Wednesday, May 18, 2016

So, the world of publishing is kicking your asterisk. What to do next.

My first crime novel was published by LastGasp&Die just before they collapsed and has sold 35-40,000 copies. My second was published by Thugs&Malcontents and has sold only 5,000 copies. T&M did absolutely nothing to promote it--didn't even announce its publication let alone send out review copies. My agent has now left the business and I'm searching for a new one. Will an agent and/or publisher ignore me because of the low sales of the second book? Should I query under a pseudonym and not even mention that I have two novels already in print?
Yup, you're in trouble.

You recognize it, which is a good first step.

If you queried me and I checked out your website and saw the two previous books, and looked up the sales stats, I'd say no before reading the pages.

That seems harsh doesn't it?

It is.

But, it's also the result of my experience trying to resuscitate careers of writers who've had a couple publishers and are now out of contract, with numbers that don't make publishers salivate.

Querying under a pseudonym is the answer that appeals to authors here; it's quick it's easy and it seems to solve the problem.

It doesn't though. In fact, if I found out you were trying to hoodwink me by concealing this info, you'd again receive a pass letter, and it would be a bit chillier than you'd like.

Thus, your reservations about doing so (writing to me rather than just proceeding) speak well for you.

Here's what you need to remember right now: the world and publishing are wired to kick your ass. It's the default position of life. What you DO when that happens is what makes you a real pro.

And here's what you can do:

1. You're going to need a big HUGE new novel. It's got to be what we'd call a breakout novel. Bigger, wilder, better than anything you've ever written. It's going to take you a while to figure out what this novel is about, let alone actually write it.

2. You need to bypass the two dimensional communication of the query letter trenches. You need to meet me (or my ilk) at a conference, talk about your book, let me help you with a query, make me fall in love with your BigNewBeautifulKickAss Book, and I will request pages.

3. Smaller presses can often take on authors who aren't selling 30K copies. They can make money with authors who sell 1000 copies. It's entirely possible to be very well published by a press that's small and nimble.

4. Larger presses will overlook just about anything for a book they think will sell hugely.

The bottom line here is this: You've played well in the minor leagues. You can probably keep playing there if you want BUT, if you want to play ball in Yankee stadium you're going to need to up your game. Most agents want books they think will work for Yankee stadium, not the Toledo MudHens.

There's no shame in deciding to stay semi-pro, or even withdraw from playing on someone else's team altogether.

A lot of readers bought and liked your books. Putting together a publishing team and putting your own work out there is not failure. It's a business decision.

Bottom line: it's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published and you wouldn't have believed that if I told you so before your first book deal, would you?


Anonymous said...

So when you drudge through the trenches, crawl over broken class bare-chested, and climb the mountain of red tape between you and success valley, you have to jump out of a plane without a parachute and hope you can write yourself one or your gonna die from mediocrity?

Janet can you give us something to make us feel like our writing-end isn't imminent?

Lucie Witt said...

Maybe it's the temps that feel like late November, or the relentless weeks of rain, but it IS hard not to feel dejected and overwhelmed when you think about the long game of publishing. It is easy to understand why perseverance is such an important trait (the most important trait?) in a writer.

Particularly depressing is the part about needing to rise above the query trenches and meet agents in person. My god, that is expensive, especially if you have to travel out of state. Should you be in the same position as OP and of low income status, it seems as if your odds become near insurmountable.

Okay, this is getting grim, someone come shine the light of eternal optimism in the comments, okay?

OP, wishing you the best.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

And here I thought selling 35-40,000 wasn't a bad number. Not NYTBSA but not bad. Okeydokey. My perception of what's expected in the writerly world has just been kaleidoscoped a small twist.

Well, Opie, some hard choices lie before you. And I'd add another option into the mix. Self-pub. You had 35-40,000 readers for your first novel. Of course, self-pub has a whole 'nother set of learning curves to do it well (good?).

And, ohmigoodness, Janet, love the renames of the publishing companies.

nightsmusic said...

It does make publishing with a minor house seem pretty unattractive. It's such an ego boost to sign with one until you realize how fast your burgeoning career can take a dump in the crapper if said minor house goes up in flames. I don't know that there's any effective way to communicate that in a query where the agent will take you seriously enough to bypass all that flotsam, but I agree that the best way to remake said career is a brilliant book and networking in person. And it really is expensive considering the query letter only costs you your time.

