I understand your sadness, Howard. In 2013-2014, I self-published 44 titles, including short stories, novellas, poetry and collections of song lyrics. I didn't expect much to happen, despite thousands of hours of work in creating and editing these pieces, for I sensed how difficult it is to get known in any creative art. Just seeing that 100 other writers had uploaded their work onto Smashwords in the two minutes it took for my novella to be processed for acceptance, showed how crowded a field I was entering.
My ebooks are still on Smashwords and Amazon, and to be honest I don't know what worth they have to me as an author. By that, I don't mean financial, more that they may serve as a calling card in some way I can't predict. For one thing, collectively they've been downloaded 11,000 times by I don't know how many readers. I made them all free at Christmas 2015, intending to attract interest to my name to launch my first Cornish Detective novel. I'm very glad that I changed my mind about doing so, for it would have sunk without trace, as I'd done virtually no marketing. I have no way of knowing if any of those readers will recall my name. I look upon my free offer as similar to merchandisers giving away food samples in supermarket aisles—do the customers remember which brand of cheese they just ate? Probably not....
Changing tactics, I switched to querying literary agents and publishers with open submissions windows. I've made submissions to 400 in three years, not hearing back from 250, receiving form letters of rejection from 146 and a mere four replies that were personalised in any way. To be frank, the main reason that I chased a traditional publishing deal at all, was not for some deep-seated desire to see my book in a physical form on a shelf, nor for any potential cash advance on sales, but simply to get help with the marketing of my work. I suspect that a lot of authors have the same motivation.
The thing is, publishing is in a constant state of flux, not to say turmoil. These days, agents and publishers expect their clients to be actively involved in the hoopla by having a website, a blog, Twitter feed, Facebook profile, maybe some Youtube videos of you making erudite and entertaining observations about books. My attitude is, that if I'm expected to do all of that razmataz for 15% of sales (less the agent's 15%), then why not do it for myself through self-publishing and keep 100% of any profit? If I'm going to be a performing monkey, I want to keep all of the nuts!
I don't want to do any of this, for though I'm a confident and entertaining speaker, I'd rather be writing new stories than talking about old ones. The days of the reclusive author are over—just imagine what Harper Lee would be expected to do if she were launching To Kill a Mockingbird
as a debut author in 2017....
The only thing that's true about publishing, for an author, is that you have to keep knocking on the door. No one is going to come calling to ask if you've got a manuscript they can read. Getting agents, publishers and readers to hear your knocking may take years. Becoming bulletproof, impervious to rejection, is an essential quality for a writer. To console yourself, just Google 'famous writers who were rejected' to see what good company
No one knows what's going to work in publishing until it does.
Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.