Knowing when to close the door

Well, I gave it my best shot. I don’t think anyone can say that I didn’t. I sent out 45 query letters to the 45 literary agents I thought most likely (or even remotely) interested in my novel but not one of them thought it was worth breaking a sweat over.

During the 12 days since my last post I’ve waited in the quietly desperate and patient hope that one of the handful of agents still as yet unresponsive would pull my neck out from under the shiny edge of the staysharp guillotine.

Meanwhile back at my 2006 Dell laptop, I’ve completed draft #7 of book #2. My aim was to get it down to 100,000 words. Draft #1 came in at 132,000 words so since then I’ve been whittling away and whittling away like an extra from the set of Deliverance and, by draft #7, got it down to 100,800 words so I consider that “Mission Accomplished.”

The reason for the 100,000 word goal is because that figure translates to approximately 400 pages in a traditionally published paperback. Apparently, for a bunch of technical reasons which I only vaguely grasp, that’s the preference of all publishers. At any rate I managed to pull it off and am very happy with the result. It’s a greatly improved, more succinct, cohesive novel and, unless I’m completely deluding myself which is always a distinct possibility, can now finally stand alone. I was uncomfortably aware that drafts #1 through 6 failed to do that but I found myself bereft of inspiration about how to fix the damn thing. I discovered, as I always do, that inspiration comes from doing and as I worked my way through draft #7 inspiration hit me like one of those anvils the Roadrunner was forever ordering from the Acme Corporation. I am pleased with the result, especially the final scene which now takes place on the set of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz.

My hope was that by the time I got to the end of draft #7 I’d have heard from one of the agents still on my list. But that didn’t happen. So boo-hoo for me.

I’ll be the first to agree that there is a lot–A LOT–to be said for never giving up on your dreams. As Bloody Mary from South Pacific so wisely instructed us:

You’ve got to have a dream,
If you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?

I would never encourage anyone to give up on their dream. If I had the time and/or energy, I could throw at you a list as long as Maria Shriver’s regrets of people who didn’t give up and ended up enjoying great success. I’m sure you could come up with a list like that too, so let that be your homework for tonight.

However…sometimes it can be wiser, I think, to recognize when to close the door on something that just ain’t gonna happen and save your energies and resources for something that will. To quote another song, Firework by Katy Perry, (…yes, I’m actually going to quote a pop song by the girl who married scary Russell Brand…don’t judge me, at least not until you’ve seen the inspiring video that goes with it…)

Maybe you’re reason why all the doors are closed,
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road.

So, I’m officially closing the door on attempting to get published via what’s now referred to as “the traditional route,” and have decided to embark on the road to self-publishing.

Here’s what always worried me about going the traditional route: What if I did get a literary agent who did find a publisher who did publish it but the book was a flop? Or even just sold in insufficient quantities to interest the publisher in publishing the rest of the series? I’d probably end up self-publishing them myself anyway but then I’d only own the rights to books 2 through 9 and will have signed away the rights to book 1.

So if I self-publish from the start, not only do I own all the rights to all the books, but…

  • I get to publish the story I want without tunnel-visioned publishing executives shoveling at me their professionally well-intentioned two cents’ worth but who might not have the same vision in their heads that I have in mine
  • I get to publish according to the schedule that suits me and not their sales cycles
  • I get to design the cover I want
  • I get to set the price that I want
  • And I still get to distribute through the usual channels (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) as well as in both paper and electronic formats.

The reality is that unless your name is J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown and the publishing house has invested in you an enormous up-front advance and are falling over themselves to support you with a book tour, full-color advertising and an interview on the Today show, you’re pretty much on your own in the marketing and publicity department. So if I’m going to have to do all that myself anyway, why not self-publish and keep a much higher percentage of the royalties?

The process of querying agents was every bit as arduous and challengingly against-the-odds that I expected it to be. Now that I’ve been ignored by every door I knocked on, it’s time to take a different Yellow Brick Road. And maybe that first step should be to change the name of this blog to: Are you there agents? SCREW YOU.


About Martin Turnbull

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels blog is by Martin Turnbull, a Los Angeles based historical fiction author writing about the golden era of Hollywood in his series of novels set at the Garden of Allah Hotel, which stood on Sunset Blvd from 1927 to 1959. Check him out at and Facebook: "gardenofallahnovels"
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One Response to Knowing when to close the door

  1. Vanessa says:

    Self-publishing can open more doors than just a letter and a couple of chapters from a book. I am glad you’re going that route as I feel the future of self-publishing is quite an exciting one – you are the master and can direct the power of your release. Sorry the agents were twits and didn’t see your genius – this happens sometimes, but I am sure your new route will be like the Silk Road – lots of riches at the end 🙂 Let us know how you’re going…cheers, Ness

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