Did you know?

Justine Larbalestier is answering writing questions all month on her blog? She’s already tackled POV, getting ideas, what to do when you’re stuck, and, in a notable departure from her edict not to answer industry questions, how to get an agent. Head on over there and check it out! Ask a question yourself!

When I first started writing, I knew absolutely no one and nothing about this industry. I knew no writers and the only person I knew in publishing was a friend of a former college roommate who was an assistant in reference non fiction at Penguin. (The roommate kept trying to get us to talk to each other, but we were both quite rightly thinking “What’s the point?” since all she could say to me was “I think you should try getting an agent.”

Nothing bugs me more than the pervasive myth that it’s all some big secret that published authors, agents, and publishers are colluding to keep from unpublished authors. I knew absolutely nothing, but I read a copy of Writer’s Market cover to cover and subscribed to free online writing newsletters (this was before there were blogs, when there were barely Yahoo loops). When I had finished a book, I spent $100 (an enormous sum for me at the time) joined RWA and my local chapter and attended meetings religiously.

And I learned how it worked. I learned the all important maxim, “Money flows toward the writer.” I learned the difference between a vanity press and a real publisher. I learned how to tell a good agent from a bad agent. I learned that you weren’t going to wake up tomorrow and be handed $750,000, like the newspapers brag of Stephenie Meyer receiving for her first novel. I learned that even once you got an agent and sold a book, you were only going to receive your advances in tiny dribs and drabs over a period of months or even years. I learned there was this service called Publisher’s Marketplace, and if you signed up for their newsletter, they sent you publishing news every single day and, once a week, they sent you a list of books that had actually been sold, and by whom, and to whom, and for how much. (Big mystery! Ha!) I learned about writing and publishing for a year before I ever tried to submit anything.

And I met writers. I met amazing, talented writers at my local RWA chapter. People who’d been in the business for decades, like Virginia Henley. People whose careers were just starting to take off, like Susan Kearney and Julie Leto. People who had just gotten their first book deal, like Roxanne St. Claire. And people like me — people who had a manuscript or two under their belt and were still trying to break in. One of those people, C.L. WIlson, is now a New York Times bestselling author. (How cool is that?) And you know what? Two of these writers recommended me to their editors. Neither editor bought anything. Knowing someone does not make a difference. It’s the work that sells.

Eight years later, things are easier for the beginning writer looking for information. There are hundreds upon hundreds of websites out there, hundreds upon hundreds of career writers (like Justine and me) who for free, give out advice about writing and publishing (or links to advice about same) on their websites. There are websites like Preditors and Editors, heaps of blogs by agents and editors and publishing watchdogs like Writer Beware. There are dozens upon dozens of Yahoo Loops for writers in different genres, and genre-specific support forums like Verla Kay’s Blue Board (for children’s books), both filled with published authors who are just bursting with advice and assistance for the young writer. There are websites like Show Me the Money and Tobias Buckell’s surveys that track how much authors are really making (Hint: It ain’t $750,000). There are agent searching sites like Agent Query that will help you find agents who handle the kind of book you’re writing, and Publisher’s Marketplace is stronger than ever. I still subscribe, only now I have the paid subscription, which means I can access an enormous database of sales and editor/agent/author profiles. And every single thing that I just mentioned, with the exception of the paid subscription to PM (you can still get the free one), is absolutely free, right here on the web. Heck, in most cases, you don’t even have to send out paper queries with SASEs anymore! I queried my agent, sent her my manuscript, and have sold six books without having to print a single thing out. You know when I go to the PO? When I return copyedits, page proofs, or send out prizes for things I give away on my blog. (Must get at that.) And you want to get to know writers? Here we are! I’ve met a ton of talented, savvy new writers online. Some now have books coming out while others are still waiting for their big break. One of these writers I recommended to my agent. She passed, and the writer signed with someone else who promptly sold her book — off a cold query. You don’t need to know anyone.

All of which is to say that there’s pretty much no excuse for ignorance. The info is out there, and it’s free. The people who say it’s all some big mystery aren’t trying very hard. It’s like they want a quick fix. Spend a few Sunday afternoons perusing the web. Google some of those terms I listed in the previous paragraph, like “Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money” or “Writer Beware” or “Verla Kay Blue Board.” People who become lawyers and veterinarians and carpenters and pastry chefs spend time training for their profession. Spend some time. We don’t even have to go to school or get licensed to do our job. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to study for it.

