Back when I first started thinking about publishing there weren’t all that many options. You wrote a novel, polished the crap out of it and then queried agents. If you were really lucky, you found one, and then they’d submit it to editors/publishers and maybe you’d get lucky and get a contract. It was a long shot, especially for someone living all the way over here in New Zealand, far from the offices of literary agents.
At least even back then you could query SOME by email. If that hadn’t been the case I wouldn’t have sent my first MS off far too early, but that’s a mistake I think many writers have to make.
It was a pretty disheartening time in some ways. I try to be as realistic as possible, and even then there was a lot of information about your chances at getting through the entire process and landing a book deal, but I never let the odds stop me from writing and hoping that one day it would be me.
Of course, now the publishing landscape has changed to the point where there are many more options than I ever knew there could be. Not all the things I learned back then stand true now, and being published doesn’t seem such a far distant goal when at any point you can make the decision to do so yourself and bypass the agents and publishers.
Which isn’t to say that you should do it at the first opportunity, or at all necessarily, I think it’s still important to do the learning, put in the time and effort to become a good writer before you publish. And to look at all the options and weigh them up before making decisions. There is a lot of research involved in this, and it can be a bit overwhelming at times, but ask your friends, find some reputable blogs, look critically at information, and then follow your gut – most importantly though, be honest with yourself.
I’ve seen writers make all kinds of choices – traditional publishing, self publishing, big publisher, small, with an agent, without, a combination of these things, and other things entirely (print, digital, audio… so many options!) – and the ones who are happiest are the ones who’ve looked at the publishing industry, and then looked inside themselves and really been honest about what they want before pursuing their dreams of being published. About what they want and what they are prepared to do to get it.
If it’s your dream to publish with one of the big publishers, then keep working towards it. If it’s your dream to have full control over your works and stay true to your vision of the story, then self publish. If you really want to have a publisher, but want a smaller, more personal experience, go for a small press. If you want everything, all of it, then hey, do the hybrid thing – but don’t change YOUR dreams because someone else tells you they are silly. There are options for everyone these days, so follow your dreams and pick the options that will help you get there.