Written a book... now what?
August 7, 2015 4:29 AM   Subscribe

I've written fiction all my life, but never done anything with it. I've always been content with that. However I am currently finishing up a more ambitious project and for the first time ever, I am wondering whether to seek an agent, self-publish, or release the story online free. Seeking feedback from writers of Metafilter.

I've never felt the need to be known as a writer. For years, I've just written for my own enjoyment, and for close friends if they were interested.

I am currently finishing up a story that's a fair bit longer, and more ambitious in scope. FWIW, it fits into the New Adult genre. I find myself wondering if it is something other people might want to read? I don't know. More and more, I am wondering whether I should investigate the possibility of releasing it to the public. (I don't really know what has brought about this change in perspective, after years of being uninterested in being published. It definitely isn't the money - I am not interested in that at all. And it isn't fame because I would probably publish under a pseudonym or something if I did decide to go this route. But it would give me immense satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.)

If I DID decide to try and get published, as far as I can see, my options are:
- seek a literary agent.
Pro: Seems like the most "legit" way to get published; Con: It's... not exactly easy, as far as I can tell! It could be years if at all that I finally found someone willing to take me on.
- self-publish.
Pro: An easy, if expensive way to get the book out there; Con: Any old guff can be self-published; it wouldn't exactly fill a prospective reader with confidence.
- release the story free, online, a la Cory Doctorow.
Pro: Everyone can read it, free! Which warms the cockles of my socialist heart. I could get feedback and build on that to improve my writing. Cons: I don't know, legal stuff? People could steal it? (God knows why they would want to.) If I later decided to try and go the traditional publishing route, I think they would have a problem with something that had been published online.

Perhaps there are other routes that I'm not thinking of. Anyway, I would welcome feedback from published and unpublished writers of Metafilter. Which of these options makes the most sense? What am I not thinking about or have I got wrong? Any pitfalls I should be aware of?
posted by Ziggy500 to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
You can always do a kickstarter + self publishing.
Or maybe release it chapter by chapter in blog form. Or do the same but in an audio format (podcast)
posted by pyro979 at 4:39 AM on August 7, 2015

The primary con for self-publishing or otherwise posting on your own is "nobody would read it." Or at least nobody who doesn't know you already. Successes in self publishing come only through tremendous work at self-promotion, and usually only after several books are out. If it is important to you that anybody read this book, try the traditional route first. You can always self-publish later if it doesn't work out.
posted by Andrhia at 4:41 AM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

How long is it? Agents won't rep single stories, and it can be hard to get them to rep even a short story collection unless a novel is in the works.

Lit mags are your best bet. Start by submitting to ones that have featured similar work. Mention that in your cover letter: "Since you published x I thought you might like my story."

If it is a novel, then query agents.
posted by mermaidcafe at 4:43 AM on August 7, 2015

Response by poster: Should have made that more clear. It is a chaptered novel.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:44 AM on August 7, 2015

You're right to not publish online first, btw. Don't do that unless you're sure you don't want to publish in other ways.

And the possibility of someone stealing your work comes with the territory of publishing. There's no way to innoculate against that, unfortunately.
posted by mermaidcafe at 4:45 AM on August 7, 2015

If you're looking for a sense of accomplishment, don't self-publish or release for free - anyone can do that. To me, having your novel vetted and approved of by an agent and sold to a publisher is the real accomplishment. And personally, I've tried reading self-published novels before, and not a one has been nearly as well-edited and tight as a published novel that's been professionally edited.
posted by amro at 5:27 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have any critique buddies? What do they think?

I agree with Andrhia, with the caveat that "getting published" usually takes a good, hard critical look at one's work—and sometimes crit partners are the best way to get that. It can be hard to see your own writing with objective eyes.
posted by the_blizz at 5:29 AM on August 7, 2015

This sounds like a case for the Query Shark (http://queryshark.blogspot.co.uk/), who will help you get taken seriously by an agent. I'm not even a writer, but I read this blog because it's so funny and well-written. Good luck!
posted by Grunyon at 5:49 AM on August 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

If you write a book that's both good and marketable, it can probably succeed as either a self-published book or a traditionally published book; if you don't, then it probably won't reach many readers whether you self-publish it or not. So the question really comes down to, do you want to do the hard work of getting a cover, getting a freelance editor, crunching the numbers, doing all the self-promotion, yourself?

If the answer is yes, then it might make sense to self-publish; if the answer is no, then it might make sense to query some agents (you can query a lot of agents at once, so there's no sense in spending years on this) and then put it online for free if you don't have any luck there. (The only caveat I'd add is that New Adult authors seem to be having more success with self-publishing, but I don't know the genre well so I could be wrong.)

Authors who self-publish successfully are often the ones who are willing to gamble on themselves -- investing a good bit of money in things like cover art, editing, and self-promotion. But it doesn't matter how much you spend if you don't write a book that people want to read.
posted by Jeanne at 6:07 AM on August 7, 2015

- release the story free, online, a la Cory Doctorow.
Pro: Everyone can read it, free! Which warms the cockles of my socialist heart. I could get feedback and build on that to improve my writing. Cons: I don't know, legal stuff? People could steal it? (God knows why they would want to.) If I later decided to try and go the traditional publishing route, I think they would have a problem with something that had been published online.

