traditionally published, and I took every query I sent out as a chance to re-evaluate the sample chapters I was sending, and look through the manuscript again. There are writers making more money than I am. Does it matter? No. I have friends who made $90,000 right out of college and I never heard "haha, well you should've gone into this or that if you wanted to make money"
One final note on agents: Money flows to the writer, not the other way around. AVOID the "pay me and then we'll get your stuff out"
And one last thing about the querying process, don't discount a little bit of luck. Keep your eyes open for opportunity. Ask. Be bold. Worst thing someone can tell you is no. I had the fortune of having someone tell me, "hey, have you considered this particular publisher?"
Would I have found that publisher regardless? Maybe. We had similar acquaintances in common and at one point had work published by the same company. But a little bit of luck helped, and I'm a big believer that hustle increases your odds.
I had crippling social anxiety as a teenager. The idea of approaching complete strangers ANYWHERE was an ice-cold dagger in my spine. But I had to adapt because it was the only way for me to achieve what my parameters defined success as.
So, to close: The question should be there: Why do I put myself through all that? What's the real appeal of traditional publishing?
I'm a writer. I want to change things. I want to change entire established systems. There are few Latinos in the literary world and in -my- mind if I go indie, I take myself out of the equation. I resolved, early in my career, that I was going to break into the traditional literary world, one way or another. If a door was locked when I kicked it in, I was going to kick harder. I was going to find a window and break in. If I went indie, in my mind it would only validate the naysayers who get pearl-clutchy when you try to bring up diversity. "WELL, LATINO WRITERS JUST DON'T WANT TO WRITE FOR THE MAIN LITERARY WORLD"
that'd be a lie, but the numbers would give credence to the lie.
If you take 20 POC writers, and 19 of them go indie for whatever justified-or-unjustified reason, then the statistics show that 1 POC writer out of 20 wants to query agents.
So I'm going to hold the door open and infiltrate, rather than segregate. Going traditional will also give me the PrestigeTM clout if I want to teach at the university level or get my books into the spaces I want to get them in.