My decision to break away from the traditional model and publish GOODNESS FALLS independently was further validated this past week, when I received a very complimentary letter from an agent who, clearly unaware that I had already moved on and despite praising the novel and my writing talents, had determined not to offer her representation. Her decision reflects the reality that quality is often not the prime determinant of whether a book makes it to market; rather, it is regularly trumped by novelty and trendiness. This is no revelation, but it is an argument for a writer who believes in the quality of his/her work to pursue an alternative course to publication. But what reinforced my choice was the length of time it took this agent to make the determination to reject the novel. It illustrates one of the reasons that many authors are moving away from the old model: it just takes too damn long. In a world that is constantly accelerating, the traditional publishing process continues to churn at its long-established glacial pace so that in addition to the months/years an author has already spent writing must be added what is typically an eighteen-month process of cover design, editing, copy editing, promotion, sales, etc. before, if it is lucky, it lands on a shelf in a bookstore.
The aforementioned agent is one for whom I have high regard and with whom I would love to work. She is, however, part of a monolithic structure that in its reluctance to evolve is inching slowly – ever so slowly – towards extinction. As a case in point, let’s trace my history with this agent. I originally contacted her early in 2013 with a standard query. Upon her request, I immediately provided a partial manuscript based upon which she requested a full manuscript. In September, she responded enthusiastically to the manuscript and offered some very insightful critiques and asked for a revised version. By Thanksgiving, I had rewritten the entire novel and returned it for her perusal. Then . . . nothing. I didn’t hear from her until last week. By which time (after only beginning the process in January of 2014), I had author’s copies of GOODNESS FALLS already in hand. Remember, even if her recent rejection had been an offer of representation, it would be some time in 2016 before the novel would be released. For some books, that may not be a problem. SO SHELLY, for example, did not require a rush to market because it is based on past events. Although GOODNESS FALLS addresses a number of timeless and universal themes, its plot is driven by the issue of sport-induced concussions, which is currently a hot topic in the zeitgeist. Right now, it has resonance. By 2016, however, the issue may be played out or, better yet, resolved. If I didn’t want to simply toss aside what has been years of work on this project and chalk it up as a near miss, I had little choice but to take the route of independent publishing. Other than a small percentage of superstar authors, legacy publishing fails to meet the needs/wants of its authors and, ultimately, readers.
Although, I have not ruled out a return to the traditional model for the right projects, it would be difficult to surrender the control and freedom I have discovered in the process of bringing GOODNESS FALLS to market. If I’m able to continue to carve out a niche and please my already-established readership, that will be more-than-enough to have made the experiment worth it.