I'm a writer (of nonfiction, not fiction, so take this for what it's worth) and I think the major con you are overlooking here is that no one will ever read it. Not your friends, not random fiction-loving strangers, maybe just three people who will come across it years later and send you strange rambling emails. Whether or not that would bother you, I don't know. I think it would bother me more than getting rejected by a bunch of agents.

Personally, I think you have nothing to lose (except the time it takes to do it) by querying a bunch of agents.

If nothing comes of that, is there any part of it that could stand on its own as a short story? It seems there are many places to submit short stories, which would give you the satisfaction of being "properly" published (and edited) and would be more likely to get noticed (imho) than self-publishing or just sticking it up on the internet yourself.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:41 AM on August 7, 2015

You left out one option: Submit to a small press. You won't see as much money or publicity for it, and there are still some media outlets that may not take you as seriously, but today's small presses can get you distribution, editing, and in some cases niche value at independent bookstores.

My first novel was just released this week from a small press, and I'm really happy with it. I started out going the traditional route, and found a lot of agents who were really complimentary of it but eventually passed, more than a few saying some variation on "another agent is going to snap this up." After a few months of no one snapping, I got disheartened and sent the manuscript to a small press I respected, just to see what would happen. They made an offer immediately. I still wonder whether I shouldn't have had more patience and held out for the traditional route. I definitely didn't give my query search as much time and effort as I was recommended to. But overall I'm really happy, the book has already sold out its first printing, and even if I'll never see Steven King's numbers or money, I still feel like I've accomplished something.
posted by Mchelly at 6:59 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree with the idea that querying agents might be a good first step -- or that an even better first step is to get some feedback on the piece, and then query agents. I'm a fiction writer (and I also frequently work as an editor) and I feel pretty strongly that almost every piece of writing can benefit from another pair of eyeballs -- eyeballs whose aren't the writer's. This will just help the piece become the best it can be, a worthy goal.
posted by swheatie at 7:02 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, you're right that once something has been published online, you wouldn't be able to publish it in a more traditional fashion. So you should do your feedback-getting offline (or in closed online forums), and then decide what you want to do.
posted by swheatie at 7:06 AM on August 7, 2015

I don't know anything about publishing, and this is definitely an anomaly, but The Martian was published first for free on Andy Weir's website, and then as a 99-cent Kindle e-book. It's now a Random House best-seller. Just to contradict the "if you publish online you won't be able to publish in a traditional fashion."
posted by radioamy at 7:18 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

1. Put it away for a week or two, stop thinking about it for a bit, then come back and then read it.
2. Have someone else whose judgement you trust read it.
3. Revise accordingly.
4. Proof it yourself, then have someone else go over it.
5. Self-publish on Kindle.
posted by stormyteal at 12:01 PM on August 7, 2015

You say you are "currently finishing up" your book. Do I understand correctly that you're finishing up your first draft? If so, just to echo what some others have said, it is NOT time to submit it to agents, or to self-publish it or release it for free. It is rare for any author's first draft to be publishable quality. If you send out a book to an agent that is a long way from being ready, you risk burning your bridges with them. Better to get the book into the best shape you can before you start sending it out to gatekeepers.

So, I think your first step should be to find one or more people who can read it and give you concrete and useful feedback. This likely means showing it to other writers (published or unpublished), rather than showing it to close friends without writing experience.

Unfortunately, I don't know enough about New Adult writing in particular to steer you towards a New Adult writers critique group. If your book is at the young end of New Adult, and could conceivably be classified as YA, you could join the SCBWI and see if they can hook you up with a critique group. (Actually, it might be worth emailing the SCBWI in any case-- I don't know if they cover New Adult, but if they don't, they might be able to steer you towards a group that does.)

Alternatively, if your book fits into a particular genre, you might try joining a group for writers of that genre. For example, if your book is sci-fi, here is a list of sci-fi writers' groups. (Note that I don't know anything about any of these particular groups-- I just found the list via Google to use as an example.)

Finishing the first draft of a novel is a hugely impressive task and you should be very proud of yourself. But you should also be aware that it is just the beginning of a long journey towards finding an audience!

Once you've found other writers who are willing to read and critique your manuscript, while you're waiting for their feedback, you can do some homework by looking for successful works that are similar in tone and spirit to your book. If they were self published, what techniques did the authors use to promote themselves? If they were traditionally published, which agent represented them? (You can often find the agent mentioned in the acknowledgments, or by some googling.)

By the time you have gotten feedback and gone through a few revisions, you might find you have enough data to figure out the best way of getting your polished, professional-quality manuscript out into the world.
posted by yankeefog at 12:58 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

The first step is revision. Try to find a critique group with writers in your genre, if you can't find one in your area, there are groups online. After you revise your novel, then it will be time to query agents.

Unfortunately, there are many, many free books online, but not so many readers. New Adult is supposedly one of the more popular genres, so it might be more satisfying to try for traditional publication before self-publishing.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:50 PM on August 7, 2015

Well, do you want to build a writing career or not? If yes, then looking into an agent/getting someone else to publish it might be for you. If you just want to say you wrote a book and have a few friends/random Internet strangers read it and you're fine with that and stopping there, then the self-publishing or free approach may be just your bag.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:54 PM on August 7, 2015

How many drafts have you written? If the number is under three, it's probably not ready for publication.

How many other people (who are not your friends or family) have read it and given you feedback? Again < 3 means it may be too early.

Have you hired a professional fiction editor to look at it and give you comments?
posted by storybored at 7:08 PM on August 8, 2015

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