Sunday, April 11, 2010

Publishable does not equal good

I've seen discussions going on in the blogosphere (many of them over at J.A. Konrath's) about how an indie author can determine if her writing is any good or not. The usual answer suggested is to submit your work to traditional publishers and agents. If it's good, you'll get a nibble or some sign of interest, and then you'll know it's good.

Well, maybe. I guess I've passed this test because I had one book published traditionally (it was back in the Stone Age, but hey, it counts!), I had one good agent email me and express interest in representing me because she loved my ebooks (and that doesn't happen often), and I did have another good agent representing me for a while. Conversely, I've been rejected by traditional publishers at least thirty times (eight of those for the book that Bantam finally bought) and by agents more times than I could count. Far more people associated with traditional publishing rejected me than accepted me. Does this make me a good writer, or a bad writer?

The fact is that good does not equal publishable. I haven't really gotten going in traditional publishing because what I write tends to be odd. For example, Bantam offered me a two-book contract, but they dropped me after the first book because publishers were emphasizing Regency-set historicals, and my books were set in colonial Virginia. Much later, after I finaled in the Brava novella contest, I got a phone call from the lovely and lamented Kate Duffy, who told me she enjoyed the partial but that nerdy heroes were so not what the Bad Boys anthologies were about. And I wrote Never Love a Stranger, which features a hero who is, as my tagline says, like no other. (You'll have to read the book to find out what I mean.)

Basically, I write weird crap. Don't get me wrong; you can sell weird crap, even in the romance genre, if you're very, very good and very, very lucky. But it all depends. If your crap is weird enough (and that sentence sounded really disgusting, sorry), you might never get a nibble from New York, and yet your writing might be positively brilliant. This is the sort of story that is tailor-made for indie publishing-- a story that is well-written but that somehow doesn't fit into the traditional publishing mold. Such a book is, I think, likely to do well in indie publishing.

My point is simply that running it by New York as a way to determine if you're publishable or not may not be helpful, because your writing may be great but quirky. It's also an agonizingly slow process (I still remember getting a rejection letter for All I Ever Wanted a year after it was published). So using traditional publishers as a gauge of your writing ability doesn't seem like a really feasible method to me, unless you really are committed to going the traditional route. Rejections don't really tell you a thing about your writing, unless they tell you exactly why you were rejected (and they rarely do). And in traditional publishing, almost everyone gets a whole hell of a lot of rejections.

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