It was the second book I ever wrote (the first is this glorious kind of mess that I do intend on resurrecting one day) and I thought I had figured out this book-writing thing. Friends told me it was great. When I saw hundreds of agent rejections, those same friends said things like, "Have you thought about self-publishing? I heard about this author who makes so much money doing that."
This was in that weird transitional period of self publishing where some industry people were just starting to admit its validity as a publishing option.
But I knew self-publishing was not right for that book. As green as I was, I knew how hard it was (and is) for self-published authors to sell books in the YA market. After querying it ad nauseam, I put it aside and started writing another book (which would become Dragons are People, Too).
While in the querying trenches for DAPT, I decided to go back to MF and see if I could repackage it or edit it again -- do something with it.
Dear Lady Godiva, was that book terrible:
- Derivative with serious pacing issues.
- A sagging middle on a scale of geologic proportions.
- Unlikable characters at every turn.
- Absolutely no sense of place.
- A magic system that makes zero sense.
With distance and a year+ of education and study, I could see the book clearly. I felt a little embarrassed that I had sent this to so many agents; that so many people I respected had actually had to read part of it. If I were to salvage it, it would require a complete start-over-from-page-one rewrite.
I'm writing this now because I see the "if this gets x many rejections, I'm just going to self publish it" conversation nearly every day now. While I fully support self-publishing (my romance alter-ego Aria Kane self-publishes most of her books), I don't think it's for everyone or every book and I do believe too many people go into it without enough research or knowledge. As with almost everything else in life: Just because you can, doesn't necessarily mean you should.
I understand this supportive culture we've developed in this industry and I love it. Publishing is a tough gig. We all need cheerleaders sometimes. But I am so glad I didn't have today's resounding chorus of "Yeah! Just self-publish it!" back then. I might have listened to them and I would have regretted it.
Because, honestly, some books just don't deserve to be published. Some books, like MF, suck big-time. And the most important part is:
It doesn't mean you're a bad writer. It doesn't mean you won't ever write a great book. It is not a judgement on your worth or your value.
It's a tough truth to face. I know how hard it is to let go of a book that you've spent a year or more working on. It seems like letting go of those characters and that story will kill you or, less dramatically, that you may never write another book you love just as much.
But you will. And the next one will probably be better.
A closing note: I can't tell you how you know whether a book is worth it or not. I struggle with that, myself. But I do know that spending time away from the book can give you enough distance to make that self-evaluation. Or find a critical someone who is really not afraid to break your heart.