I like going to these fairs. As a reader, I’ve always loved being surrounded by so many books. As an author, I felt it important to mingle with other writers, to see what they’re up to. And now, as a self-published author, I thought it critical to be there, get my book into circulation, talk it up, meet & mingle, and most importantly – find an agent or “real” publisher.
I could not have been more misguided!
I woke up to the fact that there was an important book fair happening here in Israel only two weeks before it began. Before that I had been way too busy with getting my book printed and into circulation. Okay I figured, I can handle this. No reason not to be part of this great event, even if all the deadlines have already passed. Determination! Chutzpah!
I did it. I paid the fee and got myself included as one of the participants. I got my book over to Steimatzky and a miracle worker there got it into the system in time to make its premiere appearance at the Fair. I downloaded the list of agents, editors and publishers who were attending and emailed them all – asking if it was possible to set up a meeting. Never mind that it was Thursday and the Fair was starting on Sunday. Last email received, top of the pile? Oh yeah, sure.
I got replies from all – “Out of the office until … Attending Jerusalem Book Fair. If an emergency, contact…” But I still had hope – surely they would check in with their emails? Surely they would want to meet with me – such a nice Jewish girl from Queens who actually has been published the “traditional” way four times, and lives in the Holy Land and has written a killer novel? What drug was I on when I dreamed up that scenario???
I bought a new wardrobe – something I haven’t done for years – because I was certain that my for-sure successes would require me to look fab. I booked myself into a hotel next to the Fair – after all, shlepping from where I live to Jerusalem each day would be hell. My for-sure successes would cover the costs. I shlepped my old laptop with me – no doubt all those editors, agents & publishers I wrote to would write back – dying to have a drink or dinner with me in some swank Jerusalem eatery. I had to be ready! I loaded up the car with cartons of books, brought along a wheelie thing to help with the schlepping and set off on my journey. I was going to Jerusalem – a one and a half hour drive from my home, but it felt like another country.
Traffic was not good. The 1 1/2 hour drive turned into almost 3. The hotel’s entrance was poorly signed and a bus was blocking the driveway. Many u-turns later I found the place. No indoor parking lot! Luckily I found a spot outside the entrance. It was raining, a lot! Got myself inside, registered, entered the room, unloaded the suitcase, wheelie, books, bags, raincoat, blah, blah, blah. No hook-up for the computer, only WiFi – but my old laptop never even heard of Wi-Fi. Ran over to the Exhibition Hall – which was supposed to be connected to the hotel by a covered walkway – but the covered walkway was a loooooooong walk from the hotel door. Got soaked. Registered at the Fair. Walked around and saw lots of people frantically shelving books, setting up their booths, arranging their flyers. Back to the hotel for a quick shower and donning of outfit #1- the Opening Ceremony was about to begin! And I had tickets for it!!!
Big crowd, serious security, cameras, microphones, press sections, lots of people streaming in. Women in black – the New Yorkers here to scout out new talent. Under thirty-somethings in jeans – new authors or those who just didn’t give a crap. Dark glasses, iPad cases, people scribbling notes, people checking out others, greeting old friends, government ministers, wealthy looking patrons of the arts, intelligentsia, Ian McEwen! They were all there.
I scanned the auditorium and thought – wow! Look where I am! Oy. What am I doing here? I’ve written a nice novel – it’s not Pulitzer worthy – how do I even dare to sit here with these oh so accomplished people. I’ve been writing for various newspapers and media companies for 16 years, but I still felt unworthy.
But… I was determined to meet the right people. Damn it I’ll be aggressive! I’ll go right up to them and stick my card in their face! I’ll tell them I’ve written a great novel, I’m not just a fly by night author, I’ve got credentials! I’ll hang out at the Literary Cafe! I’ll mingle in the Editors & Agents Only Room! I’ll fill up my schedule with quickie meetings – I’ll make my pitch and move on. I’ll smile a lot! Yeah, that’s the ticket!
Want to know what happened? Some background first. If an agent or an editor or a publisher even smells that you’re a self-published author, they will steer clear of you so fast, if will make your head turn. Speedy Gonzalez has nothing on these people – they break all speed records avoiding you – hell – they’ll even avoid eye contact! THEY DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU!
They’ll be scanning the room which is set up to help people meet and make deals. They’ll be looking for their next ticket to stardom – big client, big fees. They’ll be watching their competitors wondering what she has up her sleeve. Who has signed a deal with who? One woman even stopped her conversation with me mid-sentence when she spied someone she wanted to meet. Guess where my ego was going? Definitely down south.
After a day of trying to avoid rejection and keep my spirits up, I had an epiphany (I just love when those happen). First of all – I met terrific people there. Like the Steimatzky group, the American Cultural Section people, the organizer of the fair who was friendly and encouraging, an editor I know from here who was delighted to see me, a woman publishing children’s’ books who was extremely generous with her time and advice. But the most important thing I learned? Self-publishing is not a bad thing! I definitely was on the right track.
It also helped that I did a bit of number crunching. I figured out, quite unscientifically but using my previous experience as a basis, that in order to achieve a decent sum of royalties, a publisher would have to sell 200,000 of my books compared to me selling maybe 5,000 on my own. Are you getting this? I realized that even though big house publishing comes with “yiches” – name recognition – it doesn’t offer much else. Okay, yes, maybe your book will be considered the real stuff – its been properly edited (hopefully) and believed in by someone other that yourself and your husband/wife/kids/favorite aunt. But that’s about it, sorry to say.
My experience with publishers is that they don’t really go out of their way a whole lot to push your book. Maybe at the beginning, they’ll be enthusiastic and push it (no doubt my book “Pomegranates” received great publicity initially). But after a while, they have other books to push and yours is no longer on the top of the heap. Anyway, they expect you to do tons of marketing – you have to spread the word. And another little secret? No one is paying authors to schlep around to book signings these days unless your name starts with J.K….
So… if you’re going to do the marketing and the schlepping and the calling and the begging and the talking and the signing and the whole shtick of it – WHY DO YOU NEED THEM??? And today? In the glorious (?) age of Internet? With e-books? There’s a virtual universe of virtual sites for you to plug away and sell through. Getting a book up on Kindle? Took me less than an hour.
So.. I wouldn’t discourage you if you have the novel on the century. Go for it – find a literary agent who loves your work and believes that he/she can get your book straight to a great publisher. Then get yourself another agent who knows how to get you on Oprah – at the very least. And then whenever they call you – run to the next book signing or launch or whatever they have planned for you.
But… you could also do it my way. SELF-PUBLISH! Enjoy the process. Learn from it. Take pride in your work and work it till you exhaust every single option. Get that book out there by yourself. Come on! You can do it! I just did!!!