Leaping into the traditional publishing mist

Photo by Filip Zrnzevic

I think I know how those deer must feel.

They’re racing through the trees. Thundering, steaming, quivering, heavy, powerful, and fast.

There’s a road. Right ahead. A split-second decision: slew aside and stay in the trees, or leap across the road? If they leap, there’s a chance some random speeding truck will crash out of the mist and SLAM!

The odds? Unknown. Unknowable. Truly random.

The road in my path is traditional publishing.

A description of my race through the trees so far:

When I came home all wartorn and started learning how to write novels for my chosen second career, there was only one route in. Traditional publishing. Represented by a literary agent and published by one or more of the big houses. So at the same time as I was learning how to create and craft a novel, I was also studying the industry.

It didn’t happen. Not for me. I finished my first novel, polished it to the highest gleam I could possibly produce, and started submitting it to agents while getting on with writing the next one, and the one after that. No joy. Quite a few “good work, keep trying” responses, but no offers of representation. And as we writers all know, that long process is utterly exhausting.

What I did get was an offer of publication by a small publisher. Which I accepted. Then another, and another. Three in four months. It put me on the small house publishing path, and I followed it. Until the path and I went in different directions when the economy pushed those houses into focusing on genres I don’t write. But that was okay, because by then self-publishing had become a thing. So, I thought, there was my new path.

Meanwhile, my writing was developing, as anyone’s will if we keep working at it. I’d become a craftsman, even a craft mentor for others, and I really work at my art. So when, toward the end of 2015, I finished two big novels, Storywalker and The Honesty of Tigers, I decided to sub them to agents and see what might happen.

Nothing happened. At least, no offers. Quite a few more encouraging responses, and six heart-in-the-mouth “so nearly there” ones. Each of those six agents said she absolutely loved the book and had no doubt that someone would rep it and someone would publish it, but. Various industry-related reasons.

So a year or so later (because, yeah, glacial response times) I self-published Storywalker and Tigers, and they’ve been very successful. Within certain terms of reference. Those who’ve read them love them. Their reviews are wonderful. But of course my books, no matter how great they might be, have done what most self-published books do no matter how great they are. They’ve disappeared into the huge mass of self-published books.

I have a short reach. Those inside it are loyal, and I love you, but those outside our cozy campfire glow never hear about my books.

My path, I came to understand, is to keep writing the best books I can while accepting that if any of them ever achieve great success, it will probably be a posthumous event.

That’s how I started 2017, and I continued to feel that way while writing this year’s book, Space Train. Right up until I was tying off its loose ends and getting ready to send it out to my lovely crit partners and beta readers, and I happened to see someone’s tweet about Angry Robot opening to unagented subs in November.

Now, I like Angry Robot. A lot. I would very much like to be published by them. And if I’m going to try traditional publishing again, despite all those wasted years spent banging my bruised head against locked doors, I’ve discovered there are now one or two other respected houses who also accept unagented subs.

So there’s my road, right ahead. I’m pounding powerfully along my path with a newly finished space opera novel I’m proud of, and suddenly there’s a road to be either slewed aside from, or leapt.

I’m leaping.

Wish me luck! 🙂

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8 Responses to Leaping into the traditional publishing mist

  1. Margaret says:

    Good luck. I’ve tried their open submission once years ago. They’re a good company from everything I’ve heard. Hope Space Train catches their attention.

  2. Good luck, my friend. Keep us posted.

  3. Good luck, David. Tor also accepts unagented work.

  4. JazzFeathers says:

    HI! I stumbled upon your blog on twitter and since I’m going to try Angry Robot too, I decided to read it.

    I could have written the excat same article. I wonder if this is just the common path all authors go. I dont’ know whether this is comforting or discouraging… but this seems to be the refrain of the author’s life.

    Good luck to us. As they always say, we receive so many ‘nos’ but all it takes is one ‘yes’ 😉

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