Given that I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, not just in the context of all the (probably tiresome) fandom-related yelling I’ve been doing, I decided that I’d go ahead and toss this up there. I was also having drinks with some dear friends (who are not writers) recently, and they were congratulating me on books, which was lovely, but it struck me again that they didn’t seem to totally understand a) how little money you can actually make in this business, and b) how incredibly labor-intensive building up a backlist is, and how having four or five novels out there almost never means you can quit your day job. Or how you get four or five novels out there to begin with.
I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions. I’ve seen a lot of people – talented writers, to be sure – who seem to think that basically all you need to do to get published is write a great book and wait for people to come to your door and ask to pay you for it. I’ve seen talented writers stumble or get hurt because they didn’t know the lay of the land before they charged enthusiastically into it. I’ve seen talented writers just pretty much never go anywhere at all. Talent is not enough, and alone it’s not a guarantee of anything. It would be great if it was, but it ain’t.
So here, at least, is my experience and my understanding of the process. It’s not comprehensive, it’s not what will work for everyone, and it’s not representative of everyone’s experience. I’m also not by any means the first person to say any of this. Regardless, here are some things that you might or will need to do if you want to sell a book.
- Finish it. Seriously. There are situations where a proposed book or a half-finished book gets picked up, but on the whole your chances are made immeasurably better if you have a completed manuscript in hand.
- Edit it. Having a completed book helps. It helps less if it is, shall we say, rough around the edges.
- Decide what you want to do with it. Because there are a number of things you can do. Do you want to self-publish? Do you want to send it directly to publishers? Large or small press? Do you want to query agents with it? All of these will require different things from you and you need a plan. Regardless of which route you go – with the exception of self-publishing – I would personally create and compile this packet of submission materials early in the process and keep it on hand:
- A synopsis (publishers/agents differ on length but the general standard is two to three pages)
- A query letter (in my opinion, every query you send should be somewhat personalized, but the basic content – one-paragraph pitch, bio, etc. will be pretty much the same every time)
- A sample of the first three chapters of the manuscript (three chapters or fifty pages is often what’s asked for).
- Research. You need to know your industry. If you’re self-publishing, figure out what you need to do in order to get your book in the shape you want before you put it out there (editing, cover art, etc.) and how to maximize the effectiveness of your promotion. If you’re submitting directly to publishers, large or small, familiarize yourself with who wants what. If you’re querying agents, learn who the good ones are. Make lists of likely candidates. Read the submission guidelines. Then read them again. Then again, just to make absolutely sure you didn’t overlook anything. Don’t waste these people’s time – they are already very, very busy and it makes them grumpy. And make sure you know what your rights as an author are, what industry standard contracts tend to look like, and what to watch for in terms of not getting screwed over. Because yes, there are people out there looking to screw you over.
- If you’re going the non-self-pub route, submit/query. You have to do this. Yes, a tiny percentage of people skip this step and get offered contracts without looking for them for whatever reason. The chances that you are one of those people are vanishingly small. If you want publishers or agents to take notice of you, you need to put yourself in their faces. If they don’t notice you, that is almost certainly on you, not them.
- You will get rejected. Submit/query again. Then do it again. Don’t take it personally, because it’s almost never personal. This is a business. Agents will represent books that they think they can sell; they reject books that they love but don’t think they can sell all the time. Same goes for publishers. A manuscript that isn’t right for one might be right for another. This is why I said to make lists, and I generally recommend beginning at the top and working down, because you’re starting at zero and you have nothing to lose. Just, again: you’ll get rejected. It hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot. I know, my work has been rejected literally hundreds of times. Many of those stories went on to find homes elsewhere. Suck it up and keep moving.
- Don’t lock yourself into one way of doing things. There isn’t only one way. Authors who have agents and contracts with publishers also self-publish on the side. Authors who start in self-publishing move on to have agents and contracts with publishers. Authors move from small to large presses and back again simultaneously. Authors sell books without agents. Authors get agents right away and never sell anything without one. Authors change agents. Authors change publishers. Authors publish books with more than one publisher. Authors publish with one publisher for the entirety of their careers. Just because you’re doing one thing now doesn’t mean you will or should continue to do it, or to do it exclusively. What you do will be as individual as you are and no one thing will work best for you all the time. Be flexible; in professional writing, flexibility is survival.
Here are some resources that I’ve found invaluable:
And if you are or are becoming a neo-pro speculative fiction writer (someone who’s sold one or more short stories/novels to reasonably respectable markets and is in the early stages of their career), join Codex, which is a writer’s group. It’s probably been the single most useful thing, career-wise, that I’ve ever done.
So go to it. Just make sure you know what you’re doing. You’ll thank yourself
when you’re sitting on a pile of money later.
Be aware: There is a lot. Without further ado:
- This week in awesome: An artist is making a map of Manhattan using only handwritten directions from strangers. It’s about as great as you’d expect.
- “Man Creates Very First Website for Women Ever”. No, this is not an Onion headline.
Where is the Gawker for women? The ESPN for women? The Awl for women? The Slate for women? The Onion for women? Perhaps when Google finally launches a search engine for women, we will be capable of locating the websites targeted at us, so that advertisers may sell us things. For now, we will read Bustle.
- Breaking Bad as Hamlet. I don’t totally buy it, but it’s an amazing comparison.