With the self publishing route, it's a learning curve to start, but there are some very successful authors who have done that and many established authors who are doing that with their backlists, so you can learn it and, provided your writing is wonderful which it sounds like yours is, you can do well. Enough to quit your day job? Maybe not, but you have to ask yourself, how important is it that my stories get read? You're already an author. If that was your goal, you've done that. Technically, we as writers, all have.

AJ Blythe said...

I'm just going to going to cover my eyes and not read this <>.

Nope. Don't see a thing.

It's either that or take my woodland creature-self into hibernation for a millenia or so.

I'll face reality tomorrow. Night all.

Colin Smith said...

My heart goes out to you, Opie. A tough situation and some tough words from Janet. But, as she said, the fact you realized there's a good way and a bad way to proceed bodes well for you. Janet's advice isn't easy, but it sounds like it starts with you deciding what you want to do with your writing career. You have some equally legitimate options:

1) Write that break-out novel, hit the conferences, get one-on-one with agents, and get some interest in your new work.

2) Write that novel, and self-publish. As Janet said, this is not a back-up plan because you failed, this is simply another publishing option.

3) Take up some other career, and write for your own pleasure. There are plenty of talented people who never make a penny for their talents, and simply draw, write, play, cook, make or whatever, for their own pleasure, and the pleasure of friends and family.

(Yes, I *do* believe people are talented (or "hard-wired") in different ways. But that was yesterday's discussion.)

These are all legitimate options (and I'm sure others can add to this list). They are career decisions, and no-one should judge you for any of them. After all, it wasn't your fault you ended up where you are. Thankfully, as the publishing industry has become increasingly competitive, more options have opened up to do things differently. Correct me if I'm wrong, Janet, but 20 years ago, you would have had a much harder time pursuing publication in Opie's position than you would today.

Be encouraged, my friend. Hopefully, this is the worst it will ever get for you, and the only way to go from here is up. All the best to you, Opie! :)

Donnaeve said...

The question I had after reading OP's dilemma and QOTKU's comments was whether OP has the BigNewBeautifulKickAss novel yet? Working on it? Let's hope so because as I've said before - and I only repeat it again because it is truly what worked for me - having a new project gives new hope.

As to this, "it's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published and you wouldn't have believed that if I told you so before your first book deal, would you?"

I read something similar about staying pub'ed) back when I buckled down to writing. It has stuck with me. I know of one too many authors with one or two book contracts, whose sales weren't there, and were dropped by publishers. I try not to think about it much...but.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Ah, the dread Curse of the Midlist Author, a murder mystery by Felix Buttonweezer. The ending is a real zinger. But I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read it yet.

I already had my asterisk kicked ten ways to Sunday. I am getting coffee and going to revel in my undiscovered debut author status where hope still lies beneath all the chaos that is publishing.

Timothy Lowe said...

Posts like this are why I am so glad I read this blog. We so often get fixated on what's in front of us (finishing the novel, editing the novel, querying the novel, pubbing the novel) that we forget the next step (ultimately, selling the novel). I feel bad for OP, for whom some of this seemed out of his control (that second publisher really threw him/her back!).

Best of luck to all of us on writing that "really super big book" - although I suppose it's what we all try to do, every time!

Jason - your comment cracked me up!

Unknown said...

I knew that 35-40K in sales is not J.K. Rowling’s territory, but I didn’t think it was a kiss of death. My question then is what makes for decent sales, where decent means enough not to sink you for the next book? Or is any number for the first book not enough considering the 5K sales figure for number two?

I do love the advice:
“You're going to need a big HUGE new novel. It's got to be what we'd call a breakout novel. Bigger, wilder, better than anything you've ever written.”

Now that is a great idea.

Colin Smith said...

Off-topic (sorta), but I've got to say: Herodotus! Pirates! Yes, I've started into THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS, and I'm loving it. This is Gary's sixth novel, and to my shock and amazement, he is NOT a nytba yet! He ought to be. But... this is his SIXTH novel, and Janet recently sold his SEVENTH. This goes to show, you don't need to be a nytba to have a successful career. You just need to keep writing awesome novels.

