Why I’ve gone indie, Part II

It really surprises me that so many writers are still trying to get agents in this day and age, automatically, immediately wanting traditional publishing instead of one of the many indie options now available. I can honestly say that I only spent so much time entering contests, querying, reading agent blogs, etc., because I was led to believe that was what I needed to do. For a long time, I didn’t have any real other avenues presented as viable.

As recently as a few decades ago, the typical writer didn’t have an agent. They submitted directly to editors or publishers, or published themselves. If a writer did have an agent, it wasn’t as a gatekeeper. The agent basically worked for the writer, instead of the other way around. It makes me sad to think about how many great books never would’ve been published if they’d been written in the era of the agent as gatekeeper. I can just think of the reasons agents would give for rejecting some truly classic literature.

I read some article which pointed out that a fairly recent list of the 100 greatest American novels of the 20th century had barely any books from the late Seventies/early Eighties onward. That’s about the time literary agents started gaining more prominence as gatekeepers, and writers gradually stopped being able to submit directly to editors and publishers. True, it takes some time for a book to become an established classic, but it does present a potential correlation between the rise of agents and the decline of great literature in abundance.

I’ve had some wonderful interactions with agents, in contests, behind the scenes, pitchfests, etc. I don’t want to paint them all as horrible. But it definitely seems like they’re becoming more and more obsolete, as indie publishing has become more viable and prominent. And it really doesn’t seem worth it to knock yourself out polishing a book to perfection, sending out a hundred or more queries over many years, constantly revising your queries, and have to smile and accept a parade of rejections and very disparate advice or opinions.

I’m acquainted with a lot of writers in the blogosphere who wrote their big “ZOMG I got an agent!” post quite some time ago, yet still haven’t been published. They’re made to rewrite a book for the mere sake of rewriting, might not have that particular book approved anyway, have to go on submission, and have to wait up to two years before finally getting in print. I’ve got too large of a back catalogue to be content with accepting a release date so far in future, and waiting perhaps two years between getting an agent and getting a publication date.

I’ve given up trying to figure out what exactly agents want. I’ve read so many recently-published books which go against the so-called rules and think it’s great such an old-fashioned writing style managed to get an agent. Then I happen upon books which wouldn’t have been published 30, 50, 100 years ago because they’re just not great literature. It’s not only about an agent’s personal taste, but also wanting commercial product. Funny how serious readers aren’t happy with a lot of what’s being published these days.

I feel bad for younger, newer writers who are led to believe it’s wrong to write anything above a certain length, use adverbs, directly tell the reader anything, use speaking verbs beyond “asked” or “said,” have an ensemble cast, or create slower-paced, character-driven stories over fast-paced and plot-centric. One agent blog had a query critique for a 110,000-word Civil War historical, and the agent wondered how such a sweeping story could take only 110,000 words. Someone in the comments rightly said that if the book were a more realistic saga length, it would be derided as way too long.

Just because many people these days have short attention spans doesn’t mean everyone does. I honestly don’t see anything over 100,000 words as “way too long” and in dire need of radical slashing and burning for no other reason than to make it shorter. A book of all of 300 pages is not an epic or saga.

I agree that when I was first querying, in 2000-01, one pretty much did need an agent to get noticed. But today, it’s much different. Agents seem to represent a dying breed and the status quo, as nice as some of them are.

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12 thoughts on “Why I’ve gone indie, Part II

  1. I think it’s wonderful that we have options now. Traditional publishers and agents, I guess, offer help with promotion and such, getting a writer’s name out there, or the book in certain bookstores, at least in the very beginning. That, we hope, helps with sales, but not everyone is looking at sales as the biggest factor, of course. But indie publishing is a definitely a good way to go.

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    • Slow and steady wins the race. Even if sales aren’t the best in the beginning, they can always pick up later, and slowly build to create more buzz and reputation for further books.

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  2. I’ve signed contracts for several books on my own last year and this year. Sure they’re not big 6 or 5 publishers, but I’m more savvy at marketing than I was when I started out and have high hopes for them. I’ve parted ways with several agents, but I would like to have an agent again one day.

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    • I wish more writers were as savvy as you about marketing. It seems like a lot of modern writers don’t even know it’s still possible to sign a contract on your own, instead of only going through an agent. I wouldn’t be averse to possibly ever having an agent, but I’d have to be completely on board with everything on a contract I signed, such as appropriate royalties and retaining rights.

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  3. I think (and this is just my opinion, of course) that for a lot of writers it’s about the achievement. Sure, writing a book is in itself a huge achievement, and managing to get that book published in any sense of the word is also a really big deal. But for a lot of writers, I think the dream of having a manuscript accepted by an agent or publisher holds some kind of power…it proves that you are truly a talent. You were ACCEPTED.

    This is nonsense of course…some truly abysmal writers have been traditionally published, and some outrageously wonderful and successful writers are indies. It all comes down to the individual in the end.

    As for the expectation of “perfection”…that’s one of the reasons I decided to go indie (at least starting out). I’ve had a number of critique partners yell at me for using too many adverbs, tell me that I’m being patronizing by “over”-explaining things, focusing too much (or too little) on character development, and so on and so on… But you know what? When I got around to sending my manuscript out to the beta-readers…suddenly none of those things were issues. My beta-readers pointed out little things about the plot that didn’t mesh, or the fact that my character hadn’t changed her clothes in a week, or that a particular scene might work better if it took place in a hospital instead of a hotel. No one gave a damn that I use a few more adverbs that might be necessary. No one told me that I was patronizing them with explanations or boring them with character development. No one complained that my story isn’t PERFECT. They complained about little things, actual aspects of the STORY, that took them out of the flow for whatever reason. The exact format wasn’t important: keeping IN the story was important.

    I think that’s the problem with a lot of agents and publishers, myself. They spend far too much time looking for someone who can follow all of the “rules” to a T, without actually looking for creative talent and interesting stories. The “rules”, such as they are (*cough*mostlymadeup*cough*) are not nearly as important as having an excellent story that makes people happy to read it.

    My 2 cents. ^_^

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    • Thanks for your very intelligent, thoughtful comments! It seems like a lot of editors, agents, and publishers these days operate by a one size fits all model, instead of considering what works for a particular story or a particular writer’s style or voice. When I’m reading a book, I’m not getting my knickers in a knot because there are adverbs, appropriate telling instead of only showing, or well-done, pertinent backstory early on.

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      • Agreed, definitely.
        Unfortunately, for agents and publishers, this is a business, and many times they will pass over a masterpiece in favor of (for example) a teen vampire romance, because that’s what’s “in” right now and is statistically more likely to make them money. That’s another reason I decided to go indie…lol…I don’t want my fate in the hands of people who only see my novel as possible dollar signs and nothing more. 😛

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  4. For me, it’s the story that determines the length. It needs to be however long it needs to to be to tell the story best. Period. Formulas simply don’t work. And forcing a book to fit a formula means that readers are getting dumbed-down reading material. Writers do readers a disservice when they don’t offer them the best they provide. It’s the difference between a Dior and a cheap knock-off.

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    • Very true. The best books end up at the length that works for them, be it short, in between, or long. I can’t imagine writers of 50+ years ago pre-planning a book at a certain length or freaking out if it ended up longer or shorter than expected.

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  5. I’m so old, I started writing when self-publishing didn’t exist. At least not in any form that anyone that didn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars was doing! I just kept at it…had independent publishing been around when I started, I might have sought a different path. It’s all changing so quickly!

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