The answer to why I decided to self-publish versus taking the traditional route of signing a contract with a large publishing house is the same as why I chose one college and law school over the others. Because one accepted me and the other one(s) didn’t.
Like any new author, I anticipated literary agents would battle over the opportunity to represent my manuscript. Hollywood showrunners would be knocking on my door wanting to develop the book into a six-episode Netflix classic. But none of that happened.
Following the general rules of engagement, I wrote incredible query letters and included them with packages of information about me, my work, the genre, and the potential audiences. The wording in all of the documents was candid, forthright and positive. I actually believed I was doing agents a favor by approaching them with my work. I specifically targeted those who advertised, or whose websites stated that they specialized in my type of story and my genre. I mailed them out and waited for their responses.
Almost a year later I am still waiting to hear back from most of them. The few that did respond made comments such as: “the book is too long, cut out fifty or sixty pages and try me again”, or “I wish you had at least a bad cop or two in the storyline”, or “You need to have an established social media and website platform with at least 10,000 followers” or the most candid, personally disturbing, but also true observation, “I read the first 100 pages or so and liked it, but we are at a time and place in the United States that major publishers are not entertaining this type of storyline. Maybe if you could change …”
So, my decision to self-publish was a simple one and determined by others, and I am honestly fine with it. Yes, it puts the burden on me to market and publicize the book. To devote an enormous amount of time reaching out to others in hopes of getting a mention in traditional media, or an interview for a podcast or blog. But it also presents great challenges, and I love challenges. Tell me I can’t reach a goal that I know can be accomplished with effort, tenacity and patience and I will defy you every time. “When the Smoke Cleared” is a perfect example.
When I started writing my book more than six years ago the thought of self-publishing seemed foolish, but as time went on it became more and more attractive and made sense. For many reasons the pros started to outweigh the cons. For instance, this was my story and my narrative and I wasn’t going to have critics who never waged a battle in my arena dictate and shape the story to their liking. I didn’t want to sell the manuscript to a publishing house and lose my voice, my concerns and all control over the finished product. I’m just not built that way.
I wrote the book because I had a true, factual, and emotional story to tell. I wanted the reader to understand how homicide cases were investigated, and the decisions made about arrest and prosecutions. Most importantly though, I wanted to relate the anguish and pain of parents that lost their child and siblings that lost their sister. I wanted to show the success of a family who struggled mightily, who chose not to move on by putting their loss behind them, but to move forward and succeed with their daughter and sister always with them in their minds and hearts. I couldn’t let an editor red line or restructure that part of the story. I would be dishonoring our victim and her family if I did.
First posted in Jazzy Book Reviews, February 2023