Wednesday, November 16, 2005

An easy guide to getting published

Many of the blogs I read are maintained by writers. Most of us are not published authors, but we’ve all either completed a book or two (or more) and are trying to get it (them) published, or we’ve started a book (or several) and dream of getting published.

The blogs serve to chronicle our daily lives and foibles, but all have a recurring theme regarding the progress (or lack thereof) we’re making towards that elusive goal.

I’m no industry insider, but from everything I’ve been able to glean this is about as cutthroat a business as there is. Book readership is down as the myriad of alternative leisure-time activities and games and devices all compete for a share of the “entertainment” market. The profits of publishers from traditional novels are razor thin if not non-existent.

Breaking into the ranks of “published” is often as much a matter of luck and persistence as evidence of skill at the craft of telling a good tale. Is there any best-selling author (in the last 25 years) whose initial efforts met rejection after rejection before finally being “in the right place at the right time?” I’ve not heard or read of any.

But haven’t we all read a book or two over the years that we knew after the third or fourth chapter was schlock? I have. And then I’ve wondered, “How did THIS ever get through an agent into an editor’s hands and onto the store shelves?”

The best answer I’ve found is that it seemed to meet a perceived need at a given moment.

Huh? What do I mean by that?

Well, maybe an agent took an editor to lunch in New York, and the editor mentioned that her boss was looking for a great new thriller to ride the wave of, say, Tom Clancy’s successes. The market was clamoring for more books like Tom’s, and she wished she could find a good one to push.

That afternoon that agent is queried by an author with a thriller in a military setting. She emails the author and asks for the first three chapters and a synopsis. When she gets it she realizes that this guy is no Tom Clancy, but the poorly written book meets a “need,” so she helps the author clean up some obvious faults in the opening, signs him, and sends it off to her editor friend.

Her editor friend is not real impressed, but this is what her boss asked for so she forwards it on. The editing team agrees that it’s far from perfect, but it’s the closest thing they’ve got to what the boss wants, so they recommend it.

Bingo! We have a new published author!

Meanwhile a better manuscript with much more potential from an author wannabe who has plans for six sequels languishes because the agents HE has queried are looking for a different genre that week. They get 30-40 queries a DAY. Three weeks later when an editor mentions to the agent that she’s looking for a military thriller, that query letter is long forgotten.

Sound like sour grapes? Maybe it is. But if you read Karyn Lyndon’s blog post of Nov. 14th you’ll get a feel for the sometimes cruel nature of the business. There’s a lot more to her story than you’ll find in her post, but the frustration can be overwhelming.

Everything I’ve read on this topic (the journey to getting published) emphasizes the need for patience and persistence.

I can certainly see why.


shyloh said...

This is an excellent post. I don't try to publish my poetry or anything because I
know it isn't that good haha. But I also know of so many trying and so many failed.
It is so sad and then lots of money can go into it. Only to be turned down time and
time again.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Duke. Many writer's magazines recommend going out and seeing what's selling, that writing to that market or niche.

It seems that unless one has to make a choice - write what you love, or write what you think you can sell.

Michelle said...

Synchronicity. I was watching Oprah this evening when she mentioned a woman who had just had a book published on .... wait for it ..... her husbands affairs and how they dealt with it and why she stayed with him! I thought to myself "how the hell does she get a book published AND on THAT subject? How many people would want to buy a book like that? Everytime something happens like "I killed my baby daughter" or "Married to a Gay for 50 years before the Truth was Revealed" or some topic on how to raise your children in a new politically correct environment ... these people get a book published and Oprah punts it on TV!! And when that happens, I think of you and how difficult it is for you to get a book published - one that most woman would love to take to the bathroom (shutup... wait for me to finish the sentence *grin*) and read whilst they are nibbling on strawberries, drinking wine and laying in a luxurious bubble bath. Go to publishing houses in England. They love romance.

Duke_of_Earle said...



Is that like, "Sex and the City?"

It almost sounds like it.


Nankin said...

Oh yeah. Been there done that. I have to say my writing has improved so much since I met Karyn and joined the writing group at our office.