Joe Konrath's written a great blog post here, which explains the veiled ramifications of publishing contracts. If you are still in the long-winded and frustrating process of hunting down an agent and publisher, I recommend that you take the time to read this post as it could change the way you think about the publishing industry and, if you're still dithering over the prospect of self-publishing, help you climb off that fence.
Self-publishing used to be classed as the last bastion of the desperate. Writers who self-published were giggled at, the usual assumption being that if you had to DIY it was because no 'proper' publisher thought the work worthy of investment. And so the wannabe writer tended to pay for course after course, searching for the magic pill which would cure whichever literary malady prevented the blossoming of their ambitions. If only their work was good enough, polished enough, individual enough while still nestling neatly into a marketable nook, eventually the right fairy dust would make their hopes come true. Meanwhile the hard-working writer would pay out the equivalent of a Third World deficit in postage to agents and publishers who occasionally deigned to reply, after many months of waiting, with a pro forma: 'Thanks but no thanks'.
I received many rejections for Tamsin and Rowan. One agent took a whole year to get around to replying and then sent a torn-off pro forma without so much as an apology. Why would anyone wish to work with someone so ill-mannered anyway? A few other agents scribbled notes in the corner of their pro forma to say they liked the books and the series idea but it wasn't for them - which is fair enough.
I wonder how many talented and interesting writers in a similar position gave up? That is their choice to do so, of course - but what a waste of potential and of untold, unread stories. A cynic might remark that it's a matter of stratification, and that really good writers would persist and by sheer force of talent forge a way to the top. It's easy, gung-ho rhetoric. However the publishing business doesn't work like that. Only a tiny number of new writers are signed-up each year. Are these necessarily exceptional? Not at all. If this was so, then there wouldn't exist the self-published successes of books which traditional publishers had declined. There wouldn't also be the plethora of traditionally published books which clog clearance outlets which publishers thought would sell but didn't, hence their weighty presence in the bargain bins.
So, publishers can and do get their choices wrong. Like I've said before, personal taste is a measure only of personal taste.
One of the most enduring myths about writers is that we knock out a novel or three then sit back on a tropical island for the rest of our lives, posting off another novel once very four or five years if we feel like it, and generally earn a fortune by doing not much. I know a lot of writers and other creative types. None of them live like that. The greater majority of writers hold down conventional jobs too. I know an actor/playwright who's been on TV numerous times in walk-on parts and who previously has run her own theatre company, who sells camping gear for a living. I know traditionally-published writers who work as hairdressers or in the care sector or - as in several cases - shop assistants. They're all aiming to be able to resign from their day jobs at some point in the future, but that time is not yet.
The need for a conventional day job is an integral part of most writers' lives, just as it is for almost everyone else. Even after writers have submissively jumped through all the hoops held up by agents and publishers, their income tends to mean that reliance on their day-job isn't going to change any time soon.
Keep this in mind when reading Joe Konrath's article about publishing contracts. Then if you're still jumping through hoops, or trying to, ask yourself why.
While self-publishing used to be the last bastion of the desperate, today it is the only rational response when faced with a greedy, manipulative and tunnel-visioned industry.