I thought that I'd start the new year off right with a top - ten list. Everyone loves lists - lists rock! Well here's my big list for those contemplating trying to get a book published or those who are knee-deep in the querying process. Glean away, folks!
10) Everyone has a book in them.
Not true. Most people probably have an idea for what might be a cool premise on which to base a novel, but an idea doesn’t translate into 80,000 t0 100,000 words. It doesn’t include world building, creating believable characters or an actual plot. Yeah … a plot. Plots are important because if you don’t have a beginning, middle and end, you’ll have the most boring novel in the world. It takes a hell of a lot of work to write a novel and some people just aren’t up to it because, believe it or not, there’s this issue of actual talent. Like it or not, to become published, you have to possess some degree of talent – that’s just how it goes.
9) This book is going to make a ton of money.
Um … no. Chances are that if you become published, you won’t even earn out your advance. I know bestselling authors who have yet to quit their day jobs. Ain’t gonna happen unless you have written something with huge commercial potential.
8) All published authors are rich.
Um … no. This goes hand in hand with number nine. We’re not. If anything, published authors are among that 99% we keep hearing about these days. Don’t get me wrong, if I strike it big one day I’ll get grills and wear a fur coat, but until then I have to keep plugging away at a day job and writing books in hope that the next one will be more commercially successful than the last one.
7) I wrote a book, I’m gonna self-publish it on Amazon and make a mint.
Unlikely. While there are some self-published books making a lot of money over at Amazon, chances are your masterpiece will float alongside all the rest of the self-published dreck. Once in a while someone will buy your book and Amazon will skim their percentage off of your sale. You see, Amazon is FLOODED with self-published books. The average self published novel will sell under a hundred copies and if Amazon is skimming a percentage off the thousands and thousands of books that sell less than a hundred copies, do the math. Amazon is making money, you’re not.
6) I wrote a book, literary agents are going to climb all over each other to sign me.
Very simply, if you believe this, you’re delusional. I used to think getting published was hard work … then I started looking for an agent. Here’s my stats so you can use them as a frame of reference. My novel POLTERGEEKS was submitted to more than forty literary agents. FORTY! My query was rejected by two thirds of them. I received five requests for a partial and five requests for the full manuscript. I received more than twenty seven rejections. Each rejection where the agent cared to comment on my work differed sharply from the next one. There was no common thread in each rejection and that taught me that finding an agent is an entirely subjective experience because reading is a subjective experience as well. I finally found an agent but this was after having plodded along for more than two years. In short, chances are that you won’t find an agent. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the cold hard truth. It’s important to remember that you’re one of a jillion other authors who are looking for an agent. Agent inboxes are FLOODED with queries so in order to grab an agent’s attention, your query and ultimately your manuscript has got to shine. It has to have commercial viability, too, and finally, your story has to be really freaking good for an agent to take you on as a client.
5) I don’t need an agent.
This might garner some push back. Do you need an agent? Well, I guess that depends entirely on what your aspirations might be. If you just want to self-publish your stuff for family and friends, then no. But if you’re like me and you want to make a career out of being an author, you absolutely must have an agent. Aside from the fact that big publishers won’t even look at your query letter without an agent, you have to remember that an agent isn’t just the person who can get a large publsiher to look at your work. They’re professionals in the industry. Let me say that again: agents are industry professionals. They know what flies or fries, they’re up on publishing trends and most importantly, they’re not going to submit your masterpiece until it’s been revised, revised and revised some more. Don’t believe that you still need an agent during a period of transformative change in publishing? Read this.
My novel POLTERGEEKS went through a nearly twelve month long revisions process that at times was so frustrating I thought that I’d lose my mind. I’m glad I didn’t because the final product is just so much better than what I’d submitted to my agent in the first place. Agents are your coach, your mentor, your bodyguard – yeah, bodyguard. They make sure that you get a fair and equitable contract. They deal with blips between you and your editor. They ensure you get all the money that’s owed to you. God, I could write a list a mile long about why having an agent is crucial … trust me. You need an agent if you want to make a go of it. (Also, they’re cheerleaders. They help lift you out of self-doubt and set you on the path to writing something that you can be proud of.)
4) I’m published. Everyone is going to buy my book. Yay me.
No they’re not. Remember that you have to compete in a market that’s flooded with similar works. Bookstores are closing all over the place and online booksellers live in the shadow of the all seeing Amazon. Fewer and fewer people are actually reading these days … it’s almost as if the publishing world is geared toward your failing at every turn. The fact is that unless you are published by a publishing house that wants to spend a boatload of money on marketing your book, then the marketing is going to be up to you. That means blogging, blog tours, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, contests, giveaways, asking for reviews. You could fill half of your time you’d spend on writing just by getting the word out on your book. This is hard, hard work – I can’t stress enough how hard it is for you to somehow get noticed.
3) I just completed NaNoWriMo – Now is the time to start sending out queries.