Unfortunately, there's no way I can read during today's meeting, so Gary will have to wait until I get home. :)

Lucie Witt said...

I could be way off but I was under the impression it's not the first book's sales that are the problem, it's the second book.

Janet says smaller presses will take on authors not selling 30k copies which I took to mean 30k is appealing to the big guys, unlike 5k.

DLM said...

"the world and publishing are wired to kick your ass. It's the default position of life. What you DO when that happens is what makes you a real pro."


Janet, your honesty is perhaps the core of your charisma. You are a champion for all of us, but you aren't Pollyanna. You won't lie to or for us.

You're also crystallizing some of my recent thinking about whether I want to go the traditional publishing route after all, at least as a debut. "(I)t's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published" reinforces a great deal of the thinking I've done, and the beginnings of education I'm embarking upon, into self publishing. It's only beginnings; if I were smart, I wouldn't be worrying right now at all about routes to publication, I'd just be sticking with the WIP. But the WIP's going to need to get on a path eventually, and I seriously question whether the path should be traditional publication.

I'm with Lucie, this peculiar, DRAB spring is perhaps not helping my outlook a great deal.

I'm never going to be a sensation; I don't want to make J. K. Rowling scratch. It'd be nice just to be able to refinish my house full of hardwood floors, maybe touch up the basement a bit, that sort of thing. I just do not aspire to fame and fortune. But there seems really to be no "middle class" in traditional publishing now. You can't be *dependable*: you have to be a breakout, and - never mind the pressure, it's just a matter of numbers, and the numbers dictate, we simply cannot all be The Next Big Thing.

It all starts to feel a bit "one-percenter" and distasteful, at least some days. And, frankly - for someone who just doesn't write bigger/wilder/break-out-ier - pointless.

Susan Bonifant said...

This is not only perfect advice, it is a perfect template for the classic pep talk:

A TKO and boxing lessons in one conversation.

RachelErin said...


It's very much a one-percenter game. Income most fields follows a pareto distribution (as do so many things in life...). The standard example is the 80/20 rule, which has lots of examples. (20% of your closet is worn 80% of the time, 20% of library books account for 80% of ciruclation,etc).

Of course, the exact proportion varies by industry and country. I just found a 2011 article saying 97% of sales are made by 20% of authors in the US.

So being at the median (in the middle of the pack) in terms of sales means you are below average in terms of how much revenue you generate. (Is my math teacher showing?). Publishers have little incentive to keep below average earners.

Dena Pawling said...

I think we all appreciate the honest answer, even if it's the answer we don't want to hear. This whole situation makes me think a small press is the way to go from the start.

But, the answer gives me several additional questions.

Is there anything OP can do to promote book 2 to generate more sales?
Can OP get his/her rights back and self-pub to generate more sales?
Would doing either of those things help get an agent and traditional publisher to look at book 3?

On a lighter note, today's post reminded me of the “about” page on Jeff Somers' blog: “He sold his first novel at age 16 to a tiny publisher in California which quickly went out of business and has spent the last two decades assuring potential publishers that this was a coincidence.”

Good luck OP.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

This is such a difficult problem to have. I would imagine it's easy to feel like you've 'made it' when your first book is published, but it's more like earning a degree than winning the lottery. It's the start of a career.

Boy, that's exhausting. Maybe I need some more coffee!

DLM said...

RachelErin, I do love a good math whiz. (This morning on local NPR, they were doing a story about the dire need in our area for math teachers; if you need a change of venue, consider central VA ...)

Dena: hee!

Aaaahhhhh, y'all people always do improve my mood. Many thanks.

Jenz said...

Whoa whoa, I thought 35-40,000 was really solid numbers. But a 5,000-sale book can trash that? Did the author use the usual tools to promote their own book and it didn't work? Why didn't their agent give them some references to another agent? Is this solely a numbers game, or are these other factors indicating that maybe this second book isn't selling for a reason and that's the real problem?

So if 5,000 is "agents avoid you and your plague cooties sales numbers" bad, what's good enough?

Unknown said...

This was a really valuable post. Hang in there, OP! It sounds like you are the victim of bad luck, but I'm confident that you can find ways out of this hole that was not of your making.

