An author's life is a mysterious puzzle, where a number of elements come into play.
At the heart of the life is the actual writing, that lonely and solo process where you produce your product, your art.
And once you produce that product, comes the fun dilemma -- keep it to yourself? pursue releasing it to the world? and if wanting to release it to the world, do you release it yourself? or do you pursue the agent and publisher route?
A good friend of mine got an offer from a publisher to publish his first novel. Or, rather, his literary agent got the offer and conveyed a summary of the offer. It's not what the agent or author expected. The first offer, or deal, never is... Mine wasn't. That's what literary agents do, then, is negotiate for more favorable terms for everyone involved.
So we're discussing the dilemma many authors on the verge of publication face. Do you take the first offer, any offer, to get published? Or do you wait to see if more comes to the table? Or do you take the deal off the table and think about publishing it yourself?
I'll admit, it was a tough dilemma for me. One of my professional goals was to be a published writer and signed to a publishing company. I didn't want to self-publish. I'm not a hustler like that, though I am a bit of a control freak. Self publishing is great for control freaks -- you get to control everything. But I'm not above letting someone else take the reigns, and I'm definitely aware of the costs involved with publishing a novel -- from the company's perspective, and also the self-published author's perspective. It ain't cheap.
On the other hand, I know the statistics that there are many writers who finish novels that never get published... that never get a literary agent. Those needle-in-the-haystack odds were shared with me by many of my mentors. And I thought a lot about it. Remain an unpublished writer with a completed novel? Or look at my offers, though not what my agent or I expected initially, as an opportunity? An opportunity to realize part of my professional goal, an opportunity to get my name and product released, and an opportunity to actually have my product placed in stores other than my neighborhood store?
It's a tough dilemma. Some will say that publishing and writing is tough for everyone around... that first-timers get taken advantage of... that publishers don't make as much money on books as they used to... that it's the whole chicken and egg theory.
Brenda Hiatt article and unscientific survey on author advances... but an interesting resource to compare and contrast.
Paperback Writer article featuring an actual author royalty statement, that explains some business details.
Wall Street Journal article on authors taking $0 advance, in exchange for higher royalty payments and publicity efforts by the publisher.
Midwest Book Review article on what to expect once you and your book are signed to a publisher.
There are no right or wrong answers to this dilemma. Each author and/or agent needs to thing through the offers they receive, and the author's long-term career goals.
But before any of this can even happen, the important thing for ALL writers... is to write... and produce.