I asked Jeannette de Beauvoir for the following guest blog becuase of her experience and expertise. I knew Jeannette would give good advice to all writers, not just to novelists. Please drop her a note to thank her.
Once upon a time I wrote a novel.
That’s the way all good stories start, isn’t it? And that’s
the way that novels start, too: with an idea that eventually gets developed
into a work of fiction. And if you’re a serious novelist, you don’t stop at
writing: you keep working it until it’s the best that it can possibly be.
So I finished writing this novel and I submitted it, chapter
by chapter, painstakingly, to the online novels critique group at the Internet Writing Workshop.
I revised it. I revised it again. I had it critiqued again. I hired an editor
to work on it. And then I sent it to my literary agent, knowing that not only
was it the best that I could make it, it was decidedly the best thing I’d ever
written. (My first-ever novel was published in 1980, so I did have a decent
backlist to which to compare this particular book.) My agent loved it. He called me late in the evening to tell
me so. He said it was brilliant. And so I went on to my next project—that’s
what writers do, too—and waited for a fabulous offer to come in.
Here’s what I’m grateful for: I’m grateful that I wrote my
acknowledgments at the same time that I wrote the novel. Because this book was
critiqued so long ago that none of the people I thanked are even part of the
critique group anymore.
I started submitting it in the year 2001, and my agent
began shopping it in 2005 (yeah, revisions and editing do take that long). And earlier this year my agent and I agreed
that—for reasons that escape both of us—it just wasn’t going to sell to a
traditional publisher. So I pulled it out and went through it yet again and
finally, via Amazon’s Kindle and Draft2Digital, I put it up online as an ebook,
and will probably bring out a paperback version later this year.
Because the truth is that, despite everything, my re-read
convinced me that it’s still the best thing I’ve ever written. I say that with
three novels written and published in the interim, two of them with a major
publisher and one with a respected small press. I still think this is the best
thing I’ve ever written.
I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to do this independently.
My day job is that I’m a freelance editor, and I know what work goes into
professional editing—and how few so-called self-published books have availed
themselves of that step. I know the value of the gatekeeper concept that’s
behind traditional publishing, and I respect it.
As a reader, I’m very cautious
about purchasing books that haven’t gone through the lengthy, arduous, and
completely necessary process of critiques, vetting, professional substantive
and copy editing, and revisions. On the other hand, I thought, someday I will die. Do I want
this book to still be sitting on my hard drive when I do? That was enough to
move me to action. And it’s not the first time I’ve turned to Kindle: my
extremely lengthy medieval novel, The
Crown & The Kingdom, went that route several years ago, since the major
complaint of publishers (and this was before I had an agent, so I was
submitting it myself) was that it was too expensive to produce. So now InDark Woods (not a medieval novel!) has
Is this a tale of woe? No; but it is a cautionary tale. There’s too much talk on writing lists and
critique groups of traditional versus independent publishing, as though the two
were mutually exclusive and one somehow better than the other; and we’re going
to see so many changes in the industry in the next ten years that it’s worth
our while as authors to be a little flexible. To consider alternatives that we
hadn’t in the past. To persevere. And to always, always, always be professional
about it, whether it’s in hiring an editor—or in accepting that the “fabulous”
offer we were expecting just isn’t going to materialize this time around.
Because we’re novelists, and so there’s always going to be a
next time. It’s what we do.