Now, lest this become the shortest blog post in the history of procrastinating writers, let me go on with some inflammatory remarks.
Re: All self-publishing of fiction is vanity publishing. Shocking, I know.
Honestly, where did this debate come from? The difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing? Well, one sounds like the act of a self-starter, and the other sounds pathetic. Both mean that the person who decided to publish the book is the author. Not, you know, a publisher. In non-fiction, self-publishing can be completely legit and a good idea. You have a collection of yam recipes and think you can reach every yam fan in America? Go for it, because Random House probably isn't interested.
Here's the problem when it comes to novels: readers like them. I know, this shouldn't be much of a problem, but it is for the vanity-publishing fiction writer. Because there are bookstores full of people buying fiction. Not so many as we might like, but they're there. Some writers are even— get this— earning a living selling their novels. A few are getting rich! Okay, a very few, but there it is. And they're doing it with all kinds of novels! Terrific novels in translation about North African refugees and Romanians living under Ceausescu (look it up). They're even selling wonderfully engaging tales of young wizards, and ridiculously bad books about vampires.
But I digress...
The problem with all these readers buying all these different books is that it means for would-be authors that novels sell. Which leaves the hopeful writer with few excuses when theirs don't. A few excuses I'd like to take down:
—"New writers don't sell!" MYTH. They sell all the time. People with zero experience sell their manuscripts every day of the week. As in, sell novels for money. Big money, some of them.
—"Agents never read query letters!" MYTH. Don't tell the agents, because they read so many that they are frequently driven to drink. Hint: at the conference, look in the hotel bar. See the zombies at the corner table in the back? Those are agents. If you do have brains, they want them.
—"You have to be a celebrity to publish a book!" MYTH. You have to be a celebrity to publish a bad book. Actually, even that is not true.
And on, and on. Hopefully you're reading many, many agent and editor blogs and have heard all these and more. They are myths. There is only one thing standing between you and an agent, and between you and the publication of your book:
Sad but true. If you cannot get an agent it is because:
1. Your query letter is not good enough yet.
2. You have not sent your query letter to the right agent yet.
3. There is a problem with your query letter or your book.
Honestly, when the book is great and you get it in front of the right people, you have a fine chance of seeing your book legitimately published. I'm not promising you'll make even a single house payment with your advance, but you'll have your book in your hands, in a cover, and someone else will have paid for it. It's a good moment. I promise.
So how do we end up with self-published fiction, the Ultimate Don't?
It's the part about the book being great. Writers can be, well, a bit blind when it comes to their own work. I was lucky; when I started out years ago I knew I sucked. My Hemingway-esque shit-detector was indeed built-in and shock-proof. I'm not saying I'm fabulous now, but I'm serviceable and improving.
The wide variety of fiction being sold dooms every excuse when considering the future of your novel. There are no small audiences in fiction. There is a category for everything. A shelf for all shoppers. If it's so irretrievably weird that it doesn't fit in a genre, well, the word for that is "literature." Unless it's something the Feds should arrest you for, it will find a niche if someone, somewhere thinks it will sell. I will find a home for it while shelving in my local library, I promise. We even have The Story of O on our shelves, although I don't think the parents know it...
If you write a novel, and a solid query letter, and send professionally it to many agents who handle similar material (don't use a query service, do personalize your letters), and your novel does not attract an offer of representation, move on. How many agents? One hundred, if you can find them. Write another novel. Eventually you may write one that will sell. When that happens, you will either:
1. Go back, revise your early novel or novels, and sell them.
2. Go back, be appalled by your early novel or novels, and burn them.
You won't lose anything. Just don't waste your time and money self-publishing fiction. There's really no point to it. Write another book. If you only intend ever to write the one book, I'm not talking to you anyway. I'm talking to writers, not hobbyists.
That's it, then. Stop Doing That because there are too many readers for fiction. Novels of all kinds from every sort of writer sell all the time. Yes, it is hard. It is not impossible. If one book doesn't sell, move on to the next. It will be better. Honest.