I've written many books, but only the last couple approach publication quality. I guess that whole "you need to write 500,000 words before you can write something worth reading" thing is true. I'm now aggressively querying one of my novels. There is a LOT of waiting involved in this kind of process.
You query and wait for an agent to respond (if they respond). When they respond, you send a partial and wait for a response for that. If they like the partial, you send a full and wait for a response for that. When you land an agent, you have to wait while they try and sell it to a publisher. Even excluding all the back and forth between editing and revisions, it can take a long time for a book to come to the market.
There has to be a better way, right? A quicker way? A way that doesn't involve so much waiting! A way that can get me the money I need to quit my day job and write full-time? (The last may or may not be a thought depending on how much you like your day job).
I've heard many people say they are interested in self-publishing because they don't like the waiting that accompanies traditional publishing. In this age of Kindle, Nook, and what not, why wait to trudge through the entire traditional publishing process when you can just upload your book to Amazon, Smashwords, or wherever and be off to the races? Part of this mindset often seems to be that self-pubbing is some road to instant success as an author.
Now, for the record, I'm not anti-self-publishing. Many of my author friends are pursuing electronic self-publishing. I'm strongly considering it myself (I don't like the query-go-round anymore than anyone else and can see the advantages of having personal control of every part of the process). Judging from a lot of things I read around on blogs and what not (yes, I know, excellent scientific survey there) I think a lot of people who are considering e-publishing their own books don't seem to understand that waiting is just as much part of the process.
We've all heard the stories about the potential success that comes with self-publishing and how it's different than the old days because of the vastly expanding reach of e-books. Amanda Hocking made a million off her self-pubbed books and now has a two million dollar traditional contract because of her self-publishing success. Romance author Victorine Lieske may not be a millionaire (yet), but she has made over thirty-five thousand dollars on her self-published debut novel.
In both of these cases, however, these authors didn't come out of the gate selling thousands of books a day. They had to put in the effort, the marketing, and most importantly the time. When you self-pub, if you don't already have a huge established platform, in the beginning you are going to putting a lot of time and energy into marketing. You'll be visiting websites, sending out requests to review sites, doing interviews, et cetera. Despite putting in all this effort, you may not see a lot of sales initially. Depending on your personality, this might be painful and hard to handle. There will be no agent, no publisher to buffer potential disappointment. Of course, there also will be no agent or publisher to threaten to drop you for not being a quick success, either.
While self e-pubbing allows rapid adjustment of things like covers and pricing to evaluate marketing, this can create even more disappointment. I've seen many people bemoan the fact that they've polished a book for years and are having to creep along at a sale or two a day.
"I don't get it. I've done everything, yet my book is still only selling a few copies a day."
"I don't get it. My book is much better than a book written by [insert name of self-pubbed or published author you dislike here]."
If we assume the person has truly done everything (a lot of self-pubbed authors seem to eschew serious marketing efforts, pretty much condemning their books to obscurity), this can seem tragic. All that effort for nothing?
Now, if a person is putting in the proper effort (and their book is competently written and edited), I do strongly believe they will find success, but it still will take time. The big advantage of e-book self-publishing, in particular, is that because of the lack of shelf-space requirements, e-books can sit around on their virtual shelves for as long it takes to find an audience.
That being said, if you do choose such a path, remember that e-publishing may be changing a lot of things, but it's still not producing instant millionaires. The people who have achieved success, such as Amanda Hocking and Victorine Lieske, had to, over a long period of time, put in a tremendous amount of sustained personal effort. Also, despite what anyone says, no one really knows how the e-book revolution will play out in the long term.
I'd be more impressed by publishing experts if the publishing industry didn't seem so defined by surprise successes and clumsy retroactive attempts to recapitulate such successes. I definitely think we're at a fundamental shift in how people interface with the written word, but I just don't feel anyone really knows what that will really mean in five years to readers, authors, agents, and publishers.
Whatever path you choose, keep writing, revising, and dreaming in the meantime.