The question this raises for me is what levers ARE within the author's control to try to avoid the OP's situation (other than to write a good book, of course, but it sounds like the OP already did this). Is there something promotion-wise that helps distinguish the authors that exceed sales expectations from those who fall short? I mean, I'm sure this is the $64,000 question -- if there were any sure-fire strategies, everyone would be following them. But I'm curious, Janet, if you have any broad thoughts on what tends to separate authors who are good promoters from the rest?

It seems like the ideal career path would be to exceed sales expectations at every step, rather than necessarily achieve blow-out sales from the start. Easier said than done of course...

LynnRodz said...

Oh gee! Go ahead, Janet, make my day! Just when I thought it couldn't get any harder than breaking into the publishing business, now you tell us it's harder to return once you broke in. It's almost as if you were invited to someone's house for dinner and then never invited back because of your bad table manners. How was I to know the cheese knife wasn't the fish knife? They kind of looked the same to me. And now the host isn't even taking into consideration that I went to Parsons School of Etiquette just so I could be up to snuff. If that isn't a kick in the ass, I don't know what is.

nightsmusic said...

LynnRodz: There's a fish knife???

Adib Khorram said...

This sounds awful. My heart goes out to the OP too.

For those who wonder about 30,000 being good sales (Janet, correct me if I'm wrong!), the problem is that the 30,000 was followed by 5,000. And in sales you want that trajectory to be going the other way. A 5,000 debut followed by a 30,000 follow-up would sound much more enticing, no?

ACFranklin said...

My concept of the response to the numbers:

If someone made blue bubbles and sold them, and they sold decently, you'd say it's a decent business idea. If they then tried to sell red bubbles, and couldn't sell many of them at all, you'd change your mind and say, "Guess it wasn't such a good idea after all. It just took a little time for consumers to decide they didn't like this new thing. I'm not going to invest in Bubbles, Inc, or buy any colour of bubbles."

If it were the other way around, no problem; but the most recent sales data is the data to inform the decision.

ACFranklin said...

Aaaand I just realized how cold that sounds.

I feel for OP, really I do, I'm just playing devil's advocate with what the publisher and agent is seeing.

Donnaeve said...

Actually Arri, it made perfect sense.

But, for the ones who are out here dying by a thousand cuts, come on folks! Rally up here. I'd rather know the truth than to be served rainbow colored unicorn poop. QOTKU isn't here to mollycoddle woodland critters. She does, after all, have our best interests at heart - but she also has teeth.

Her "bottom line" sentence only makes me more determined try and not write crap - if I can help it at all.

To me, what's more important is this, "What you DO when that happens is what makes you a real pro."

No matter where each of us is on the publishing path, it isn't easy and QOTKU is only stating what we already know. No one is forcing anyone to do this. Some of you might resent what I say from the standpoint I say it. Well, Donna, that's real easy for YOU, considering.

This is where you go re-read her bottom line sentence again.


Donnaeve said...

Ahem. To try and not write crap - like that sentence there.

Unknown said...

Brace yourself. I've got thoughts.

OP, you're the best damn writer living today. Say that out loud a few times and let it simmer.

See, I learned a long time ago that success of any kind is always achieved a step below what you see yourself capable. Because if you yourself believe this pickle is too big for you, how the heck can you sell someone else on the idea that you can overcome it?

Be proud of your successes AND your shortcomings.

Janet's right. The real first step isn't taking any action at all other than self reflection. How far do you think you can really take this writing thing? And I don't mean that in any derogatory way. I mean what are your dreams, and what are you actually pursuing.

For me, I'm going to hit the NYT list. And I have burning manure-dumpsters chalk-full of monkeys throwing flaming feces between me and that goal, but it is not a dream. It is something I believe I am capable of doing, albeit with a bit of luck and a shirt ton of perseverance (and hopefully a sinus infection to stop me from smelling).

Figure out what you really deep-down want, and lay all your cards on the table. Devote yourself fully to it. Give up everything for it. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Because as much as you might feel bad for those who seem hopeless, those are the people who pull it off.

Everyone who wins big bets big. They bet smart. They play with cunning. But at some point they always go all in. That's the only common denominator.

Unknown said...

