The journey of writing a novel, or other lengthy work, is a bit of a hero’s journey unto itself.
For months or even years you keep your head down, diligently doing your work, the daily effort of writing. Maybe you get feedback from a few trusted others, you make changes, you cycle through edits and polish paragraphs.
Then the day comes—the exultant, terrifying day—when you are finished. The novel is complete. And homeless, you suddenly realize. This thing that you have labored over tirelessly must be set out into the world in some fashion. After all, writing—for all of its innate fulfillment through the process—is an act of communication.
Writers in the modern era face a choice that is totally unprecedented in literary history. We can choose to go it alone all the way to the finish line. Self-publishing has a growing share of the market. With that comes self-designing and self-marketing.
If you, like me, have always dreamed of that pristine white letter coming in the mail,
Dear Ms. Hill,
We are pleased to inform you that we at Random House loved your manuscript and are prepared to offer you a publishing contract complete with a handsome advance to get you through writing your next book. . .
It would seem that those days have passed. More often than not, those sorts of publisher-writer relationships are becoming relics. And, the common wisdom among many of today’s fiction writers is that traditional publishing can still leave you doing all the work of marketing and somehow getting only a swiss cheese version of your book’s sales.
I will venture to say that the skills that make you a good writer do not necessarily translate into the skills that make you an effective editor, graphic designer, marketer, and sales director.
New skill sets aside, these things require a Teflon belief in yourself and your book. Who better to advocate for the work you are so intimately and passionately connected to than yourself, though?
I think you need bravery to write honestly. I think you need bravery to put what you have written into the world. I think you need bravery to declare that your work is worthy of an audience.
This need for bravery is one way the writing process acts upon the writer, refining our humanity, if we are willing to do the work it takes to invest totally in our books and then separate from them when the time comes: sending them out of the nest like our mind’s grown children.
The merits of traditional or self-publishing must be carefully weighed by each author when the time comes. The proliferation of the written word, and the democratizing effect of the internet, surely levels the playing field. There are more published authors than ever before, but there are also more potential readers. I will not pretend to know which kind of publishing is “better.”
What I do know is that writers need the expert advice of those who speak a different first language, and can act as interpreters and translators from the unknown lands of publishing. Agile Writers provides just such opportunities through our “Beyond Agile Writers” series, to comb the minds of expert graphic designers, book sellers, editors and publishers.
You must slay that final dragon called Publishing for yourself. But, don’t leave your Armor of Knowledge at home.