I’ve spent a lot of time writing a novel called The Monster Within. If you ask me, the thing’s pretty damn good. While I may not be the most unbiased judge of the story’s merit, I have to say that even after spending countless hours honing it, I still enjoy sitting back and reading it.
The thing is, I suck at selling stuff. I sent the novel off to some of the top agents in the biz, and got kind rejections. Almost universally the rejections actually contained specific commentary, which is unusual. The main message: We like the writing but way too many pages. The length is a problem because a) there are a lot of 300-page stories trapped in 700-page manuscripts out there, and b) the book would have taken too much physical space in a rack (can’t fit in as many copies), and would cost more to print.
As to a) above, I had completely failed to convey the complexity of the story. I kept trimming the message to the agents, smallifying the synopsis to fit submission requirements, but in the process losing so many elements of the story that of course the agent would say, “125k words for this little story? *Yawn*” The navel-gazing preamble did nothing to reassure the reader that a tight story was to follow.
Regarding b), Monster is a fantasy novel, and readers these days expect them to run fat. That doesn’t change the economics of cutting down extra trees for a guy no one has ever heard of before.
In the end, my poor sales skills and lack of perseverance led to my failure to form a partnership with someone trained in exactly those qualities, and Monster rests idle.
Since those failures, the Kindle came out, and Amazon stabbed the already-wounded bookstore chains in the soul. Nook and iBookstore followed. Books aren’t necessarily made of paper anymore. A fat novel costs the same to distribute as a pamphlet. (Well, almost.) I could publish Monster myself. Charge a lot less yet put more money per book into my own pocket.
That’s great, right? Stick it to the man! Who needs all those editors in their New York offices?
Actually, the reading public owes those guys quite a lot. The stuff the big publishers put out falls into two categories: good writing and crap that will sell anyway. In the Kindle bookstore, there is a frothing cauldron of sewage with a few choice works bubbling to the top. When you pick up a book made of paper, at least someone somewhere thought it was worth cutting down a tree. If that book has a name on it and it turns out to be a worthless piece of shit, you know to avoid that name (and perhaps that publisher), and to disregard all the glowing reviews by people who don’t actually read the books. Eventually you will find those you do trust, and by letting them screen the novels before they reach you, they protect you from a lot of crap.
Unless you get caught in a spiraling disaster like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, which doesn’t fall so much into the ‘crap that will sell anyway’ category as it does in the “remember the good old days at the start of this series when Bob had an editor?” bin. I suspect the publisher would have loved to help him tighten his story, only Jordan, as a self-proclaimed genius (I heard him proclaim it), would have none of it. The only people reading the series by then were the people with so much invested in the roughly ten bazillion pages that had already gone by that they were willing to tough it out just to get to the end.
Um… I’m drifting off-point here. I started to say that editors helped readers with a major signal-to-noise problem and then I provided two concrete counterexamples. I think in debate class this was a frowned-upon tactic.
But, signal-to-noise. That’s the key here. Editors and agents are filters, reducing but not eliminating the noise. If I self-publish Monster, I will be living in the realm of pure noise. As bad as it is in the dead-tree publishing world, it’s far, far worse in the self-publish world. There’s a lot of really bad fiction out there.
So how does one float to the top of the cesspool? How do I separate myself from the blather and unmitigated horribleness? How do I convince people who have never heard my name to spend a couple of bucks on my book?
There are two things I must do:
- Have a great cover.
- Make a lot of noise.
Yep, to overcome the signal-to-noise problem, I have to make more noise. It’s like being at one of those parties where everyone is talking really loudly and you realize that nobody would have to shout if everyone would just stop shouting. But to sell this book, I’ll be calling on all of you to amplify my voice. I will be resuming my podcasts. I’ll probably fire up a Web site for the book. And I will relentlessly bug everyone I know to buy the damn thing, and if they liked it to leave reviews on Amazon and iBookstore. I’ll be emptying out my address book on this one. Just tellin’ you now, so you can be ready for the awkward conversation later.
First, however, is the cover. I’ve had the cover in my mind for a long time, and one thing about self-publishing is that no joker who’s never read the story is going to put some generic “insert standard hero here” shot on the cover. (Hunter is a non-standard hero.) The biggest problem with my vision is that it will be both difficult to pull off and not especially powerful when viewed as wee icon in the bookstore. So you all have a reprieve while I get that into place.