Okay, first I want to say that this is now a Very Good Series, because it goes to eleven….
In my last “Writing Your Book” post I discussed the read through and the need to learn to self-edit. Faith has written recently about revisions, and I’ve covered similar ground in past pasts. We can offer advice on how to approach the process of reworking your book, and we can tell you what practices have worked for us, but ultimately every rewrite is going to be different. Every manuscript has different needs. That’s why we use beta readers and tell you to put some distance between yourselves and your recently completed work. You need to decide what your story needs in order for it to be as good as it can be. You need to edit yourself.
So today I’m going to move beyond the rewrite to the next step in this long journey: marketing yourself and your book. Many people write only for themselves and their friends. They have no desire to deal with the publishing business. That’s fine. There are certainly days when I have no desire to deal with it either. But I’m going to assume that if you’ve been following this series of posts to this point, you’re probably not one of them. You want to publish. Great. Good for you. You do realize though that this means you have to let other people — complete strangers! — read your book and judge whether they believe it worthy of publication or not. That’s a scary prospect for many people.
Welcome to publishing.
This is where reading extensively in your chosen subgenre can be enormously helpful. By the time your book is done, you should have some idea of which publishers put out work that is similar to your own. These are the publishers you should be looking at initially for your own work. Put another way, if you write big epic fantasies, you should be thinking about Daw and Tor and perhaps Roc and Harper Collins. If you write military science fiction, you can look at Tor as well, but you should also look at Baen. Urban Fantasy? Roc, Luna, maybe Pocket. Maybe you prefer a house that is a little edgier, smaller, more cutting edge. Take a look at Pyr and Tachyon, but make certain that your books have at least something in common with the books those smaller (but excellent) publishers are putting out already. The point is, you should educate yourself about the market before you approach it with your book in hand. If you were opening a vegan restaurant, you probably wouldn’t advertise in Hunting Illustrated or Guns and Ammo. This is no different. You are selling a product; you need to sell it in the right part of the market.
What about agents? One hears quite often that you can’t sell a book these days unless you have an agent. And finding out the names of suitable agents is far more difficult than figuring out the right publisher, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Check the acknowledgments in nearly any book (sometimes they’re at the beginning, sometimes at the end) and you’ll find that the author has thanked his or her agent. Jot down the names of those agents and start googling them. Or, if a book has no acknowledgments, visit the websites of your favorite authors in your subgenre. Chances are, they’ll mention representation. You’ll soon have a list of agencies that have successfully represented authors who write material that is similar to yours.
Okay, so now you have a list of publishing houses and agents. You should know that every one of them has guidelines for submissions — visit their websites and search for the links. And when you send in material, follow those guidelines to the letter. If they tell you to send three chapters, don’t send four. If they say that they don’t want paranormal, don’t send them yours because it’s so good that of course they’ll make an exception in this one case. They won’t. Some may say that they’re not currently accepting submissions from new writers. Respect that. Because the other thing your should know is that every agency and every publisher (and every short story market, for that matter — right, Ed?) is inundated with manuscripts and queries. And here is the hard, cold truth: These agencies and publishing houses are NOT looking for reasons to love every manuscript that arrives. They are looking for reasons to throw each one away and get on to the next. They have too many to read and not enough time. They measure progress by how much they can shrink their pile before the next day’s mail adds to it again. If you don’t follow their guidelines you give them just the excuse they need to throw your book aside.
Which brings us to another point: It is conceivable that after all your rewrites and editing your book will still not be perfect. That’s okay. Editors and agents understand that. No book from a beginning author is flawless. It just doesn’t happen. But imperfections are one thing; sloppiness is quite another. You should make certain that your book is as free of typos, misspellings, grammatical errors and the like as possible. You should make certain that it is neat and professional in appearance. Again, follow the guidelines with respect to font size, margins, and other specifications. Don’t try to illustrate it, or put in colorful fonts and graphics. Pretty is not professional. Neither is festive or “interesting”. Professional is plain and simple. You want your manuscript to distinguish itself with its content, and the only way you can make certain that happens is by making the presentation so professional that the agencies and publishers have to judge it on those terms.
Still, even if you do all of this correctly, you face steep odds — there are a lot of writers out there, and very few publishing slots open in today’s market. So another way to distinguish yourself and your work, is to go where the agents and editors are and meet them. But where are they? Don’t they all hang out at a secret location accessible only via the floo networks and closed to those who don’t know the secret handshake? Well, yes. But occasionally they show their faces in public at conventions. And as it happens, several of those conventions in the fantasy/SF field are coming up. One of them is NASFIC, the North American Science Fiction Convention, which takes place any year that WorldCon (the World Science Fiction Convention) takes place outside of North America. This year, WorldCon is in Melbourne, Australia. But NASFIC is in Raleigh, NC in early August. DragonCon, a huge media and literary convention in Atlanta, GA, is scheduled for the first weekend in September. And my personal favorite, World Fantasy Convention, will be held the weekend of Oct. 28-31 in Columbus, Ohio.
These conventions will be filled with authors, agents, and editors. They will be there expecting to talk business and hoping to meet exciting new authors — in other words, to network. Attending the conventions will cost you some money — in excess of $100, plus travel, hotel, and meals. But they will you offer the chance to meet those people who might someday help build your writing career. The advantage of meeting them is that once you strike up a conversation and deliver your pitch, they might give you a business card and say those truly magical words — “Sounds interesting. Why don’t you send me a few chapters?” At that point, your manuscript is no longer one anonymous novel-in-waiting in a large pile; it’s a book that Miss Big-Shot-Agent or Mister Big-House-Editor has asked to see.
And maybe, just maybe, you’re on your way….David B. Coe http://DavidBCoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net