No. No, no, no, no! A lot of literary agents shudder when December 1st rolls around each year because their inboxes are going to be flooded with query letters for a 50K word masterpiece that is convoluted, filled with grammatical and style errors, and like it or not, terrible terrible writing. Do not send out a query for something you just finished last week. You need to rewrite it, print it off and rewrite it again. It has to be a damned fantastic piece of writing BEFORE you send it off. Look, I think NaNoWriMo is fantastic. I participated this year for the first time, but you have to be realistic about the outcome for your book. A lot of people participate for the sheer love of writing and that’s great. But a hell of a lot of people do it because they want to get published and you have to be realistic about things. Your work has to stand out if it’s going to pass muster with an agent or whether a small publisher will consider even looking at it. Stop. Sit back. Pat yourself on the shoulder because you wrote 50K words in a month. Now ask yourself – what’s the next move? If you’re serious about getting published, you’ll embark on the lengthy process of revising that story and making it shine. Only then will it be ready for the querying stage.
2) Yeah, but my book is different than the other ones at the bookstore.
Is it? How do you know? Genre fiction is the domain for some pretty damned impressive book series. A lot of authors think that writing a series is the sure fire way to find success and I’m going to tell you that it isn’t. The market is flooded with books in a series that are so similar to other series by other authors that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference from the cover art on each book! If you’re going to find some measure of success, I think you need to think about each book in a series as being a stand alone novel. It has to be capable of selling as a stellar piece of individual fiction.
I love books in a series. I have two books in a series out on my own and they aren’t selling. Why? Because there’s a lot of similar books out there and the discerning book buyer generally wants to spend their money on an established brand. Chances are they’re going to pick up the next book in a best selling author’s series before they risk spending ten bucks on your first in a series that nobody has ever heard of. That’s just economics – people like consistency in our buying habits. As well, you have to remember what I call “the consumer buying equation”, namely Benefit (what’s in it for me – meaning the buyer) has to outweigh Price in order for a consumer to experience Value. We do this consciously and unconsciously every single day in all our buying decisions – from bread to books. Your book has to solve that riddle if it’s going to stand out and you probably won’t if you haven’t signed with an agent and managed to get published by a large publishing house that is willing to spend the money marketing your book. And even then, there’s no guarantees.
1) The publishing industry is undergoing transformative change - this is the wrong time to think about getting published.
Your success, indeed, any author’s success is going to happen as a result of two sure things:
a) a TON of hard, hard work
b) No shortage of plain old dumb luck
Yes, there are authors who have experienced incredible first-time success as a self-published author through Kindle self-publishing. Yes, ebook readers can now be purchased for under a hundred bucks. Yes, the digitization of books presents boatloads of opportunity for authors, but I cannot stress enough that not even industry professionals know what the end-game of all this transformative change in publishing will be. It wasn’t that long ago when people scoffed at the notion of eBooks selling more than print books – well, they were wrong. They’re selling in ever increasing numbers … BUT … ebooks still represent around ten percent of the overall sales in North American publishing, so don’t crack open that bottle of champagne just yet. There’s an economic slowdown the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1930′s – THAT has a lot to do with an incredible amount of fear in the publishing world. Borders … the freaking Home Depot of book sellers shut their doors this year forever. They went bankrupt!
Think about that for a second – if one of the world’s largest bookselling chains went tit’s-up and you’re a professional in the industry, you’re probably experiencing your own economic pain as well. Publishers are looking for something that is a sure thing and increasingly, that means sticking with established brands that they can count on. That doesn’t mean publishers won’t take on new authors, it just means they won’t be giving as much in the way of advances and marketing will probably be more and more the responsibility of the author.
Yes, you can be successful amid this doom and gloom environment that publishing is struggling with, but chances are that you won’t. Chances are that I might not … and I’m freaking published already! Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s a game of playing the odds and if you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you’ll know that the house generally wins. Right now, the house are the sure things – the established brands. The house is also Amazon and the mind boggling way they’re reshaping the industry.
Now I’m not saying that you should give up your dream of becoming published. If anything, I want writers to keep on writing … but go into this with realistic expectations. It is realistic to assume that you won’t become the next Laurell K. Hamilton or Jim Butcher or Jasper FForde. It’s realistic to believe that you might one day become a published author, but it’s unrealistic to assume that you’re going to be able to make a living at this gig – and this brings me to my final point.
Why write when the odds are stacked against you?
That’s all I can really say. It’s just so damned cool to walk into my local bookseller here in Saskatoon and see my books on the shelves. Yeah, they don’t sell a who hell of a lot, but I wrote them! Me!! It’s also cool when you get an email from someone in Switzerland who you’ve never heard of in your life, but who bought your book, read it, loved it and took the time to send you an email to tell you as much. That’s an incredible feeling, frankly, and for me at least, that’s why I write. That’s gratification. (Getting paid is gratification, too, but knowing that you have a handful of fans out there can sustain you when you’re banging your head against the desk on your next masterpiece.)
So there you have it. My top ten list of myths about getting published. Keep on writing, by all means. But go at this with a sense of the likely outcomes. Writing is a craft, never forget that. It’s a hard, hard slog – but it’s a hell of a thing, getting published. Good luck!ck!