It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new on The December Book, the epic and complex historical novel I’ve been writing for nearly two years now. While it’s been a work in progress I’ve had several short stories appear in some fairly extraordinary anthologies, and published two other novels (Cuckoo and Thy Fearful Symmetry). All the while, The December Book has been taking shape, and finally the end is in sight.
I’m a few weeks away from the finish, after which I’ll be editing and bundling the novel off to some pre-readers hoping for a quick turnaround of comments and thoughts. By the end of April, the book will finally be ready to put in a publisher’s hands.
When I started writing this novel, I was still thinking of my potential writing career in terms of old, traditional models. The idea of self-publishing as a viable professional alternative had already taken root in the industry, and was starting to show some fruit for a handful of authors, but it was a cack-handed disaster for most who tried it.
Things moved on, and I joined in. More and more authors began to find ways to include self-publishing in their own career paths. Many made a complete switch, abandoning all ambitions in traditional publishing to self-publish entirely. That’s not for me personally, though power to those who have made it work for them. Right now, there are many different approaches being taken by writers to reach you, the reader. Some are avant-garde madness (or just plain foolishness), but there are many more ‘routes to market’ available to today’s writers than were legitimate even five years ago. I’ve said before here that my preferred approach is a hybrid one. This is the third year in a row that I’ll be self publishing a novel (Craven Place, this summer – and I told you how you can get an advance copy for free here), but I still see that as only one part of what I want to do.
The December Book is not, initially, something I want to self-publish. I’ve a vague sense that this book is different from what I’ve written before, and would perhaps benefit from the attentions of a good publisher in finding its audience. It’s a little trickier to pitch direct to readers, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to find the people who’ll love it (and I’m increasingly confident, on the home stretch, that at least some people will) on my own.
Yet I could self-publish it, to a pretty high standard. That changes the way I think about potential publishers enormously. Before I took this hybrid path, the only way for me to get my book to readers was through a publisher. I would have started ‘at the top’ (basically, the biggest players), and worked my way down until somebody somewhere said yes. It’s a fairly desperate way to go about things, but all a writer could really do. That isn’t the case anymore. I don’t need a publisher to design a good cover or an interior layout, nor do I need them to provide editing services – all of these are things I can commission myself. I barely need them for distribution purposes – though they remain the best route to putting books in bookstores, it’s perfectly possible to sell a lot of books without ever appearing in a bricks and mortar store.
All of this takes the desperation out of the search for a publisher, and for me at least, clears the mind. I’m perfectly comfortable investing up front in publishing my own novels, and letting them earn their money on the back end through sales. Both times I’ve done this, the books have made back the investment, and are still running to profit. While the next novel could easily flop and earn me nothing, I’d still be in profit across the three.
When it comes to deciding where I want to submit The December Book to then, I’m able to ask a slightly different question than before. What can they offer me? I know what I offer them – a novel they can hopefully work with. If they decide they want it (and that’s not a given at all!), what do they offer beyond the basics I describe above?
It could be a tonne of money up front, though today’s publishers aren’t paying what they were. More valuable to me though is a route to readers I haven’t found yet. The publishers I’m most interested in working with are those that have found a niche, a base of readers who go to their books because they trust the publisher’s taste, and that it matches their own. The big houses are fine, but if they took the novel I’d very likely end up lost in a conveyor belt of titles being hurled at the public with little marketing to sink or swim. I’m not big enough to swim yet, though you never know what the future could bring. Right now, I want to partner up with smaller, more dedicated houses, who know why they’re buying a book, and why their readers will like it.
There are five such publishers I want to try The December Book with, all with different strengths and sensibilities, and all producing books I love. I hope The December Book might be a good fit for one of these publishers. I’ll work through them and find out if any think the same way. I started today, sending off the first few chapters and an outline of the book to the first* (I don’t have any order of preference among these five, but somebody has to go first). I’m looking forward to the eventual response. If they don’t like it, I’ll move to the next. If after five, nobody wants it…
Well. I’ve still got options.
Fingers crossed though. I really would prefer to work with a publisher on this one.
Currently reading (novel): Faction Paradox: Of The City Of The Saved, Philip Purser-Hallard
Currently reading (anthology): The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stores, edited by Anne and Jeff Vandermeer
*yes, of course I checked with them first to let them know the manuscript wouldn’t be finished until the end of April…