So what would qualify me to give ANYONE advice about the publishing business? One thing only, the person asked.
Twenty years ago, I worked for the local phone company. I met a lot of talented people. Somehow, I did not alienate all of them. Last week, I got an e-mail from a former colleague who has written a novel. He invited me to meet and discuss the publishing business with him.
If you are a grown up with a family, you know these things are difficult to arrange. Still, I couldn't help thinking about my experience (and I am not done trying yet!) and what the first couple of years can be like. So, I sent him this letter, if the hope that even this little bit would be of some use:
I don't know when we are going to be able to get together. Even so, I have been thinking about your new adventure, writing, publishing etc.
Without meeting, I can pass along a few things, most of which you may already know:
1) Fiction or Non-Fiction - Traditional Publishing vs Self Publishing - It makes a big difference;
If you are selling fiction to a traditional publisher, you must have a completed manuscript.
If you want a decent publisher, you probably need a good agent. Two good agents are Janet Reid and Elizabeth Pomada. I really like Janet, she's a successful pro. I wasn't able to land her, but I like her.
Look at the Literary Marketplace - a massive resource book that lists publishers and agents. Important here are the publishers that accept unagented manuscripts. There are only a few.
Non-Fiction, easier to sell and you don't need a complete manuscript. Michael Larson is among the best on the West Cost and he is non-fiction only.
POD publishers (print on demand) - Easier to get to, but they do almost no promotion. You can say that you have a publisher and you may get a good edit. That's about it.
My POD publisher relationship was odd. Not bad, but odd.
Self - Publishing: Much easier to do, but lots and lots of work after that. You will have to spend the rest of your life selling if your work is fiction.
Non-fiction - "Calculus made Super Easy" or whatever, always has a market.
Conferences: I went to the SF Writers Conference in 2004 and it was the hardest 3 days of my life. Everything I wanted to believe, was wrong. I learned a lot.
That conference was at the Sir Frances Drake. Also at the hotel - a drag queen conference. Tucked, taped and fabulous.
I also went to Bouchercon in 2010 at the Hyatt Regency. Bouchercon is for Mystery writers and fans and it was nothing but indulgence.
I met my favorite writers. I visited with booksellers that had my novel in stock who were embarrassingly kind. I didn't sell. I didn't buy.
I wallowed in my own dim glory and the achievements of much more successful writers.
Writing novels is for those who will not quit: will not quit writing, will not quit selling, will not quit obsessing over how to gain new readers.
Of all the true winners I have known in Life, you are near the top. I know that this will be a good thing for you and that you will touch many people.