Last week I heard an agent speak about the number of queries that landed on her email desk in a year. One hundred thousand, she said, and her audience looked up from their scratchpad notes aghast. “Of those,” she added, “I was able to take on twenty-three as clients.” A hiss spread across the room, a silibant echo of one of my favorite swear words when I am disappointed or have stepped in something.
April Eberhardt went on to describe the new age of publishing in which the author is in total control of getting his/her book out of the computer and into the hands of potential readers. Self-publishing. Used to be another dirty word, but by the time Ms. Eberhardt had finished, a number of us, including the three women sitting on either side of me were wide-eyed and grinning at each other. Hopeful our faces were, the way I feel when I have sent out a really good query and I know I’ll be asked for pages shortly.
As I walked home, the doubt set in. A memory of a friend’s mother’s autobiography came to the surface. The book detailed her many trips off the main road of widowhood into the beckoning woods of sex and libido. Her stories all began with “I” and we didn’t really get to know any of the men, but what made me finally put it down unfinished was the book’s great need for editing, both line and content.
Similar books have created a bad name for self-publishing. Vanity presses have made millions for themselves, seldom for the authors, producing books that moulder in the back of car trunks or garages after the first twenty copies have been handed to friends and relatives. This particular book went to few relatives, its contents a bit purple for most of them. Her daughter recycled the remainders when she emptied her mother’s home, saving a copy, along with the cut lead crystal pitcher she held back from the estate sale lady, to bring back memories and smiles.
However, now, with Kindle and other e-readers, the agent assured us, all that is changing. We writers have to become knowledgeable about the new technology. Give up the vision of a book in hand for the reality of a book in the ether. Besides, she said, if our book is successful (that is, sells a few thousand downloads), we’ll make more money than we would have with an agent and a contract.
But first, we have to hire other experts to help us get it all together, she said. A good editor, a graphic designer, a marketing consultant. My seat partners and I had left the auditorium convinced we could do all this.
Why is it, then, that I continue to check my email twice a day? To wait for word that a stranger wants to see the whole book? To say no to a husband offering a Kindle after he’s listened to me describe this meeting? Is it that I need to be validated by some sort of judge before I can believe in my writing? Or is it my hope that when my home is cleaned out, a grand daughter will pick up a book with my name on it, will say, “I want this,” and will put it on her book shelf and think of me once in a while.