You're inspiring me, Brian! "Eye of the Tiger" just started playing in my head.

Panda in Chief said...

I know I'm always comparing the art world to the publishing one, but I suspect the same is true in all of the creative pursuits, if not all of life. Just when you think you've got it made (I have an agent! I have a gallery!) it all comes crashing down when your sales numbers don't live up to expectations.

I do know this from experience, (oh, do I ever!), and I feel for you, OP. One of my former art dealers used to say, "you are only as good as your last show." And it doesn't matter whether it is because the economy crashes, tastes suddenly changed, or your gallery (or you) has dropped the ball.
Me? I'm slowly crawling my way back up the ladder, plus adding to my creative repertoire with panda satire and graphic novels. God forbid I should have to get a real job.

For those of you who are writing kidlit, there are many really good opportunities to get your work in front of agents and editors through SCBWI. For the rest of you, do your reaearch so you get the most bang for your buck in the conference and workshop arena.

Good luck OP. It just goes to show that my philosophy: everything sucks, it just sucks in different ways at different times - is alive and well in publishing. Panda on!

Scott G said...

I was reading about Steve Hamilton the other day. He's the author of the Alex McKnight series. If you like crime fiction and haven't read him, you should. His first book came out in 1998 and he's won oodles of awards (i.e. Edgar, Shamus) but hasn't been a big seller. Why? I don't know, but I love reading his novels. Now, he's trying to do exactly what Janet suggests in her post - give his career new life with a brand new book and a brand new series and I think it will be a kick-ass one. I am going to go out and buy THE SECOND LIFE OF NICK MASON for a good story, and also a successful story on how to stay published.

Julie Weathers said...

Testing to see if I've been permanently banned after vomiting all over the blog yesterday. I had an appointment with orthopedic surgeon yesterday, which made me a bit nervous and when I'm nervous, I either prattle or hibernate. We know which one I chose.

Courtney Schaffer,the very talented author of The Whitefire Crossing landed in the middle of the Night Shade Publisher mess. Her first two books had done well, but Night Shade went under before the third came out. Deals were in the process for someone else to take over Night Shade, but some authors weren't comfortable with the proposed deal and fought to get their rights back. Courtney was one of them.

It was kind of a heartbreaking situation for someone as sweet and talented as she is to be in this position. For whatever reason, and I'm assuming it's similar to the OP, the agent didn't want to find another publisher. She eventually decided to self publish the third book in the series.

At the Denver conference, we were all thrilled that Courtney had made it out of the trenches and was on her way. It was a genuine ray of hope to the rest of us. Keep trying. Keep improving and you'll rise up out of the mud also.

The later news was a kick in the gut.

It happens. You have to move on.

Unknown said...

OT: Gah. Go figure--I've been away for so long, blogger no longer recognizes me, and I lost my original comment. Blech. But hi everyone!

DLM: What I'd wanted to say was directly in response to your comment. I recently decided to stick with self-publishing after giving traditional publishing a try (at least, the querying bit). After a year of agonizing over which direction I really wanted to go, it was Janet who helped me cement the idea that self-publishing is best suited to me and my work because of my main goal: I want to share my stories.

I've said it here before but because I think it bears repeating, I'll say it again: everyone has their goal for writing and wanting to publish. Some people write for the art. Some people write for the fame. Some people write for the money. Some people write for a combination of all three. One way isn't better or worse than the other--each and every one is a worthy goal.

The trick is to be honest with yourself. Why do you write (and what do you write)? Why do you really want to publish? What path will help get you there?

If traditional publishing is what you've always aspired to, then by all means, pursue it with gusto and passion and never give up. But if self-publishing is calling to you, then that's just as worthy a pursuit, and please don't let anyone tell you otherwise. (Sidenote: I recently read an article where self-publishers were referred to as Creative Directors, and I loved that! It's not right for everyone, but for some people, there's nothing more thrilling than being in creative control of your own art.)

Doors are opening everywhere thanks to technology. Consider each one to help you decide which you'd like to step through (and please don't make the decision out of discouragement, but rather because it feels like the right one for you, your books, and your goals).

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Julie, I always enjoy your vommenting (everybody's really), so I guess it's good that I'm not the comment police.

