What Am I Trying to Prove?

I’ve been asking myself this question a lot recently, as I prepare a manuscript for querying. Or, at least I thought I was preparing it for queries. Now, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing.

Going into writing this book, I knew I wanted to try something new and seek other options for publication. While I’ve had a really great experience with NineStar Press and really love the editors I work with, I wanted to switch things up and see what else is out there.

For a while, I was convinced I would be querying the manuscript and finding an agent. Doing so would open up so many doors for my career, and it had always been a dream of mine to walk into a major bookstore and see my book among authors I respected.

I’ve been on author Twitter since 2018 when I signed my contract with NineStar Press. I followed a bunch of other debut authors and agents. The more I stayed on there, the more I learned about the world of traditional publishing. It isn’t always sunshine and roses, and there’s a lot of issues within the industry. The more I learn, the more I begin to ask myself if this is what I really want.

I have begun to ask myself, “Why do I want an agent to begin with?” Is it for better opportunities? For a chance at a bigger publisher and an advance? To be famous? What was I looking for, anyway?

The short answer? Legitimacy.

Let me be very frank for a moment. I have gotten the impression from various places in my life that small press books are “lesser than,” “not legitimate,” or “one small step above self-publishing.” I’m not sure who has made me felt this way. It’s not like anyone has said these kinds of things to my face. It’s in subtle ways. Like friends asking if I am self-published (which is a whole other discussion: self-published doesn’t mean low quality!) or fellow writers participating in pitch contests and being annoyed that small presses liked their pitch instead of agents. Small ways that pointed to me that what I was doing was not legitimate in some capacity.

I’ve realized I was seeking representation not to improve my career or take it to the next step, but for the approval of my peers and readers. Was this really the right motivation?

All of these thoughts already circulating around my head came to the forefront when author Adam Sass posted a statement on his Twitter regarding his upcoming novel a couple weeks back. Essentially, he had been in contact with a blogger who had reached out and offered their service to promote his debut book Surrender Your Sons. The blogger withdrew their involvement upon receiving his book details–because the book was being published by a small press.

I was astounded. I had no idea his novel was from a small press, for one thing. It had been featured in anticipated release lists on Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed, and other big sites. It had lots of activity on its Goodreads page. It had so many readers on Twitter and Instagram excited for its release, doing makeup looks and photos inspired by the book. It had huge buzz surrounding it!

And yet, that was not enough for this one person

Something, in that moment, clicked for me. It doesn’t matter where your book comes from, how much you put into it, the quality of your writing. People are going to judge it regardless. So what’s the point in trying to impress others?

The more I learn about publishing, the more I see the value in small presses, especially in LGBTQ fiction. They are willing to take risks, to publish books that aren’t necessarily “for the market.” They are producing some of the most creative and innovative books at this moment. Why wouldn’t I be proud to be part of that?

I’ve also been researching more about the literary scene in Canada too, and I’m learning that many authors in Canada do not have agents. And yet, they are still being uplifted and recognized by Canadian institutions. Why am I seeking validation through an agent when so many of my fellow Canadians don’t have one? Maybe I’ve been approaching this all wrong.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with this manuscript. I have a long way to go before it is ready for submission, but I’m starting to think that submitting to small presses isn’t a bad thing. It’s a valid route to take. It might not be the route I decide upon, but I know I really need to re-evaluate why I want to take whichever path Idecide. I shouldn’t take one just to be seen as a “real” author, that’s for sure.

The truth is, I’m currently a real author. I have real books that real people can buy and read. Many readers don’t care where a book comes from. They just want a story that speaks to them.

I don’t have to prove anything.

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