The best thing about self-publishing is that no one has to put a manuscript in the drawer because they couldn’t find a a publisher.
The worst thing about self-publishing is that no one has to put a manuscript in the drawer because they couldn’t find a publisher.
Only it’s not the first novel I’ve written.
Five years ago I started working on a different novel, an adult science-fiction novel. It had all the trademark qualities of a stereotypical first novel: It was way too ambitious, I bit off more than I could chew, I was wedded to all of the parts that weren’t working, and I was too stubborn to change them.
I sent out my queries and I received my share of rejections, along with a few manuscript requests. One agent in particular sent me some positive feedback and offered to take a look at a revision. But this agent’s advice finally drove home for me what I hadn’t wanted to admit up until that point:
The novel just wasn’t working.
I knew he was right about what needed to change, but I didn’t have any idea how to make the changes. I had been thinking about that manuscript too long and didn’t see how I’d to tackle the revision. I knew I could revise, but I just didn’t think it was going to work.
So I thought about just cutting my losses and experimenting with self-publishing. I could just put the manuscript out there and see what happens.
Only… around that same time, the germ of a new idea popped into my head: A kid trapped on a planet full of substitute teachers. I brainstormed around that, dashed off a few pages, and it felt like it was working. So I put the old manuscript in the drawer and ignored it and got to work on the new novel.
Six months later I was querying JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW. A few months after that I was deciding between publishers. And two years after that… well, that’s now. It’s coming out, with two more on the way.
I’M SO GLAD I PUT THAT FIRST MANUSCRIPT IN THE DRAWER.
Trust me when I say this: It’s hard putting a manuscript in the drawer. It’s a huge blow to the ego, it’s utterly painful to think back of all the time you spent writing that novel and dreaming about what would happen when you’re finished and admitting to yourself that you came up short.
But it’s not time wasted, and you didn’t come up short. The next novel you write is bound to be better. That time you spent writing that novel was an essential learning experience. I’m so glad that the first novel people will read with my name on it is JACOB WONDERBAR and not that other novel.
Now… not every novel belongs in the drawer, and I’m not trying to say here that everyone who can’t find a publisher should just give up and forego self-publishing. I really believe that self-publishing is awesome and am not trying to say that no publisher should = no book out there.
But especially when it’s a first novel, especially when you’re ready to get back on the horse and try again, especially when you have a new idea you’re excited about… there’s a lot to be said for just putting the first one in the drawer and trying again.
Now that plenty of time has passed, who knows, maybe someday I’ll try and tackle that novel again down the line.
I’m just glad I made that difficult decision and gave myself another first shot.