I just got into a conversation on Dean Wesley Smith's forum, in an article asking why authors need agents. DWS doesn't think agents are ever needed; I maintain that if you're going to choose the path of traditional publishing, you need the traditional trappings, if for no other reason than publishers demand it.
For some reason, DWS deleted my last post and claimed it was insulting.
(An aside: This is one reason why self-publishing is not for me. I have the social skills of a tourettes-addled porcupine. If I can casually insult a man that I admire without even knowing it, I should not be in charge of promoting myself or my stories.)
I *think* that what DWS found insulting is my assertion that his third path to success is only anecdotally viable. Instead of traditional publishing or self-publishing, DWS suggests authors ignore publisher guidelines by sending queries freely, whether the publishers accept unsolicited queries or not, and ignoring any hurdles such as exclusive submission requests. Break all the rules, is DWS's policy.
I admit that works for him. He's an award-winning author and editor who has been in the industry for over 20 (30?) years. If a publisher gets an unsolicited letter from him they're going to at least look at it. If they get one from me they'll probably never even open the envelope.
Almost every success I see in self-publishing and the DWS third path follows the same model. Someone who has had some amount of success uses it to leverage their way into publishing via an alternate method, then they proclaim that they did it all with hard work and ingenuity. That's wrong. DWS was a well-known author. Joe Konrath had enough success in traditional publishing that he was able to fund his unique promotional activities. Barry Eisler was traditionally published and rich before he started self-publishing. John Locke was filthy rich and owned his own marketing company. All of them claim that they got published through hard work, and all I see are people who don't realize how lucky they were.
There is one exception: Amanda Hocking. At the age of 27 she self-published 17 novels at once and spent every day while unemployed promoting them. Amanda Hocking is Superwoman in my book. I can't follow her model; if nothing else, I only have three novels to offer so far. Also note that snapping up an agent and a traditional contract was the first thing Hocking did, because she was killing herself the other way.
Is this insulting, to point out to people that their success was due to luck as much as it was to their hard work? Because it seems very obvious to me.
I don't have any success to leverage. I have nothing. I don't even have dedicated beta readers. All I have as leverage is a 2000 reader webcomic and six amateur critique partners. Someday I might make use of those paltry tools, but not now. I certainly don't have contacts in the industry beyond a handful of authors and editors from VP and Taos, most of them who can't remember my fucking name.
I can't do the DWS method; I don't think anyone can unless they're already well-known in the industry. I don't want to self publish, not until I have more to offer. (I will be self-publishing Genocide Man, but that's a special case, a graphic novel that's otherwise unsellable. The question is whether I should publish one of my novels alongside it.) Right now the traditional route is the only clear path I have to publication. For better or worse, that means agents.
My apologies if any of that is insulting. I don't mean to be. But neither will I be deluded about my chances along any path.