Dear author, do you feel that you’re ready to publish?
Rule of wrist: You can’t get your book published unless you have an agent, and you can’t get an agent unless you’ve been published before.
Yes. Anyone you ask in the industry will remind you how subjective publishing is. The exception to the vicious cycle is independent publishing houses (We will discuss below). If someone else represents you (including small press), they will only do a great job if they are as passionate as you are about the book. Most authors look toward a literary agent in order to gain the widest possible distribution for their book.
A literary agent is in charge of selling your book to publishing houses, who will get your title on the shelf in book stores, and have large marketing budgets to help your book sell. You won’t see a large portion of your profit, as it’s going to your agent and your house, but, if you sell enough books, you can make a living or gain more exposure for future titles. You have to hook an agent by making contact with them through mail or email, and essentially selling the selling points of your book.
The finished manuscript. Back it up a second. Make sure your manuscript is FINISHED, and the appropriate length before you send it out to an agent. You can’t just make it any length you want, sorry. There are standards in publishing. Check for word count if you’re writing a novella or novel, and make those your goals. Most commonly, fantasy novels are at least 60,000 words, but depending on what you write, you could be looking at 80,000. (See a helpful chart here: http://thewritepractice.com/word-count/)
Please also see the manuscript check list for a polished and presentable document, here.
Querying agents. Look for literary agents who accept “unsolicited queries”. Some agents are so exclusive that you have to be recommended by a mysterious force. Most often, you can mail or email a “query letter” that explains your book to a literary agent. Sometimes they will ask for a sample. Sometimes they will request a sample if they like your letter. The number one rule is: FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS STATED. They will all be different. What are they really looking for as you introduce your book? They are looking to make an income by promoting your book. Please remember that this is their job, and living in NYC isn’t exactly cheap. If they don’t love your idea right away, they’re not picking you. If there is another book that came through yesterday and they like the character names better, they won’t pick you. Chances are slim that you will get a book deal, but it is still possible. Should an agent decline, you will get absolutely no explanation as to why, but sometimes a “while this is an interesting idea…” will end in a polite no. I say query your heart out, get the practice writing pitches, and then if all agents don’t work out for you, the decision is in your hands.
A great website to find Literary agents is here: http://www.agentquery.com, among others
If you interested in meeting agents face to face to pitch to, take a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference (http://www.writersdigestconference.com), that will get you in front of agents for a price. Just remember, it’s getting other people in front of agents too, so you need to set yourself apart.
Another harsh reality is that you might land a literary agent, but not a publishing deal. Yes, large houses can go back on their word and decide not to publish you, even at the last minute. That might also be why you have found this blog series.
What can you do after finding out you didn’t land an agent or deal?
Some writers put their old manuscript in a shoe box and leave it there. This always breaks my heart, because you might be damn good and no one will ever know. Deciding between passion and a hobby vs. career is a decision you shouldn’t take lightly.
Some writers self-publish the novel to get it out there without making it a career. I like to think that everyone has a story to tell. If you don’t want a career out of writing, get your one book out there, but make sure it’s edited and has a professional cover (you’ll hear that over and over). Just know that if you don’t put the work into it, it will always just be one book (event if it’s a great book), not a way of life. Maybe you don’t want the writing life, and that’s okay.
Some writers turn to Independent publishing houses. They DO NOT require an agent, but you will have to screen them. Small press can be wickedly cool, but there are also other publishing houses or companies that won’t steer you in a constructive direction as an indie author. Some small companies are more like groups for writers, and your editor is more of a beta-reader (I LOVE betas, but I also LOVE my editor). I have seen publishing companies who are run by people with claims about being Amazon best-selling authors—and they are, if you count ranking in the 400s best-selling (still a valid idea and they are a best-seller, yes)—but, I’m inclined to think if someone is going to show me the way and edit and promote my book like a baddass, that they would have made at least the top 100 in order to run a publishing house and manage other authors. It’s important to have group solidarity, which the small press might lend, but at the end of the day, your book will always rest on your book-which means proofreading and correct formatting. I have purchased books from such publishing houses, in which formatting is done so that some characters display incorrectly, and there are small errors such as homophones (ex. “bass note” in music, being spelled as “base note” in the book). I finished the book, but will NOT leave a review, because I feel the book is incomplete with the errors, and I won’t be helping anybody. No one else had left a review either (for 4 months), so it shows me the house isn’t pushing for the very important task of getting reviews. The owners of small publishing houses want to help and don’t mean will-ill, but they haven’t caught on to the tricks of the trade yet and need a little more time.
Legit small publishing houses. Legitimate small press is out there. When a small publishing or independent publishing company is run by an author, always check out the owner author’s book reviews, and make sure there is attention to editing. Make sure that there is an editor with experience on board, and usually, editors don’t write books themselves… even though they’d rock at it. Choose your small house carefully… the decision is yours, and even though they want to represent you, it might not always be a good fit.
And others become Indie authors, professionals looking to prove their success (and platform) in order to get a publishing deal later. I’m in this category. We find the pros in beta reading, editing, and cover design to take care of their respective fields. We also understand that success is the only option, and that we are in charge of every aspect of the process, from collecting interviews to setting up distribution.
If you are ready to be an Independent Author who contracts professional services and gets taken seriously, I just did months of work so you don’t have to, and I will do my best to share every piece of information out there. There are great writers who just need to discover the people who will fall in love with their writing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, but please, take yourself seriously.
Do you have experience with a small publishing house that prides itself on professionalism? Have you been to the Writer’s Digest Conference to pitch your novel? Email me at email@example.com! I’d love to do an interview or ask you about your experiences to add to this post!
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