Michelle Dotter of Dzanc Books Recommends...

One piece of advice I like to give aspiring authors is to think seriously before you start querying presses—or even before you start writing—about what publishing success means to you. There are so many approaches to getting your work published, and which one you pursue should depend on your individual goals. And these goals can absolutely change throughout the course of your career, or even project to project.

Are you only going to be satisfied by your publishing experience if you see your name up in lights, at the top of the New York Times best-seller list? That’s an incredibly difficult thing to achieve. But if that’s your goal, you’re almost certainly going to be pursuing a Big Five publishing deal, which means you need an agent—probably one with a lot of clout—not to mention a project that’s very commercial. Is what you’re writing less geared toward the market, more risk-taking, more literary? Maybe a better fit for your work would be a small or university press that takes unsolicited submissions; some small presses accept work directly from the author and others only through an agent. Are you excited about the idea of having total control over the process, from editing and cover design through book promotion? It’s possible that self-publishing is what you’re after.

Wherever you’re headed, it’s important to recognize that these are very different markets, and you would take different steps to head down each of these roads. You can (and should!) reevaluate your priorities, what inspires you as a writer, and what makes you happy. I’ve known writers who ended up self-publishing something because traditional publishing didn’t work out. I’ve known other writers who passed on a contract with a small press after deciding they wanted to try for a Big Five contract after all. There’s no harm in changing your mind. But make sure you’re going after what you really want first, so you’re not costing yourself opportunities to see your dreams come true.

Michelle Dotter, publisher and editor in chief, Dzanc Books