Why self-publishing is not for me

Originally published Nov. 16, 2008

Even before I started querying literary agents, the queries came pouring in from friends and family.
Why go through all that?
Why not self publish?
Well, here is my answer:
I still have faith in the gatekeepers.
Self-publishing has its place.
Some people want full control of their written work. They want to retain all rights; They want to retain all profits. Other folks don’t have the time or the patience for agents. They see the flaws in the system and they are discouraged. And who can blame them? Some agents will toss manuscripts in the garbage for reasons as simple as margins that are too big or too small.Then there are the people who write only for limited and personal audiences. They write for themselves, their families and their friends. Retaining agents make no sense for them. It’s not worth the time or the effort.
But this is my career, or the career I want.
I want to be writing novels and non-fiction books when I am 80 and I want people to be confident when they go to a bookstore and pick up one of my books that it has passed certain tests—the tests of the industry.
The industry is not perfect, but agents and publishers do the best they can in a world in which paper prices are rising and the competition from electronic media is ever-increasing.
I have read some awesome self-published books and I have been saddened by the knowledge that those books will never reach their sales potential. That saddens me, not because the author is missing out of fame or fortune, but because I know so many others would enjoy reading those books as much as I have.
But those books will never get the distribution and exposure of an industry-published book.
I have also read some self-published novels that left me embarrassed for the author and wishing for a refund. Not only were they poorly written and poorly plotted, but they were riddled with errors.
That’s where the gatekeepers come in.
Sure, some lousy books slip through the gate. But 90 percent of the novels and non-fiction books that make it to the presses through non-vanity publishers are pretty darned good.
And yes, I’ve encounter some agents who were egotistical jerks. I even hung up on one. But 90 percent of the agents that I’ve queried or spoken with have given good, solid and well-intended advice along with their rejections. Some have rejected me with form letters, but the letters were constructively written and professional.
So I will plod on.
I will continue taping my favorite rejection letters to the wall above my desk. I will continue honing my novel, my query letter and my non-fiction proposal based on the constructive criticism of those agents who have nothing to gain by spending time addressing me individually, but who do so out of a passion for the industry.
I will continue to have faith in the gatekeepers.

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