WHAT IT TAKES TO PUBLISH A BOOK
Query statistics for my first novel
First query letters sent out to agents: February 28
Query to the publisher: April 9; Same day the Publisher requests the MS.
Early July -- Publisher makes an offer.
April next year -- The novel hits the bookstands.
A year passes -- the novel gets three translation deals
Some of the lessons learned: the importance of targeted querying. My low Nr of requested manuscripts was the result of querying ALL agents rather than concentrating on those who specialise in my genre.
Getting your book published
The following experiences and the resulting comments and questions from fellow writers led to the creation of this ebook
I wrote a book and decided to publish it. I didn't know how to go about it, so I purchased a stack of those books on "Getting Published". Gaw, they sounded so inspiring! Yet, two months later I was ready to trash them -- nothing in them related to what I was up against.
I found myself in a vicious circle: I was told not to pitch editors directly ("agented submissions only"), yet unable to find a literary agent (most query letters sent to literary agencies were not simply rejected -- they were unanswered). My frustration grew, and was compounded by the "advice" pushed by publications on "getting published", which are penned by literary agents, or (sometimes) editors, and inevitably perpetuate the myth that the only way to publish a book is: to write the darn best book, polish it (so far so good), and "find an agent who will find a publisher." While the "advice" sounded great in theory, the reality was that most writers cannot showcase their work because of the Catch-22.
I realized that if I wanted to become a published author I had to adopt the George Costanza approach, to "do the exact opposite" to the customary route. I did just that. I ditched the books and their main premise of having to find an agent. I contacted a New York editor instead, and I became a published author.
Why are these "advice" books so widely available and why are they so popular? These books are available because they serve the interests of those who pen them. They are popular because no alternatives exist, and because of the upbeat style in which they are written. They offer hope, everything is possible -- just write your novel, get an agent and the world will bend over backwards for you...
At the risk of sounding like the only downer in the industry, let me be painfully honest: trying to publish a book is the most depressing aspect of being a writer. The types of replies one receives (or lack there of) only makes this process more stressful. A writer who finished her story and thinks that the worst is over, should take a good long holiday. She will need all the strength she can gather because she is up for a nasty ride: trying to find an agent.
How does it work?
Pitching a fiction book idea without a book being written will not work unless the writer is a celebrity, or someone with a good deal of clout (for example a war criminal or someone who slept with everyone in the White House, or preferably both, etc). Of course we all heard about miraculous exceptions (such as selling a novel based only on a synopsis, or a couple of sample chapters, etc), but for the sake of this article I am assuming that a writer reading this belongs to the struggling majority.
As a general rule, a query letter should not be longer than one page (email is excellent as one can make it longer and no one will ever know) and should include a short description of the novel, writer's bio (if relevant), story length and genre (see more about the anatomy of a query letter ). The letter should be addressed to a specific person rather than a "submissions department".
Names can be found in my literary agents and publishers lists (prepared for my own use and updated once or twice a year.)
When one agent declines to see the manuscript, a writer should try another person from the same house or wait several weeks and query again (I've had some success on the second, third, or even the ninth try). Incidentally, what elevated the number of replies I received (though oddly enough not the sort of replies I was hoping for) was the change of tactic (others too will scratch their heads after several hundred rejections and will try new tricks...) I kept a detailed list of agents queried and would run through it once a week. When someone did not reply, I would send a follow up query with this opening line: "Whom do I have to sleep with to get representation". Although most declined the service, many took the time to reply. One agent even asked for the manuscript, and eventually offered to represent it, though her contract was so long and difficult to understand that I declined it.
Some agents will request exclusive rights to evaluate a manuscript and will not consider it if a writer submits to other agencies simultaneously. If this happens, one should make sure that the agent gets back in a timely manner. Time is money not only for them but for a writer as well. More importantly, it is the stress of awaiting another rejection, with just a glimmer of hope: perhaps this time, perhaps this agent will fall in love with it...
Some query letters are responded to within minutes, or a day, or two. Some agents take a week, few will take two weeks, fewer still will reply after a month or two. Most will never reply.
Submitted manuscripts may be rejected the same day they are received, but it may take a year before a writer hears back...
And, if this is not depressing enough... Some agents will telephone a writer at home after reading her manuscript; they will tell her how much they loved the story; they will tell her that the book was read by several folks at their end, and they all loved it; they will talk to the writer at length about the book, about her writing career and prospects and offer representation; they will tell her to expect an agency agreement (contract) shortly. Yeeppie! Three weeks later the writer will receive an email saying that agency changed their mind because the book is not The Da Vinci Code, the writer is not Michael Crighton or James Patterson or some other author who spent several decades building her career and therefore chances of receiving big money for the project are not worth the agency's efforts...
There is more. Some agents will add a writer's name, email address and the IP name to their black list / spam filters; in fact this is a growing trend. Writers in pursuit of publication will quickly realize the reality of being a writer in search of an agent: agents would be happier if only they did not have to deal with writers. Sure, someone may say that it isn't fair of me to generalize, but they can tell me this after they query 400 agents, most of whom do not reply.
There are two types of rejections:
The first type of "rejection" should have a whole different designation, for instance -- a "decline" to read a masterpiece.
Most rejections, or declines, go beyond the standard four words: Not for us, thanks.
One should insist on a more detailed explanation why one's work is being rejected. Simple reply "Not right for me" is not helpful. A writer should treat rejections as a learning opportunity but never assume that a rejection means that she is a lousy writer or that her book is too crappy to be published. Judging a writer is like judging figure skaters, it is very subjective and depends on the judge's personal taste. One only has to think about one's own reading tastes and those of one's friends who insist that one must read this or that, only to find out what total shlock it is... Agents are bound by the requirements set forth by publishers; they only look for what they think they can sell (preferably at a huge profit) and therefore a writer's chances are limited. Querying editors directly broadens the opportunity becuse editors are the ultimate buyers, and they are able to make up / change / bend the rules on the spot.
For a good laugh get the "Rotten Rejections: The Letters That Publishers Wish They'd Never Sent" by Andre Bernard and see what some of the most popular writers in the World received in their mailbox.
Finally, consider this, the premise of my book DITCH THE AGENT : one does not need an agent to get published. Querying a publisher directly may result in getting The Call. Hell, some publishers encourage unagented submissions, even the big Houses (TOR, et al). I emailed one such publisher. He replied within an hour, requesting the manuscript. Several weeks later he called and made an offer. After four weeks of negotiations we agreed on the contract. Rejections from agents kept coming for several months thereafter...
The lawyer I hired also owns one of the largest/most respected literary agencies in the country (though they never returned my SASE). When asked: "Should I hire an agent?", the lawyer replied "Jack, you don't need an agent, you have a lawyer."
I am not saying that writers should give up looking for agents, just consider that not having one is not the end of the world. Writers should swing both ways: query agents and editors at the same time (but not brag about it to agents -- they like to believe that they hold all the strings).
Find out more about getting published, and about the publishing industry, in:
Questions every writer asks are finally answered:
How to publish a book?
These and more questioned are answered in detail by a published author. And invaluable first-hand experience shared by a writer just like you!