The last publisher to reject me before I made the decision to go independent was McAdam-Cage Publishing, a small press out of San Francisco. Most notably, they published Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. In their rejection note for my novel, Gospel for the Damned, they wrote:
“While we enjoyed your imagery and post-apocalyptic SF setting, we felt that the material overall felt a bit too familiar – these days there are quite a few apocalypse epics, and you might have to try a bit harder to differentiate yours from the rest of them.”
(This was written in June of 2012. How many successful apocalypse novels have there been since then, each vaguely familiar with the next? But, I digress.)
The note concludes with: “Please keep us in mind for future submissions.”
Though rejected, I was flattered by their respect to my efforts, and their invitation to submit more of my work. So, after completing The Quieting West, I looked in to sending them a copy of the manuscript. I came to learn they filed for bankruptcy in January of 2014. If they had accepted my first book for publication, chances are it would never have seen the light of a bookseller’s store.
This brings up the precarious nature of publishing – no matter if it’s a small press or some guy in his basement – and puts all authors in a common conundrum: How can I best get my book into the hands of readers?
At a recent writer event, I sat between a pair of authors who had little to say, in a positive light, about their individual experiences being published by a small press. They complained about the amount of self-promotion they had to do; the same amount I was doing, to comparative “success.” At the same time, they were disappointed in the lack of creative control they had over their covers and marketing. Finally, they make no more off the sales of their books than I do.
After grilling me with questions about self-publishing, one of the authors decided they would give it a go with their next novel. While I supported their choice, I can’t honestly say I’d recommend one path to publication over another. Even the largest publishing houses teeter between success and flop with every new author. Their only security is that they’ve been around so long that they have an established back list to fall back on. That’s what truly separates traditional publishers from the rest of us, I think.
Since we’re being honest here, as I’ve written in other posts, I would advise any new author to run the gamut of traditional publishing – query letters, agents, submissions and rejection, lots of rejection – before deciding to go indie. You’ll either rule out that option, or find great success.
Whichever path you take, I wish you luck. You’ll need it.