The Contract

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As many of you know, I am in the tedious process of self-publishing my novel The Contract. For three long years, this story has dominated me nonstop, and after five (yes, five) drafts and hundreds of hours of editing, I have reached the point where if I do not accept that my baby is ready to leave the nest, I might never get the gall to ever publish it.

I never pictured myself as a self-publication type of author. I was always old-school about this sort of business. I’m a writer, after all. I don’t pretend to know all of the ins and outs of the loopholes and business aspects that come with publication, especially when it comes to commercial projects. Yet times are changing, friends. In this wonderful modern world that we live in, technology has made it possible to take ordinary people like me and give them a voice. Hone your craft and polish until it sparkles and you might have a Bestseller! Or not. It depends on the market, what is selling at the moment.

This is an especially brutal business for newbies. Imagine it for a minute: you spend years crafting your tale, you create an entire world filled with characters that are as real to you as your own family, and after all is said and done and you FINALLY feel confident about the frustrations and revisions, it is at last the story you wish to be told to the public. You do your research of the best literary agencies that represent your genre, feeling with everything in you that your story could be exactly what they have been looking for… only to wait.

And wait.

Annnnnnnnnnnd wait.

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Months creep by and finally you receive a response email curtly explaining that your story is not currently something that they wish to represent. This can be either from ill timing as I briefly touched on earlier, it can be because it is too similar to another project that they are already representing, or it still needs work. Rarely do they tell you which of these categories your precious manuscript falls under. Agents cannot be blamed for this. They are simply much too busy to go through every single submission (some agents receive hundreds of submissions a day!), read them, and give you a complete breakdown on what they did or did not like and exactly why they cannot sell your piece, and this is completely understandable. I can’t stress that enough – agents are not to blame for this, that is just the business. Part of the business is knowing that if you are an unknown writer (someone who has never professionally published before) your chances of being picked up by a big-time commercial agency is pretty slim, but it does happen… time to time.

The reason I decided to break down the basic outline of a standard submission and denial is that this is not my first rodeo when it comes to publishing. Before The Contract, there was another novel that I had written during my teens. I worked on that series for four years before I decided that it was ready to be published. I was excited – a naive high school senior that had spent so long on a single project at last ready to call myself a published author, thinking that my book would be on every bookshelf in America! I was so eager to let my story be heard that I was sloppy when doing research, and I came across a deal that I thought was perfect. I sent an email to a publication house with a brief synopsis and the next day I got a call saying that the editor absolutely loved it and wanted to sign a contract with me immediately! Oh, you can imagine how thrilled I was. I went straight to Facebook, telling all of my friends and family that I was going to be published!

Everyone was ecstatic and nothing in the world could have brought me back down to solid ground. Well… almost nothing. I received a random message from a lady telling me that I was falling into a vanity publishing trap and that if I allowed my story to be published by this company, I would never make a dime on any of the copies sold, I would never see my book sitting in a brick and mortar shop, they would edit it poorly, and I would lose future standing in the writing community. I was skeptical of this stranger. Why would a publisher do such a thing?

For profit. You sign to them the rights to your book and they sell it for such high prices that no sane person would buy it, let alone a bookstore already short on shelf space and not willing to take a chance on something so unstable. Aside from that, they sell you copies of your own book in bulk to sell to your family and friends. They make it sound like a sweet deal, too, as if they are doing you a huge favor. All the while they do a terrible job editing your story to cut back on more costs and slap a terrible cover used on other manuscripts that happen to fit your genre. After a couple of years, you finally get the rights to your story back, but by then it is too late. The damage is done and your reputation as a serious author is in shambles.

The lady explained all of this to me and I was still obnoxiously defiant, as you can expect from a proud teenager on the verge of either something monumental or devastating. Then she told me one thing:

“Google the name of the publisher with the word scams.”

Easy enough. I did this simple task and I was shocked. My stomach dropped to the floor as I read horror stories from all over the internet, all talking about this particular publication house, some even mentioning the editor I was working with! I was in a mess. I couldn’t allow my story that I had dedicated four years of my life just to be stolen from me! I had already signed the contract. I felt trapped.

However, my new friend who opened my eyes to this scam helped me find a loophole and I was fortunate enough to escape with not only the rights to my story (which I’ve placed on the back burner while I dedicate my time toward The Contract) but the knowledge to always do my research thoroughly and learn how the publishing world works commercially and privately.

To this day, this lady is a friend of mine on Facebook. We’ve never met in person, and being that she is a pretty well-established author herself, she doesn’t have a lot of time to chit-chat. Yet I will always remember her helping me escape from a mess and all that she asked of me in return was to let others know if the situation ever arose. Well, now that I have a decent platform with this blog, that is exactly what I will do.

Fellow writers and readers alike, we are a community. I don’t know why sometimes we feel like we have to compete against each other or become paranoid that other writers might be stealing our ideas. The business of publishing is hard enough without bashing each other with scathing, hurtful reviews or deliberately setting out to destroy a writer’s confidence in their art or even a reader’s genre preference. We need to learn to be more neighborly towards one another and, despite the style or type of writer, have the understanding that this is oftentimes not our livelihood but our only mode of expression. When you get an opportunity, let your fellow writer friends know that you are proud of them. Let your reader friends know that you are proud of them, too. Help where you can. After all, aren’t we all just lovers of a good story to carry us away from the brutality of reality, if only for a little while?

There is so much that I would love to talk about when it comes to this subject, but I need to draw this entry to a close. Self-publication might not have been my first choice, but I know now that this is the best way for me to be at the helm of control to truly allow people to read my story in the purest voice possible. Someday down the road, hopefully I will get the wonderful opportunity to publish commercially, yet these things take time.

People, don’t get disheartened if things don’t work out the way you initially wanted. I have been rejected literally hundreds of times and I will be rejected hundreds more.

It is how you react to rejection that will determine how sweet acceptance will feel.

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M.I.H. McCool

 

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