Reading a blog this week by author Glenda Larke, I discovered she linked to a blog by a Denver, Colorado agent named Kristen Nelson. Kristen posted at the end of December (last) statistics from her company on the realities of querying and finding an agent. Read her blog here. The short and sweet of it, in case you weren’t already aware, is that it can be extremely difficult finding an agent who will read your work, let alone represent you.
Working in and around books, I’ve met writers and agents and reviewers in various stages of the writing process. I’ve also taken college and online courses and have networked with other writers. Networking is so helpful to understanding how writing happens and how to learn from others who’ve gone before you, who’re just ahead of you, and to help those just out of the gate.
I’ll give some examples…
Querying an Agent
One friend and former colleague of mine has submitted dozens of queries to agents over the past year and hasn’t had any luck yet. He’s already been co-published for a non-fiction work and now he’s trying to break into the fiction market. Even having your foot already in the door (different genre) doesn’t seem to help. When you look at it, making the 1 in 4,000 sounds like a pretty incredible goal to achieve, and the only thing for it is to keep submitting and refining your work, and most importantly, KEEP WRITING.
If you’re reading this, you know who you are, I hope that you will continue submitting to agents. There’s someone, somewhere, who’s going to love your book. Keep faith.
Rejection and Revision
Another friend of mine is an agent. I was able to show her a portion of an early draft of The Golden Triangle (tentatively titled), a couple years ago. She gave me a reality check and stopped reading within a couple pages (at the most). Looking back, I can admit now that I was angry, then hurt and maybe a little embarrassed too. But I appreciate that she took the time to actually read it and tell me what she thought. That experience has been invaluable.
I’ve learned how crucial it is to present a polished, flawless draft. Not just the basics of mechanics and spelling and grammar, but you need a strong character arc, a narrative hook that catches the reader instantly and a follow-through with a strong plot. I’ve also learned that a writer needs to toughen up a notch to handle criticism and rejection.
Self-Publishing and E-Books
Joe Schwartz knows about rejection along the route to publication. After struggling to find a publisher for his collection of short stories, he chose the non-traditional path of self-publication at Lulu.com. His book, Joe’s Black T-Shirt: Short Stories About St. Louis, was published as a paperback in 2009, and also released as an e-book. Purchase your copy here.
Joe once told me (to paraphrase) that you’ve got to get an agent to read the first paragraph, then the first couple of pages, the first chapter, etc. Getting an agent to read as far as the first couple of pages (as in my scenario) was a good sign. The idea has always been, and still is, once you’ve found a reader, to keep them hooked.
Self-publishing is still controversial.
Marketing and Publication
A poorly marketed, self-published book could be worse than no book published at all. Self-publishing, which is really a form of “vanity press” doesn’t come with marketing included. There is also the fear that publishing online, as in an e-book, may lead to illegal torrent downloads. That’s certainly a risk too. Looking back through history though, it isn’t uncommon for authors to get their start by paying to have a book published — just to get their name out there — then later being picked up by a publishing house. That’s best-case scenario.
Getting from Point A to Point B requires extensive marketing and a indomitable drive to see your work in print. Joe Schwartz marketed his book, appearing in local radio stations, book readings & signings, and in the news. He’s also not given up on experimenting with different genres — sometimes, your story may require a different medium.
STABCO, Joe’s new novel about two brothers who are door-to-door knife salesmen, has just been signed by Walrus Publishing. STABCO, when I read an earlier incarnation, was a screenplay. Now, it’s going to be a wildly successful (and humorous) book. Congratulations Joe for hijacking my blog and becoming the poster child for a successful, self-published-to-publishing house-published author.
I knew you could do it.