Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why I'm Not Querying Agents This Time

November would mark the fifth time I'd be putting together literary agent queries for a novel. It would, but it won't, because I have decided to go straight to self-publishing.

For each of my previous four novels, I followed the same path, the traditional one, in seeking publication:

  1. I wrote the best book I could. I edited and polished and asked for (and used) feedback and agonized and fine-tuned until I knew I couldn't make the book any better.
  2. I researched literary agents in general, hunting for those who seemed most likely to be interested in my work. (I did this for each book, since agents enter and leave the profession all the time.)
  3. For each agent, I researched likes and dislikes, query requirements (letter only, letter plus first X pages, letter plus pages plus one-page synopsis, letter with no pages but with a five-page synopsis, letter plus pages plus new car... okay, maybe not the last one. But sometimes it feels that way.), ways to personalize my letters, and how other writers felt about the person.
  4. I assembled my queries and sent them out.
  5. I did the typical "writer triathlon": hope, pray, cross fingers.

Step six, of course, would be signing with a wonderful agent who would then pitch my work to publishers, who would buy it in step seven. Unfortunately, I am stuck in Five Land. I've been achingly close with several agents, but close doesn't count. (As Weird Al Yankovic sings, "Are we playing horseshoes, honey? No, I don't think we are." No hand grenades either.)

Agent research and query assembly take an immense amount of time. I've been shocked with each book just how long it takes to do it right. And doing it wrong is pointless: why query someone who has never sold a book even close to mine? It's not wasted time, but it's definitely time I could instead use to create new books.

But time management concerns aren't why I'm going query-free for the book code-named Blueberry. (No title yet. Soon, I hope!)

I am not querying because I am increasingly unsure I want an agent.

Sour grapes, right? I can't get an agent so of course I claim not to want one.

No. It's much more than that. I have always been an independent beast and the freedom of self-publishing is working well for me. Yes, I'm responsible for absolutely everything: cover, layout, title, back cover blurb, editing, promotion… but the good news is…

I'm responsible for everything. I like that. I succeed or fail, by my own efforts. And I am succeeding. My sales are steadily rising, I have readers now and they email to ask me to continue their favorite stories, and the books I love are out in the world.

Some time soon, probably January 2011, Blueberry will be too.

I am still torn, I must admit. I dream of seeing my books on the shelf at a bookstore (I even took a picture of my spot back in April 2009), and having an agent and a big New York publisher is the best route to that. Self-published novels are rarely if ever carried by bookstores, and if they are it happens because the author pushes to make it happen and that kind of hard-driving selling is so not my forte.

Agents do more than get you a deal that gets your books in stores, of course, and I also wish I could have one's professional advice and guidance. I'm not convinced anyone has all the answers in publishing but I know that good agents have lots more answers than I do. I have online writing buddies, of course, but I feel like we're all thrashing around together trying to figure out how to proceed. I'd love a good guide.

But for Blueberry, I'm choosing not to try for one. While I am thrilled to have my first four books out there via self-publishing and delighted beyond measure when I get email from readers (hint: if you love a book, let the author know… you can't imagine how much it makes my day to get a "hey, read your book and love it" note) self-publishing wasn't my first choice for any of them.

Now it is.

And it feels different. I believed in my books even after the agents said no (or didn't say anything… I queried ninety-five agents with "Planning to Live" and only seventy either responded or had guidelines indicating they'd only respond if interested), but the process did leave an "am I wrong in thinking readers will like this book?" taste in my mouth. I don't have that this time. I am going directly to the readers, and I'll let them tell me what they think.

Will I query again in the future? I can't say yet.

Blueberry is something of a special case: it brings back characters from my first two books, which are self-published, so self-publishing it directly makes sense. (If you like Kegan, Candice and Ian, and Forrest and Tess, watch for Blueberry! If you don't know these people, check them out. $2.97 will get you all four ebooks.)

My two post-Blueberry books (codenamed Cookie and Dinosaur despite my husband's lobbying for Dodecahedron) have what I think will be more agent-grabbing concepts than Blueberry's "a divorced woman chooses between the career she's longed for and the sexy but impossible boss she's fallen for", so I might end up querying for them.

But do you want to know a secret? I doubt it. I feel so free to write what I want to write, what I want to read, what the readers are telling me they like, and I can't imagine trading that for an agent and a shot at shelf space at Chapters.

I'd love to know what you think. Would you keep querying? Why or why not?

2 comments:

Jonita said...

It baffles me that you have yet to be snapped up by an agent. I have read so many truly crappy books that are being published by "traditional" publishing houses, and then I read your books, which I adore, and wonder why they are not out there. I'm actually hinting heavily at hubby that I would like a Kobo EReader for Christmas and when I get one, you know I'll be reading your first books.

Whatever you decide to do, now or in the future, this loyal reader will continue to read your books as soon as they come out.

Heather Wardell said...

There seems to be something in both my eyes for some reason. :)

Thank you so much! I hear good things about the Kobo reader so I hope your hints work. I do all my ereading (which is nearly all my reading) on my hand-me-down iPhone and it's great, but a reader might be nice too. Hmm. Christmas IS coming up... ;)

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