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How hard is it to get published?


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#41 Brude

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 04:07 AM

Always try to get an agent/manager, don't try to submit directly to publishers. I know it happens and they will sometimes actually buy stuff that way, but if you can get an agent they have a much better chance of creating a buzz and possibly a feeding frenzy for your book than if you just submit it to the slush pile.

The point of an agent who is respected by editors is that they have their ear and can make things happen for a writer in ways not otherwise possible. A good agent can call their editor contacts (probably one or more at most if not all major publishers) and get them to read your book within a week and often just a few days. It's exactly the same as how agents/managers work the system for screenwriters in Hollywood. They will send the work out to as many puslishers as they can and target the editors whom they think will best respond to the work. The editors have got to read the book quickly if they want to remain on good terms with the agent, so the response time is fast. Also, they know they are in competition with all of the other publishers who got the book at the same time, so there is impetus to work quickly and get the jump on the others. Top agents command that respect only by having a proven track record of sending out good, publishable material.

The goal of all of this is to get two or more publishers to want to buy the book at the same time. Once an offer for the book comes into from one publisher, the agent then goes to all of the other publishers and tells them an offer is on the table and you now have however many days to either reject the book or make a counter offer. Once that second offer comes in you've got what's called an "auction" and two or more publishing houses begin submitting their bids to beat the other publishers. Honestly, I've never experienced an auction directly in all my time in the business. I only know about how it is run conceptually; everything I've seen sold had a single offer - some large some small, usually depending on the quote the writer commands - if any.

In one case we sold a script from a completely new writer for $150K against $300K simply because the producer wanted to preempt any other producer from buying it. An offer that generous for a new writer meant there was no need to send it out - and would have had the offer removed from the table, probably. The crazy thing was, we didn't even submit the script to him - somebody sneaked him a copy the Friday before we sent it out - how it got out there, I don't know but it did. Crazy things happen sometimes.

The closest I've come experiencing an auction was being in the office of an agency when a big auction was going on which meant we couldn't meet with one of the agents that day because he was too busy. (I think it was the script for "Underworld" they were selling, actually. I don't remember the title but I remember them describing it as Vampires vs. Werewolves, so that's my assumption.) It was very exciting, though. There was a real electricity in the air that day and we were excited because these were guys we knew well and liked and it was going to be a really big day for their agency. It's the kind of thing that warms even the most ice-cold agent's heart.

#42 Brude

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 04:21 AM

From the point of view of serious publishers and agents, self publishing is pretty much looked down upon. That doesn't mean that all self-published works are bad, but that's the assumption from that vantage point. Telling potential agents or publishers that you published something via self-publishing or via a vanity press doesn't help one's case if you are trying to get it noticed by them, or trying to get a later work sold. I saw a lot of this and early on in my query/slush-pile reading career I didn't know the names of a lot of the vanity presses vs. the small but respected publishers. I had to learn to weed out the "more-likely-to-be-good" from the "probably-bad" submissions, based at least on that criteria.

I've heard of cases where some of these things did find an audience on their own and thus gained the attention of serious agents and publishers. With so much good stuff being rejected, there is a point at which some of it inevitably gets put out there by the writer and thus finds a following, I guess. But it's not the norm, not even close, and most would tell you to save your pennies and just try and get your next book published. If/when you become a popular writer, a lot of that older work will get picked up if it's good enough (some writers become very happy that their early works never sold because they are mostly not up to par and are thus an embarrassment to them).

#43 Peadar

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 05:03 AM

Guys, it's not a :SUMMON AUTHOR: spell we need here, but a @@SUMMON AGENT@@ word of power. But Brudewollen is already here and really knows what he's talking about.

Ebenstone, you asked if this was my first novel and what my experience was. Well, it's pretty much everything Brudewollen said. I finished my manuscript, researched agents that might be interested in it. Queried said agents (and the query letter is of vital importance here, since they get so many and most end in the trash). I was very lucky in that the first agent I tried turned out to be a perfect fit, but normally you'll query lots of them before you find somebody interested enough, so it's important not to lose heart.

Then, my agent, who knew everybody important, started submitting the manuscript and this happened very quickly:

The goal of all of this is to get two or more publishers to want to buy the book at the same time. Once an offer for the book comes into from one publisher, the agent then goes to all of the other publishers and tells them an offer is on the table and you now have however many days to either reject the book or make a counter offer. Once that second offer comes in you've got what's called an "auction" and two or more publishing houses begin submitting their bids to beat the other publishers.