30,00 sales? 5000 sales? Gee, and I was happy with the 21 Amazon reviews the Anthology has so far garnered. But, I'm still in the "starting out phase." It's all a matter of perspective, clearly! But I can see the point...30k followed by 5 could seem alarming, regardless of reasons. And that is a shame, Opie, I feel books deserve better. If a publisher picks one up, they should do some of the work, yeah?

My Exciting author News™ this week is that tomorrow night, I've been invited to read at my local writer's salon. They do an open mic and a published writer, and the scheduled published writer was ill, so they called me! I'm thrilled to bits (and printed out some business cards in a hurry)!

Lennon Faris said...

"the world and publishing are wired to kick your ass"

- that is actually one of the most encouraging things to hear, even without the sentence that followed. It is so easy to think, "what's wrong with me. My writing must suck. I must suck," when actually that's just the way the system is. They really are out to get you. Or, leave you in the dust might be more accurate. You have to break the system to get what you want. Even then it may not work out, but at least you know it wasn't ever supposed to be easy, or even possible.

John Davis Frain said...

What a great post.

OP, you'll agree with that assessment in about 48 hours. Tough news ("sorry, not for my list") is hard to swallow initially, but it's a good kick in the ass after a little longer. That time varies per person, but eventually you need to heed the message.

I'm so inspired by this post, and so ready to help this OP, I'd pre-order your to-be-written book right now. That's how much I want you to make it after reading this.

Chances are, I'm not even one of your original 35,000 buyers -- and probably hundreds of thousands of readers after accounting for libraries and people passing along your book -- and you've possibly got me for your breakout novel. (I'd have to figure out who you are, of course, but I'm guessing one day a year from now when you write your breakout, your news will break out here.)

So after 48 hours pass, think about your two options. 1. Quit. That's kinda lame, so get past that one quickly. Or, 2. Get started on that breakout novel. Take a walk, meditate, brainstorm ... whatever you need to do to get started. Best of luck to you. Hope we hear about your success a year from now. We'll be waiting for 5.18.17.

BJ Muntain said...

Many authors these days - even those who have had a single house publish a number of books - wind up without a publisher. It used to be that 'midlist' was respectable, but now none of the big publishers want midlist authors. They want bestsellers - or at least, high sellers - even among authors with previously good sales. Even mid-series.

I know of multi-published authors who were dumped by their publisher, and who moved on to smaller publishers or self-publishing. They can do quite well there. Their fans will often follow them - especially if they'd had a somewhat successful series that got cut mid-arc.

My goal is a long, successful career with a large traditional publisher. But I know that there are other ways to go if things don't work out for one reason or another, and I feel I'm prepared for that, too. But for now, I'm working as hard as I can towards my goal.

Yes, staying published is the hard part. I'm not even published yet, but I'm already working towards that goal, too.

Janet Reid said...

I'm trying to think of what would get Julie M. Weathers banned from the blog (given one ever has been really!)

Oh wait, I know.


Now, back to tormenting writers in person. I love my job.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

OP, I can't imagine the paperwork inferno involved in lameasspublisher. And just thinking you are paying taxes on past earnings makes me cry. I'd send you the bag of salted butterscotch candy I bought in Normandy and was saving for my parents, but I ate every last piece today. No shelf life for that stuff especially mixed with anxiety over too much work.

Panda makes a point I can relate too because I'm also an artist. The last show has to be better than the one before. It's a market thing.

Related to what Julie said, I remember a video the Queen posted where it talked about the volume of work creative people have to produce in order to progress in craft. Lots of it will be plain merde. I'm embarrassed by some some of the paintings I've made but at least I'm painting and not bartending. I loved bartending.

It is possible to come back after a sucker punch to your career. It will take time. I know. But setbacks mature us. Don't leave sleep over it and move forward. Make plans. Take master classes, like Save The Cat, or online courses. Jerry Jennkin's has a free webinar tomorrow night. I've never read his books but he's sold numbers. I took an editing webinar with him last year. He knows writing craft and how to stay published.

Brian's advice is precious. You rock, Brian.

Donna, how can you think such a thing?

Diane, I'm your first reviewer. Clovis is my king.

