Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Anne Rice Gives Advice

Before there was Edward Cullen, there was Lestat.

Before there was the Cullen ‘family’, there was the Theatre des Vampires.

Before there was Stephenie Meyer, there was Anne Rice.

Rice is the author of the bestselling Vampire Chronicles, a series which have sold more than 80 million copies since the debut of Interview With The Vampire in 1976. I personally enjoyed the first few books in the series, though I stopped reading after…book 4, I think. The Magpie picked up Interview a couple of years ago and loved it. The tales of Louis and Lestat were much more interesting to her than Bella and Edward, though I think she also stopped reading after book 3. Of course, as a college student, who has time to keep reading for pleasure?

Anyway, Anne Rice knows a thing or two about writing and publishing. Late last week, she posted a video on Youtube, offering encouragement to new writers.

Now, on the overall, I like what she says. She’s encouraging. She gives a great, positive message on persistence. It’s a message I needed to hear, as I have to say I’ve been a bit down this month. There is one problem, though. If you didn’t watch the video all the way through, at about the 9-minute mark, Rice says:

“…you’ve sent it to every New York publisher you know of, and they’ve all rejected it. What do you do then? Do you give up? No, you do not give up. Self publish.”

She goes on to discuss how it’s never been easier to self publish (true), then touts the seemingly-weekly stories of little authors gone big (think Amanda Hocking, E.L. James, Tracey Garvis-Graves).

Rice is absolutely right, it has never been easier to self publish. But she leaves out the critical piece, and that is this: is your novel ready for publishing?

Presumably, if you’ve been sending it to agents and/or editors, you believe it’s ready, but writers make mistakes all the time. We alternate between self-doubt gnawing away, telling ourselves we’ll never be good enough, ever. And then we have moments of soaring self-confidence, where we’re convinced we’re the second coming of…someone super-incredible. Being objective is not easy. The thing is, what Rice doesn’t say, and what a lot of writers either don’t realize or choose to ignore, is this: If a novel is getting constantly rejected, there’s a reason for it. It could be the query is not doing its job. It could be you’re not reaching out to the right people. It could be the market is just not quite there. Or it could be the novel isn’t good enough, or isn’t quite polished to the shine required to get it to the next level.

And this is the toughest part of this whole publishing thing, really. Writing the book is perhaps the easiest step, at least in my (admittedly limited) experience. It’s also the most fun part of it all. The joy of creating worlds, breathing life into people and putting them through heaven and hell. That’s easy. That’s exhilarating. Bringing those characters to a wide audience is the hard part. As Rice points out, however, not as hard as it used to be.

There was a person over in AW recently who posted his query letter for review. He mentioned that in the first 25 queries he sent out, he got a 60% response rate. SIXTY PERCENT! Ultimately, everyone passed on his fulls, so he was seeking feedback on his…query. Uh, seems to me there’s nothing wrong with a query that garners a 60% response rate, even if, as he said, the rate fell off in recent rounds (I’m not sure how many total he’s sent out; he says ‘many more.’) He’s got something there, a story that’s good enough to hook agents in, but if he’s getting rejected on fulls he needs to do more work on the rest of his book. But if this guy follows Rice’s advice, his book will be hitting the shelves sometime soon, and that may actually be the worst possible thing he could do. His book just may not be ready. By rushing to publication

Look, the fact is, agents and editors are often wrong, and they’re more than willing to admit it. They may be wrong about your book, too. But before you rush to self-publish, make sure your story is ready. I mean, really, really ready.

This is all obvious stuff, I realize, but sometimes it just needs to be reiterated. Especially after a famous author like Anne Rice tells you to self-publish. Meanwhile, I recommend popping over to Chuck Wendig’s blog today. He’s got some advice on cultivating instinct, to help you know when you’re ready and when you’re not. Thanks for stopping by, as always.

6 Responses

  1. I would never self-publish myself. Part of that is because it's way too much work, and part is because if its not good enough to be traditionally published, then it's not good enough to be published at all. But having said that, there are many paths to publication. We all must figure out the best one for ourselves. On a personal note, don't give up. Perseverance is often what differentiates the published from the non-published. And one thing I do know, PL is definitely good enough to traditionally publish. And of course, you know, if you ever need a foot in the door, mine is always available.

  2. I'm so happy someone else remembers Anne Rice. When this latest vampire craze hit I was all, "Please. Anne Rice did this already" and everyone was all, "Who's Anne Rice?" *shakes head* Anyway, I think you're absolutely right about your book being ready. And I think writers who self-pub prematurely give all Indie/Self-pubbed writers a bad name. I mean I know people who refuse to read self-pubbed books because so many of them are rife with errors and other problems. So yes, if you're going to self-publish, you should do everything you can to make sure your book is polished and ready. Also I think that there are a handful of projects out there that are not being rejected for good reasons. There are tons of stories about writers with novels that were rejected over and over and over on so many levels and eventually went on to be very successful. John Grisham's A Time to Kill comes to mind. He did get it published but it had a small print run. I think there are writers whose books are ready and whose books are good and for some reason, they are just not getting through. Of course such writers are the exception, not the rule. I've also read books by self-pubbed writers that were absolutely fabulous and the writers chose to self-pub simply to avoid all the time and trouble of the legacy publishing process. I chose the traditional route but I can definitely see great advantages to self-pubbing. I might have gone that route myself had I been on subs much longer!

  3. Good points here, Jeff. Yeah, if you're getting requests from your query but then they pass on it, the author needs to be getting more feedback on the ms. The query works just fine.

  4. Anne Rice! She's always so classy. Thank you for posting this video, Jeff. 🙂

    That said, the stage you're describing has to be one of the most difficult in any writer's career. It has to be. So many viable options. So many potential outcomes. You're right. It's imperative that the writer feels ready!

  5. I think it's natural to want to improve what you already rock at (i.e. your query), because it makes things even shinier very quickly. The things you're not good at are harder to face, because it's such an uphill battle! And I totally agree that self-publishing isn't a good solution to avoiding the uphill battle. You've got to make it either way, or you might as well not even go there.

  6. Yeah, it's a tough call I think. Because it can be (and has been) very hard to break in for people whose books were later successes, so agents and editors can't be infallible. But at the same time they do have the experience and can make educated judgments on a manuscript–self publishing is definitely a difficult, very careful decision to make.

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