I can't say this strongly enough: research your agents; research query letters. Make sure your book will grab them from the very first page, if possible, the first sentence. Hand in the best book you can.

#44 Slynt

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 06:43 AM

A very interesting topic. I have for the longest time toyed with the idea of writing a novel, but something keeps me from doing it, and I am not sure what it is. The few times I've sat down and actually started writing, or making notes, it just fizzled away. Still, a good thread. :thumbsup:

#45 Korr

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 08:25 AM

Guys, it's not a :SUMMON AUTHOR: spell we need here, but a @@SUMMON AGENT@@ word of power.


Damn, but that would make my life a whole lot easier. :P

Do you know of any local wizards who would be willing to create such a spell? For a nominal fee, of course . . .

#46 MinDonner

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 08:40 AM

WHoa, whoa, whoa...Werth, I respect the hell out of you but this is BAAAD advice....now true I'm not published, hell I haven't even sent out a query yet...but EVERY piece of advice I've read from agents and editors usually says the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of this.


:agree:

If you're an established author with good sales behind you, you can probably get away with this. For a rookie debut author, this is BAD advice. Being able to write one chapter is no guarantee that you'll be able to write a whole book. Yeah, the agent will only want to see the first chapter to start off with, but if they like it, they're going to want the rest. What do you say then? "Ah, I'll get back to you in a couple of years when I've finished it"?

I wouldn't worry about "blacklisting", cos agents get so much crap they're unlikely to remember one annoying submission over another, but what a waste of everyone's time!

Also, regarding getting your friends to critique, I'd recommend that, but only the ones you can trust to give you honest opinions. If everyone's going "yeah, it's great", they are just being nice. Guaranteed. Even if it really is great, there will be things that other people can spot and that you can clear up, or at least think about. Or possibly, it sucks so badly that they don't even know where to start criticising. Join a critique group of local writers if you can find one. Mutual backslapping is all very well but ain't going to help you improve.

#47 Joe Abercrombie

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 10:09 AM

What we need here is: SUMMON AUTHOR!

Once again I walk amongst you . . .

It's incredibly easy if your stuff is genuinely good.

There a hundreds of people the world over looking for the next great novel. If you can't get published, it's because you suck or no one wants to read your particular flavor of genius.

There's some truth in this, but I think it's perhaps just a little glib. You don't have to look too far to realise that one man's genuinely good is another's genuinely shit. There are people out there who don't like Martin. There are people out there who don't like Lynch. There are even (apparently) people out there who don't like ME. I know, but it's true. Editors are no different in this regard, and they've got to really like something to take it on, or at least think it's going to really sell a shed load of copies. Some folks like my stuff, but it still got rejected by every serious sf&f agent in the UK.

It's incredibly easy if it falls into the hands of an agent or editor that sees that special something in it. Obviously, if it's odd, strange, uncommercial in some or many ways, that makes it less likely that any given agent or editor is going to see the cash money signs. If it's clearly commercial that may help, but . . .

Timing is also a major factor. I have one of the biggest SFF agents in North America, a very good manuscript (so say the editors who have read it), but most publishers are not particularly looking for epic fantasy at the moment.

So timing is very important, because it's also about what editors are buying now.

There are all kinds of reasons why an editor might decide against buying something - it's perceived as unfashionable, they lost money on a book like that, they've just bought something similar, etc. etc. They have to justify what they buy to marketers and higher-ups, so they need to get stuff that works.

That's unlikely to stop an editor buying something they REALLY love the arse out of, and think is a sure-fire commercial bullseye, but that ain't going to happen very often.

Obviously there's no real way of knowing how these factors might effect how your little manuscript is viewed, though it's certainly worth sending it to agents or publishers who already publish similar stuff - at least there's a chance that it's going to be more up their alley, and they may appreciate the fact you've bothered to research what their area is. Still, there's a big element of luck involved, clearly, in hitting the right person with the right treatment at the right time. The only thing you can really do to help yourself from that point of view is send it out an awful lot. The more times you roll the dice, after all, the quicker your number's going to come up.

Unless you really are unremittingly shit. And, my God, a lot of people are. The vast majority, even. You guys might think you know awful writing, but believe me you know nothing until you've seen some of the stuff in a publisher's slush pile. The amazing thing about a lot of it is how incredibly producer-driven it all is. I mean, I'm not saying you need to think about your market first - you've got to write what you want to write. But at least when you're trying to sell it to somebody (and let's not forget that's what you're trying to do) you could at least emphasise the commercial aspects. You need a letter on the front that clearly and obviously states what is excellent and exceptional about your stuff. Why they can't afford to pass. What you have that they need. A lot of the time they aren't going to read past the letter.

