Monday, September 8, 2014

My Advice to a Novelist Just Beginning the Journey

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.



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