Shop It or Self-Pub? Art’s at the Heart

So I’ve started thinking more about what I want to do with my novel once it’s “finished” (~insert raucous laughter here~). Initially, I figured I’d just self-publish, try to push it to a few places I thought it might appeal or I might have a little sway, and say “Yay! I’m an author!” I even went so far as to commission some cover art, which I adore; it’s mind-bogglingly awesome. The further I get, though, the more I think, “maybe I should try to shop this around after all.”

There are, of course, several barriers to trying to get published through a “real” publishing house. I suspect every beginning writer considering the task looks at it all and says, “holy $#!7—where do I even start?” (at least I’m going to pretend everyone does that, because if it’s really only me, then that’s just depressing). Do I try to break in by getting short stories published? Do I just start shopping my manuscript around? Do I look for an agent, or do I go straight to publishers? Where do I find “appropriate” agents or publishers for the style of novel I’m writing?

On a more existential level, there’s the “am I good enough?” barrier. I look at my favorite books, at new releases, at things people I know are getting published, even the WIPs my critique partners send me, and I am overcome with conflicting emotions. Sometimes I despair, thinking I’ll never be able to match the literary skill I see displayed in print. Other times, I am buoyed by the thought that I don’t really see anything else out there quite like what I’m writing, and I dare to hope that someone will find my stories interesting for that very fact.

Oddly, though, the obstacle that concerns me most at the moment is that glorious cover art. I stumbled across the work of Robert Farkas, and instantly fell in love with his style. I was thrilled when he agreed to do a commission for me; he listened to my requests and dealt gracefully with my inexpert art direction. When I saw the final piece, I was over the moon—it’s perfect.

And there’s probably not a publisher out there who will agree to use it.

The idea crushes me. I know publishing is Big Business, and there’s a Way Things Are Done. If my novel ever got picked up, my publisher would have their own in-house art department create a cover design. But Farkas’s piece is the cover for this novel, as far as I’m concerned. The typography is negotiable, but the image…

I’m well aware that the traditional road to publication can be long and arduous. I think I’m up for the challenge; I’m ready to “give it the old college try,” anyway. But whether I start with my first novel or wait to shop the next one really depends a lot on how tightly I hang onto this art. Suffice to say, I expect to struggle with the decision for a long time.

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