Always try to get an agent/manager, don't try to submit directly to publishers. I know it happens and they will sometimes actually buy stuff that way, but if you can get an agent they have a much better chance of creating a buzz and possibly a feeding frenzy for your book than if you just submit it to the slush pile.

It would certainly be ideal to get an agent first, and build with them an artistic relationship that will last across the centuries, but that ain't always going to happen. I got an offer from my publisher first, then got an agent later (which, you'll be amazed to find, was surprisingly easy once I had a major publisher interested), so I wouldn't be shy about sending something to publishers. Having carefully sent out treatments one at a time to agents and waited six-weeks for a string of heartbreaking rejections, and basically spent a year getting totally discouraged, I'd say fuck that noise, now. Send, send, send. Send to your neighbour's dog. Tell everyone you know. If someone really loves what they see they won't care whether you approached someone else at the same time. Then after six months, if you totally crash and burn, at least you can try writing something else, rather than waste ten years gradually collecting rejections.

So there.

So there.

#48 Korr

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 10:11 AM

Of course it is! For one thing, it's a threat to their jobs if folks publish their own works. Then there's the snobbery factor. The publishing industry is very much a clique, as is the writing one, and it's easy to look down upon outsiders.

(Just look for the condescension JKR faces from some folks)
The norm is always biased towards rejection, even going the agent/publisher route. This is because of the sheer number of submitted works. Most of which are crap, and many of which will never get better.

Heck, I'd go so far as to say that it's only the books that really sell well that make up for the ones that don't and end up getting pulped.
It's the ones whose works never get better that really ought to worry.

And no, don't submit an unfinished work! Very few people are going to take the risk on you like that. If you just want to put something out there, write a short story or novella instead.


I'm sorry, and no disrespect to you, but there's good reasons why vanity publishing is looked down on and it has nothing to do with 'The Man' trying to hold down the little guy. One indicator is the name. Vanity publishing is just that -- somebody who thinks their stuff is good enough for publication, but can't get any professional interest.

This isn't always the fault of poor quality writing, but by and large it is, and I've known all too many amateur writers with delusions of grandeur who turned to self-publishing as a means to try and circumvent the industry's quality control. And that's the thing, there is absolutely no quality control on vanity publishing. It's paid for by the author and the 'publishers' make money regardless of whether or not the work's any good. That's why, in essence, telling an agent or publisher that you've self-published is tantamount to saying your work couldn't hack it in the real world.

My stuff hasn't gotten any professional interest yet either (although I may be getting lucky over the course of next week, fingers crossed) but I wouldn't shoot my career in the foot or waste my hard-earned money by trying to self-publish. The only story I might market that way is my online novel, which pro publishers wouldn't want anyway 'cause it's available for free on the internets.

Now I'm not saying the industry's perfect, but vanity publishing is not the answer to anyone's problems, ever.

#49 Mossman

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 10:18 AM

There are even (apparently) people out there who don't like ME.


I'm sure those people are few and far-between. We'll let them get back to their fourth re-reading of The Redemption of Althalus.


The amazing thing about a lot of it is how incredibly producer-driven it all is.


Good point. Do you think most writers and wanna'be writers are narcissistic by nature? It's such a solitary endeavor that I wonder sometimes.

#50 Korr

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 10:22 AM

[excellent advice snipped]


There is wisdom in this post. Everyone who's shopping around manuscripts should give it a careful read. Particular points I'd like to emphasise are:

1) Like Joe said, submit to EVERYONE. Agent, publisher, editor, everyone you can get an address for.

2) Adding to Joe's points re: cover letters. You need to really sell your stuff in your cover letter (unless of course the target specifically states in their guidelines to let your work speak for itself, which some of them do) but DO NOT try to outline the whole plot in your cover letter. Try to describe the strengths of the work in general, not the details of what happens in it. Synopses and summaries are synopses and summaries, they don't belong on the cover letter.

#51 Mossman

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 10:41 AM

I'm sorry, and no disrespect to you, but there's good reasons why vanity publishing is looked down on and it has nothing to do with 'The Man' trying to hold down the little guy. One indicator is the name. Vanity publishing is just that -- somebody who thinks their stuff is good enough for publication, but can't get any professional interest.