- “Mark Millar and Todd McFarlane: Ladies, Comics Aren’t For You”. And here’s where I would register my outraged shock if I had any. Shock, I mean.
Comics aren’t for women. And if women do like comics, they shouldn’t, because testosterone, and that’s not the right platform for them. But for those women who do read comics, it doesn’t matter how they’re portrayed. Because women don’t read them, you see, so it’s not necessary to write characters that will appeal to them. So if you’re a woman, and you’re reading comics, first of all, why are you reading them? Second of all, don’t expect anything that appeals to you.
- Related: Do villains really need to commit “taboo” acts for us to get that they’re villains?
A cowardly bully, who snivels and whines when any hurt at all comes their way, isn’t just a villain that people hate. He or she is a villain that people despise. It goes back to what people mean when they say a “bad guy.” Someone being “bad” isn’t just about actions, it’s also about character in the old-fashioned sense of the word. And when the focus is on “bad character” rather than atrocity, it’s possible demonstrate that a villain is despicable without showing any crime at all.
- Also related: Warren Ellis on why we do need violent stories.
We learn about things by looking at them and then talking about them, together. You may have heard of this process. It’s sometimes involved in things like science. It’s also the system of fiction: writing things in order to get a better look at them. Fiction is how we both study and de-fang our monsters. To lock violent fiction away, or to close our eyes to it, is to give our monsters and our fears undeserved power and richer hunting grounds.
- Also also related: Why it may be a good thing that video games “devalue life”, and why it might open up some opportunities to rethink the meaning of death.
This fixation on interactivity obscures the fact that games are also a computational medium, based on models and protocols, codes and commands, simulations and rules. By assigning literal, numerical values to life and death, games are necessarily going to “cheapen” them to some extent – but, as we’ll see, this cheapening can render the form peculiarly suited to exploring what life is worth in the era of biopower and computerized risk assessment, drones and cloning, artificial intelligence and data mining.
- N.K. Jemisin: “There is no neutrality when bigotry is the status quo.”
Put simply, SFWA must now take action against bigots in order to prove itself worthy of being called a professional organization. SFWA’s leadership is going to have to choose which members it wants to lose: the minority of scared, angry people whose sense of self-worth is rooted in their ability to harm others without consequence… or everyone else.
- Orson Scott Card: Now officially disconnected from reality in every meaningful way. Also howlingly racist, in case anyone wasn’t sure about that.
“Where will he get his ‘national police’? The NaPo will be recruited from ‘young out-of-work urban men’ and it will be hailed as a cure for the economic malaise of the inner cities.
In other words, Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama’s enemies.”
- (TW: wow racism) Amazing series of photos: “A Day in the Life of the Ku Klux Klan, Uncensored”. The only real issue is that it’s sort of implicitly presented as if any of the images are a surprise or are skewering common perceptions of the KKK, when in fact they are all exactly what I would expect.
- “Of course all men don’t hate women. But all men must know they benefit from sexism”.
These days, before we talk about misogyny, women are increasingly being asked to modify our language so we don’t hurt men’s feelings. Don’t say, “Men oppress women” – that’s sexism, as bad as any sexism women ever have to handle, possibly worse. Instead, say, “Some men oppress women.” Whatever you do, don’t generalise. That’s something men do. Not all men – just somemen.
- “Thoughts on the Trending Hashtag: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen”.
Recently I had lunch with a good friend, and he asked how I felt about getting my major in Women and Gender Studies since he heard that it’s basically learning about white women, which I’m inclined to agree with. The primary feminist group on my campus simply ignored my critiques that women of color were not being truly represented by them. Instead, I was simply told, “Oh well, we believe in equality for all.” I can even think of a few times when I was on Facebook and saw white women post articles about women of color, ignore my comments regarding my own experiences as a Latina, and carry on talking to other white feminists discussing something that they have no real clue about.
- Bayou Corne, Louisiana is disappearing into a sinkhole 24 acres wide and about 750 feet deep. There are reasons why this is happening.
Bayou Corne is the biggest ongoing industrial disaster in the United States you haven’t heard of. In addition to creating a massive sinkhole, it has unearthed an uncomfortable truth: Modern mining and drilling techniques are disturbing the geological order in ways that scientists still don’t fully understand. Humans have been extracting natural resources from the earth since the dawn of mankind, but never before at the rate and magnitude of today’s petrochemical industry. And the side effects are becoming clear.
- Finally, from me: a post on the systems of cultural capital built up around print books and the spaces they occupy, placed in the context of a world that features increasing numbers of ebooks.
Of course the spaces themselves in which one goes to experience books are laden with differing degrees of cultural capital. Independent bookstores tend to be more prestigious than chains. Independent bookstores with lots of antique shelving that’s high enough to need those cool rolling ladders tend to be more prestigious than a little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore. You stand in these spaces, a hardcover first edition in your hands, surrounded by whispers and wood and that fantastic old book smell, and you can think Aha, I am a Cultured person in a Cultured space and I am Experiencing Books.
Hope the bridges all burn your life away.
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Tagged bigotry, books, bookstores, breaking bad, comics, ebooks, environmentalism, feminism, fiction, fracking, misogyny, racism, sexism, sfwa, video games, villains, violence, yeasayer