By Michelle Cameron, TWC Director
I have nothing but praise for my no-longer-agent. She worked with me on my Jewish historical manuscript for about a year, making it legions better than it was when she first accepted it. She sent it on two rounds of submissions to all the big houses – garnering praise but no offers. As she watched this happening, she did what agents have to do to stay in business, backing away from me to lavish time and care on other authors. I can’t fault her.
But she couldn’t sell my book. Really, this wasn’t her fault. The very last rejection came with the explanation I’ve been hearing from so many of my historical novelist friends: “we haven’t had much luck with historicals set before the 20th century. We’re primarily looking for historicals set in more contemporary times.”
(And, of course, the snarky part of me wonders – historicals set in more contemporary times? What makes them historical?)
So, my agent dumped me. As usual in our relationship, I had to reach out before she’d admit it. This may not be true of all agents, but I learned that my particular one hates to give bad news. Whenever I didn’t hear from her within a reasonable period, what she eventually had to say was never good.
So I had expected this. And unlike other times she had disappointed me, this time I was prepared. Because this time I had gone rogue.
I had been watching a friend of mine, who had fruitlessly pursued agents and publishers for years, finally publish on SheWrites Press (SWP). SWP is a hybrid press, where the author pays to have their book published. What makes SWP different from other self-publishing options is that they don’t just accept every book that comes along. They place books on one of three levels – Track 1, which is ready for publication with just copy editing (they say this only happens in 7-8% of the cases), Track 2, which includes content as well as copy editing, and Track 3, where the book needs more help developmentally, which SWP is happy to provide.
Each of these levels comes with a price point, and no one should be surprised that the price ain’t cheap.
But the books they produce have high production values, as I learned when I attended my friend’s book launch party, with thoughtful, beautifully rendered covers and industry quality interiors. SWP is reviewed in all the standard publications except for Kirkus. They are well regarded in the hybrid publishing world. And, due to SWP’s distribution through Ingram (the industry standard) and working with a publicist, my friend has done well promoting and selling her books.
After reading my earlier blog post about the lack of control during the submission process, she wrote me the kindest email, urging me to consider SheWrites. So, without consulting my agent and before she gave me her final bad news, I submitted the first 20 pages.
Last week my evaluation came back. I had achieved Track 1 status – straight to copy editing and publication. I also received a massive author’s guide and was asked to set up a phone conversation with SWP’s publisher, Brooke Warner.
But I dithered here. To meet SWP’s requirements, I would have to significantly cut my manuscript – the novel could not exceed 120,000 words. The price tag, of course, was daunting. I was – am – still reluctant to go with something so many of my peers would consider self-publishing. And, even though my agent had resisted submitting my novel to any but the “Big Five,” I wanted to try a couple of smaller publishers that specialized in Jewish work.
So – still without consulting my agent – I sent out a couple of queries. Within a day, I received back a positive response from one publisher who, self-described as “tiny,” aspires to become “merely small by 2019.” In addition to asking me to send them my full manuscript, they informed me that they had bought a copy of my previous novel. I emailed my manuscript that day and am waiting on their response.
So here I am. I can publish with SWP, paying a steep price for their reputation, quality and distribution. I don’t know yet if I have a second choice with the tiny publisher and there are significant unknowns even with them. I’m compiling a list of questions to ask if they do accept the manuscript, including what their distribution and marketing would be, to help me decide whether they’re better than I could do with SheWrites. (At least I wouldn’t be paying the publishing price!)
But I have to admit that I feel strangely untethered without an agent. With my pending choices, having an agent makes no sense – she couldn’t sell my book to the Big Five and the tiny publisher would offer too little to interest her. But I will miss the thrill of being able to say “my agent.” I’ll miss that a lot.
In any case, stay tuned. I’ll be back on the blog when I know more.