Yes, The Man loves to keep authors down! Publishers aren't in this to make money or anything, so they work hard to hold down talented writers! A friend of mine who is a small press author was accosted at Philcon last weekend by a lady hawking her book (she had bound it herself) about a conspiracy against her amongst universities- had something to do with Einstein. She wrote it "from memory" during her three years in prison. Seriously.


This isn't always the fault of poor quality writing, but by and large it is, and I've known all too many amateur writers with delusions of grandeur who turned to self-publishing as a means to try and circumvent the industry's quality control. And that's the thing, there is absolutely no quality control on vanity publishing. It's paid for by the author and the 'publishers' make money regardless of whether or not the work's any good. That's why, in essence, telling an agent or publisher that you've self-published is tantamount to saying your work couldn't hack it in the real world.


I think self-publishing appeals to the impatient people who either: don't want to go through the revising and editing process, don't want to wait through the submission and rejection process, or don't want to invest the time to learn the craft of writing.



My stuff hasn't gotten any professional interest yet either (although I may be getting lucky over the course of next week, fingers crossed) but I wouldn't shoot my career in the foot or waste my hard-earned money by trying to self-publish. The only story I might market that way is my online novel, which pro publishers wouldn't want anyway 'cause it's available for free on the internets.

Now I'm not saying the industry's perfect, but vanity publishing is not the answer to anyone's problems, ever.


Scott Lynch was publishing The Lies of Locke Lamora online when it was discovered, so there's always a chance. Good luck.

#52 Mossman

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 10:43 AM

2) Adding to Joe's points re: cover letters. You need to really sell your stuff in your cover letter (unless of course the target specifically states in their guidelines to let your work speak for itself, which some of them do) but DO NOT try to outline the whole plot in your cover letter. Try to describe the strengths of the work in general, not the details of what happens in it. Synopses and summaries are synopses and summaries, they don't belong on the cover letter.



Evil Editor's blog is a great resource for how to write a cover letter and how to correct the flaws.

#53 JEORDHl

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 10:50 AM

Narcissistic by nature... I'm going to try to avoid a potentially polemical argument here.

Ah, hell. There may be an Isle of Man, but it's no man's island.

Of course some writers aren't always good and... kind. Some are narcissistic. Just as some scientists are, like good old Clint, last name Dawkins. What of it though?

Narcissism isn't reserved by any particular occupation. Just certain types. With, uh... a certain passion.

Or something.

Edited by Azor Ahai, 21 November 2007 - 10:52 AM.


#54 Mossman

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 11:00 AM

Narcissistic by nature... I'm going to try to avoid a potentially polemical argument here.
Ah, hell. There may be an Isle of Man, but it's no man's island.
Of course some writers aren't always good and... kind. Some are narcissistic. Just as some scientists are, like good old Clint, last name Dawkins. What of it though?
Narcissism isn't reserved by any particular occupation. Just certain types. With, uh... a certain passion.
Or something.




Yeah, I'm just wondering if writing is one of the pursuits that has a strong appeal to narcissistic people: By outward appearances it's a solitary pursuit. The world, the characters... you created all of them. You get most/all the credit. And then there's the whole "leaving a legacy" thing...

#55 Korr

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 11:03 AM

Yes, The Man loves to keep authors down! Publishers aren't in this to make money or anything, so they work hard to hold down talented writers! A friend of mine who is a small press author was accosted at Philcon last weekend by a lady hawking her book (she had bound it herself) about a conspiracy against her amongst universities- had something to do with Einstein. She wrote it "from memory" during her three years in prison. Seriously.


Damn, that's so much better than any of my anecdotes. *hangs head*


I think self-publishing appeals to the impatient people who either: don't want to go through the revising and editing process, don't want to wait through the submission and rejection process, or don't want to invest the time to learn the craft of writing.


Sounds about right, only I'd add the absolute crazies who think the industry's out to get them, and the ones who persist in thinking their work is the greatest thing ever despite all indications and feedback to the contrary.


Scott Lynch was publishing The Lies of Locke Lamora online when it was discovered, so there's always a chance. Good luck.


Huh, I didn't know that. I guess anything can happen. Mind you, cyberpunk isn't really considered a sellable genre anymore . . . ;)

Edited by Korr, 21 November 2007 - 11:03 AM.


#56 Peadar

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 11:44 AM

It would certainly be ideal to get an agent first, and build with them an artistic relationship that will last across the centuries, but that ain't always going to happen. I got an offer from my publisher first, then got an agent later (which, you'll be amazed to find, was surprisingly easy once I had a major publisher interested)
So there.


