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My dream: Write a novel (voila!), send to an agent (who would of course love it) who would then send it out to publishers, creating such buzz that there would be a bidding war. Result: Six figure advance, acclaim, fame, maybe a Pulitzer Prize.
It’s good to have a positive attitude.
My reality: It took a couple of years to finish the first draft of my novel and when that was complete I breathed a sigh of relief, patted myself on the back and started sending it out to agents. I fully expected some sort of interest, with a contract and a book deal to follow.
I got a lot of thanks-but-no-thanks form letters from those agents, but I also got a few encouraging, personal letters, some with advice on how to make my book better. Those notes were like gold stars; not good for much but they made me feel worthy. And I took all of the rejections and comments to heart and began the rewriting process.
If anyone thinks the first draft is the one that sells, guess again. There’s an old adage in the publishing industry: Seven drafts to final. Maybe it won’t take that long but the point is, writing a novel is work. It doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. So if you did it, kudos! You’re in an elite club.
Now it’s time to get down to the real work.
After revising my book for about six more years (I lost track of how many times) I knew I had to be finished with it once and for all. By this time I could use my rejection folder for a doorstop so I wondered, do I start sending the new-and-improved version out to the same agents? New ones? I’m not young – that prospect was disheartening. I thought if I started that process all over again I would be eighty before the damn thing got published (not that there’s anything wrong with publishing your first book at eighty).
So I weighed my options, ultimately decided to self-publish and eight years after I started my first novel I held a book in my hand; one with a beautiful cover and my name under the title. The thing is, after all those comments and feedback, after all that editing and revising, my self-published book was nearly perfect. I say ‘nearly’ because there is no such thing, at least not with my work, but as self-published authors we have an even greater responsibility to assure that what we’re putting out there is of the highest quality – there’s no one else who’s going to do it.
I’ve been on both sides of this publishing fence now – self-published and traditionally published – and there are plusses and minuses to both.The bottom line, no matter which way you go, is be proud of what you do; be astute, be conscientious, be your own worst critic and greatest champion. And then make your dream happen in the way that works best for you.
CWC 2013 panelist Samantha Hoffman self-published her first novel, What More Could You Wish For. It was later released on August 7, 2012 by St. Martin’s Press. A German translation of the novel was published in November 2013.
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