Why I Turned Down a Publishing House

By no means am I a seasoned author – I’ve only been published in magazines and have much to learn about the craft and my own work. I’m still a year away from earning my MFA. But recently, I experienced something rare for writers: I got to turn down a publishing house that wanted my book.

Why would I do that? I’m glad you asked.

I’ve been sending out queries for my novel, From Heaven Like Lightning, the last month or so. While most of my focus has been on finding an agent, I did send Olympia Publishing a query and the first five chapters for review, as they accept unsolicited, unagented manuscripts. About a month later, they requested the full manuscript.

After sending my manuscript, I did more digging on the publisher. They are a small company in London, England, and the reviews sat on opposite ends of the spectrum. Some said they were wonderful, communicative, and made the publishing process stress-free. Others accused them of being a vanity press (a house that publishes anything as long as the author pays) and taking advantage of young authors who don’t have industry experience. Right away, these red flags caught my attention.

Self-publishing is a large movement in recent years. Anyone can publish a book if they’re willing to shell out a couple thousand dollars and forgo marketing efforts. Amazon lets you publish for pennies compared to some presses, if you’re okay with only an ebook.

Why do I think this is a problem?

Writers used to be a more exclusive group of people. Whether you blame racism, sexism, or any other ingrained hatred in the industry is your prerogative, but the fact remains that throughout history it’s been tough to publish, even for good writers – even for brilliant writers. With the evolution of society, we’ve heard more marginalized voices, and that has truly opened a lot of doors and brought forth new perspectives. This is positive progression. However, the new age of self and online publishing has paved the way for books like Fifty Shades of Grey that have no skill, no finesse, and absolutely should not be on a shelf in any book store without “XXX” on the sign. It has opened doorways for people who have no business being on the page, which has consequently made it even more difficult for writers to get traditional publishing contracts. While the industry still thrives in Europe, the American literature community shrinks every year. It’s nearly impossible to keep afloat. Those who do submit are buried beneath trash and those who get published are competing with $1 books. In today’s economy, who isn’t going to look at that price and not pick it over a writer they don’t know who’s selling their book for $20?

When I was younger, I considered self-publishing. Everyone makes it sound much more glamorous than it is. The truth behind it, though, is that you spend thousands of dollars to make little to no profit. A writer I knew through family sold approximately 6,000 copies of his book and made a mere $500, which wasn’t comparable to the amount he spent on it. As I became more familiar with the industry and talked to published authors, I decided I never wanted to go that route. Either I was good enough to get published, or I wasn’t. It was the reality I had to accept if I wanted to become a novelist.

Some weeks after I sent off the manuscript, Olympia approached me with a publishing contract. They wanted me to contribute £2,600 towards production and offered little royalties. I read over their contract and declined the offer the same day, citing that I was looking for a traditional contract rather than a contributor agreement.

I am not here to discourage people from self-publishing, only to share my opinion and experience. For me, it isn’t about money. My goal is to share the stories that crawl out of my mind and onto the page, that scream to be heard, that need to be told. As talked about in my previous post, The Working Writer: The Cold Reality of an 8 to 5, it’s important to pay your bills, and an extra paycheck certainly wouldn’t be refused in my household, but the money comes secondary to the story for me. No amount of money could replace the parts of myself I put into each piece. No amount of money will make the story turn out better or bring a beloved character back to life. My first priority is to bring these stories to people who will love them as much as I do, and maybe influence their lives for the better, inspire something beautiful from them as other authors have inspired me.

The road to publishing is full of disappointment. To my fellow writers, I say only this: keep every rejection you get. Store them away in your email or a box under your bed. Make a blanket from them and sleep with it each night. Rejections mean you’re trying. Rejections mean someone saw you, and even if it wasn’t for them, it will be the right project for someone else. Hold to that light at the end of the tunnel, edit your heart out, and keep trying.

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