Joe, can you tell us how long you spent waiting for an answer? (no need "to walk among us" this time, that shit freaks me out ;) )

The thing is, you can query as many agencies as you want, and all at the same time and nobody will say 'boo' to you. If they refuse your masterpiece, as happened, stupidly, in Joe's case, there's nothing stopping you submitting to publishers thereafter. Agents who've said 'no' before will almost always fall over themselves to say 'yes' after a publisher does... The opposite, however, is not the case. If you burn your bridges with a lot of publishers, the agents won't touch you with a barge-pole.

Therefore, IMHO, agents first. If that fails, publishers after.

Also, agents can usually get an answer out of a publisher far, far quicker than a mere mortal can. Which is why I asked the ex-mortal above how long it took him to get a reply when he submitted TBI.

#57 Artoo-Feefah

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 11:49 AM

Once again I walk amongst you . . .


Why do I suddenly hear A Sean Connery narration followed by Queen in my head?

No one knew we were among you.
Until now...

HERE we are
Born to be kings,
We're the Princes of the Universe....

#58 Ebenstone

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 12:26 PM

Thanks Mr. Peadar and Mr. Abercrombie...truly insightful.

I had a feeling this was going to turn into a vanity publishing bashing/antibashing thread. All I'm saying is nothing good ever seems to come from vanity press...at least the bad news seems to vastly outnumber the good news. Plus, as Harlan Ellison recently said, no writer should ever have to PAY someone to publish thier work.

Last year, our local newspaper ran a front page article in the Sunday "Arts" section about these two high school seniors who published their novel. Of course I was interested so I read the article. Well they were rejected by several traditional publishers and decided to go with a vanity press. Oh, did I mention they were from a very affluent area? (Probably very used to getting their way and being told they were good at everything and didn't think their book was bad but that the publishers were wrong.) Anyway, the local B&N got behind them big time, did a signing and all that. Well that was a little over a year ago...and the B&N STILL has dozens of copies of the book!

Also, many of my female students are OBSESSED with "urban fiction" NOT urban fantasy...."urban ficition" is a nice way of saying black, ghetto-themed smut. Now the majority of it is vanity published and is awful...no joke: spelling mistakes and missing punctuation. It's embarassing.

I firmly believe my work is good enough. I've been told by professors and friends (from writitng groups) that I will be published someday and I believe that. I know I need a lot of work though.

#59 Joe Abercrombie

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 01:14 PM

Joe, can you tell us how long you spent waiting for an answer? (no need "to walk among us" this time, that shit freaks me out ;) )


When you dabble in the black arts, you should be freaked out.

I walk among you once again . . .

The thing is, you can query as many agencies as you want, and all at the same time and nobody will say 'boo' to you. If they refuse your masterpiece, as happened, stupidly, in Joe's case, there's nothing stopping you submitting to publishers thereafter. Agents who've said 'no' before will almost always fall over themselves to say 'yes' after a publisher does... The opposite, however, is not the case. If you burn your bridges with a lot of publishers, the agents won't touch you with a barge-pole.

Therefore, IMHO, agents first. If that fails, publishers after.


Yes, this is sound. I guess my point would just be, don't be nervous about putting it out there. Every person who reads it is another person who might buy it. Every person who knows you're doing it is another who might recommend it to someone else.

Also, agents can usually get an answer out of a publisher far, far quicker than a mere mortal can. Which is why I asked the ex-mortal above how long it took him to get a reply when he submitted TBI.

I am still mortal, it is simply that my life is measured in thousands of your earth years.

I submitted it to an editor (Gillian Redfearn at Gollancz) via a friend who works for an educational publisher who was on a desk editing course with said editor, so it was actually one solid step above unsolicited. I sent the usual letter + three chapters, by e-mail in this case, because that's what she asked for. She got back to me within the week asking to see more, I sent half the book, she asked for the rest plus a synopsis of the whole series, I got an offer from her boss Simon Spanton a few days later. I nearly pissed myself. In fact I might've, just a little bit.

If there hadn't been this small connection, it might very well have taken weeks or months for anyone to look at it, and they might have looked at it less seriously then. But that's why I say to spread your seed as widely as possible (so to speak), because you never know who will be that lucky link . . .

#60 Triskan

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 01:18 PM

I may be a shit poster, but I am a master thread-starter. :smoking: