All the News That’s Fit To… Keep in a Drawer and Submit to Agents.

In my previous post, about what’s going on with me and Pop Seagull, I alluded to something else. If you were wondering, the answer is yes, I have temporarily returned to the ‘dark side’ (said with a healthy dose of humor). I am trying the traditional publishing route again for my own work.

I think my post on the parts of this decision that have to do with Pop Seagull were elaborated quite well, so I won’t go into them again here. But, I think another post about my decision to return to traditional publishing is in order. I was a very staunch member of the indie camp for a long time, but I now feel, after all of the experiences I have had, that I have a foot in both camps. I thought it might be helpful for other people to hear my story, as I have found a balance between the two that is quite wonderful.

It is all a classic story of age and experience, really. I came into my twenties, all full of piss and vinegar and ready to start my career NOW. I had a lot of ideas, a lot of confidence (most of it warranted, some of it not so much) and some newfound professional writing experience under my belt that had proven to me that yeah, I was actually that good. I am also a very entrepreneurial sort, and not the type to let conventional thinking or the fact that something hasn’t been done much get in my way.

I was also, truth be told, a little frustrated with the traditional publishing industry. Despite it being the late aughts, most submissions were still snail mail, and it seemed like venues for publishing were shrinking all the time and becoming more and more dependent on the kind of ‘platform’ that no normal broke person has any chance of amassing. Furthermore, I had a strong feeling that most publishers, especially the big ones, were just not releasing or buying the kind of work that I wanted to read and write. I have always had a driving interest in seeing my place in the world represented, and encouraging works that are essentially fun and interesting before they are literary or preachy. I have a very punk rock sensibility about things that not everyone gets.

Enter a perfect storm of summer unemployment, a wonderful grant program looking to give money to young entrepreneurs employing new technology, and a lot of ambition, and I found myself in the shoes of a publisher. I had so many teachable moments and setbacks in those first one to two years as I navigated an industry that, at the time, was very opaque and hard to learn. Most of those adventures are documented on the Pop Seagull blog. There were so many times that I thought I could not go on, and then did. I begged and borrowed, never stole. But the most important experience for me personally was when I began releasing anthologies and put on my editor hat.

You see, a side effect of ambition and drive and outside-the-box thinking is often the propensity to be extraordinarily hard on yourself. When you see everything as your responsibility and within your control, rejection is especially hard. You see a rejection and think ‘I should have been so good they couldn’t say no. I didn’t do this well enough and that is why I failed.’ The equation of rejection with failure is a mental morass worthy of its own blog post, but I digress. It is also really easy to think ‘I know this was good. Good=Acceptance and Bad=Rejection, therefore they just don’t know what the reader wants’.

I know now that this thinking was absolutely wrong, and I want to tell every writer out there that is dealing with rejection: It may be about you. But it is far likelier that it’s not. Reasons I rejected things included:

  1. There was something just like it that I had already accepted, and the other story was only very slightly better for a very aesthetic reason
  2. I really really reeeeally liked it, but it did not fit with the theme
  3. I saw the merit in it and hoped someone else would buy it, but the style was not for me
  4. It was too long and I couldn’t afford it
  5. It was too short and I was trying to limit the number of authors and vary the pacing in the overall book
  6. The message did not resonate with me as a person
  7. It verged too far into a sub-genre that I’m not a fan of
  8. There just wasn’t any more space or budget, and the rejected story was #16 of a possible 15.

As an editor, I finally saw what the submissions process looked like from the other side, and the empathy and knowledge I gained finally killed my fear of rejection. I finally got the message that it is just part of the business. Suddenly, going back to traditional publishing did not seem so scary anymore, if it ever suited me to do so.

With this new revelation in mind, I picked up my manuscript for Distant Early Warning, my super Canadian, scary/emotional/adventurous ride through the wilderness with monsters at every turn, and submitted it to the Gollancz open submission contest last year. I waited a very long time, until I almost forgot about it. And then, two months ago, I got something incredible in the mail that I intend to frame.

It was a hand written rejection from the editorial team. I had been in the final 20 or so submissions, out of many thousands. Maybe, I thought, it might just be time to start producing more manuscripts, and getting those manuscripts out to some agents.

I guess, in the end, I’m still a little punk rock at heart. I encourage anyone to take the indie route if they feel it would be best for them, because I learned so much, and it was so good for me in so many ways as an artistic professional, that I could never tell someone not to do it. Hell, I built a business that I fully intend to turn into a phenomenon in good time. People learn and grow in different ways, and sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns. But I would also say that if you ever change your mind, it doesn’t mean it was all a mistake. Both indie and traditional publishing can live in harmony and be fruitful parts of someone’s career, and sometimes, as in my case, one even turns into the other.

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