I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say things like this to the writers who visit this blog. You’re already reading a blog post about writing advice.

Posted in Justine, other writers, primer, rants, writing advice, writing industry, writing life

12 Responses to Did you know?

  1. Bill Clark says:

    Excellent post, Diana! The things you say and the advice you give and the links you list can never be repeated often enough. Thanks!

  2. KJ says:

    To me the mystery has never been about HOW to get your book in front of an agent or editor, but how to write a book they want to read/buy. That part is very subjective and you cannot read yourself into that information.

    There are plenty of good and maybe great writers who have yet to get published. And that is the frustrating part of the whole process.

    These are the two things I see:

    1) Skill. You do have to have *some* kind of writing ability. Maybe not the best…but some amount of talent.

    2) Luck. Right book at the right time. And you really can’t do anything about number two.

  3. Diana says:

    You’re right, KJ, that is the X factor, but it’s the mistaking that for “keeping info a big secret” that’s mysterious to me. No one knows why one writer’s vampire romance gets a 650k advance and wins the hearts of millions, while another (and I can think of a dozen excellent vampire romances that are published) gets a 10k advance and no promo and drops, almost unnoticed, in and out of bookstores in a matter of months. No one has the answer to that. Maybe it wasn’t the right agent. Maybe it wasn’t the right tone.

    And it’s not just “luck” either. For instance, for years, my friend and great writer CL Wilson was unable to even find an agent, let alone a publisher, for her NYT bestselling series. Perhaps it was because the market wasn’t right, or no one had the right vision (she got a lot of “too fantasy for romance, too romance for fantasy” rejections, or no one was able to see past the huge flaw in the project (it was a gazillion pages long) enough to go, oh, I get it, this isn’t a book, it’s a series.

    A lot of times these great unpublished writers are targeting the wrong genre, the wrong person, or just plain old writing the wrong book. If I’d kept trying to write romances, I may still be unpublished. Because I chose to not write books in the romance genre, but had romance in them, I have three books out, and three more on the way. You can make choices that influence your luck.

  4. Patrick says:

    The Atlantic Ocean grows at about the same rate as your fingernails.

  5. KJ says:

    Point taken.

    I guess I took your ‘no information’ as covering the mystery of why one book is chosen for publication and another isn’t. I’m still trying to figure that out.

  6. Vicki says:

    Another great post!

    There isn’t a rhyme or reason as to the why this book or that book is published and another isn’t. Sure sometimes the person is marketing it incorrect, but we all know absolutely fabulous books and books that we wanted to throw against a wall which are published.

    As writer’s we just keep believing and keep writing and improving our craft. That’s why my cp’s and I have a 24 hour rule. If we receive a rejection that person has 24 hours to cry, whine, rant, or whatever. Then it’s back to business of writing and submitting.

    Thanks for all the links you give us and for your thoughts.

  7. Phyllis Towzey says:

    Great post, Diana.

    Certainly there’s a lot of luck and timing involved in getting published, but there’s one more thing all successful, published writers have in common — they didn’t give up. Imagine if C.L. Wilson had decided, after a year or two of rejections, to abandon the project and stop trying to get published. What a wonderful story the world would have missed.

  8. Robin says:

    Thanks for the links, Diana, and for always lending help and advice to unpublished writers. I agree there is tons of information out there, but I often feel overwhelmed by all of it. I’ve never felt the publishing world was a mystery, only a little confusing. Okay, a lot confusing. Because as was mentioned, there is no right way to get published. Even writing the best book ever doesn’t guarantee a contract. But the more information we have, the better, so thanks for the reminder to spend time sifting through all the great websites available and studying.

  9. Alexa says:

    Excellent and interesting post, thanks and thanks for the link to Justine’s blog, there’s so much great advice there too.

  10. JulieLeto says:

    Unfortunately, Robin, the publishing industry rarely gets LESS confusing…it just gets confusing about different things.

    Phyllis is right that perseverance is one key thing that successful writers have in common.

    KJ, stop trying to figure it out…it’s an unknown. The best advice I ever received was, “protect the work.” Basically, it means the only thing you can control is your own work, so concentrate on that. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why some books sold…however, I’ve found that in most cases, it’s obvious why one book sold over another. Marketability. Timeliness. Editor preference. Moon cycle. Not much of this can be controlled by the author.

  11. Megan R. says:

    I love your post! I am an aspiring writer and I don’t know anything about the industry, but I’m trying to learn.

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