After reading Bill Cameron's interview last week and yesterday's post and comments, I was like, I can't quit writing. What am I thinking? Candy Crush and Facebook can't occupy my brain for too much longer. Then today's post — who said whoa?

Susan asks my question. Why do you write? For me, it is not to get published, it's a passion. I know I said I quit writing. I've quit before. I quit the manuscript I'd been working of for three years. There are three more on the shelf. I quit the idea of the query hustle. No extra time. Teaching dyslexic child to read, lots of work, and in-laws got in the way. But I am blogging, journaling and reading writing craft books.

The problem with Janet's blog, is that it is too darn good. Too inspiring. She makes you want to write — well. Hail the Queen.

Panda in Chief said...

Happy to see Susan P. back in the comment thread. Of course we didn't forget you. What you and Angie said rings so true in my path to publication. When I had my first meeting with my mentor last fall, he asked me what my goal was for this book. I decided to lay my cards on the table, because why else would I have spent the money and committed the time to be in this program if I wasn't going to give it my everything? I said that given I had independently published all of my panda cartoon collections, I wasn't afraid of that option. My readers are in the hundreds and not the thousands and are anxiuosly awaiting this graphic novel. But I said I wanted to get the WIP as good as it could be, try for an agent and traditional publishing deal, but mostly to make it the best damn panda detective graphic novel that it could possibly be. And then see what happens.

So you all know, I was in the path of (good) luck, and now I am getting ready for my agent to start trying to peddle this crazy idea of mine. Maybe it will sell. Maybe it will be popular. Maybe none of this will happen and I'll limp off and lick the frosting off my paws in the obscurity of my den.
Who the f*#k knows?
But you'll still find me in my studio, painting and pandaing, because that's how this bear rolls.

Julie Weathers said...

(Deleted and reposted to correct stupid typo.)

To the OP.

Janet, of course is right.

1. You need wonderful new bait. I was semi listening to Shark Tank last night because I got sick of the Anger Games that has become our news lately. A guy invented a new type of bait that striped bass apparently go crazy for due to the harmonics. It was a simple design, but it worked. He wasn't a slick businessman, he was just a very good fisherman who had started out experimenting with different baits when he was eight years old and his grandmother told him to bury her beloved pet parrot who used to bite the boy all the time. He plucked the bird before he buried it and made fishing flies out of the feathers. The sharks fell in love with the guy and his story, and even though he was pretty much doing everything wrong, he got a deal.

They all fell in love with him, but it wouldn't have worked if he didn't have a product that also worked. Write like your life depends on it, because it does. No pressure there.

2. Try conferences. I've watched agents and editors fall in love with authors and their work at conferences. Conferences are everywhere in every state. You'd be surprised how many there are.

3. Enter contests. Even contests for short stories get your name and work out there. Even twitter contest are a great way to get to know agents.

4. Some publishers open to submissions without agents periodically. Do some research.

5. Now is the time to decide you're going to promote you. Blog regularly. Interact on twitter with people in publishing. (Genuinely, no fawning allowed.) Build your fan base.

You're never a failure until you quit trying.

Craig F said...

If you have another genre in you it might be worth exploring it. You might come out as a debut writer and l the glittery shit you missed out on the first time around.

I have read most of the other comments and say that you should write to be entertaining. There is nothing wrong with writing for the art of it but the market wants to be entertained.

I'll find out if that works when I get around to querying( read as: when I can write a kick ass query). I think I already figured out that there is barbed wire and live machine gun rounds on the far end of the query trench. I hope to be prepared for it when I get there. Not only are there sales figure; there are also trolls who suck on every creative endeavor.

LynnRodz said...

Nightmusic, there's also a dessert knife, fruit knife, and butter knife, but who's counting. I just want to be invited back!

Angie, I've always wanted to be a bartender, but I don't think I would last the night. I'd probably be drinking more than serving. Oh well, to quote a famous author we all know, "to the bar!"

nightsmusic said...


Knew about the dessert, butter and fruit knife but the only fish knife I know is the one that stays in the tackle box to clean perch and beside the fact that it's always disgusting looking, if I saw one of those on a dinner table, I don't know that I'd want to be invited back! ;)

Amy Schaefer said...

There are a lot of long faces around here today. I feel for Opie - s/he finally "made it" - got an agent, got published twice, and now, poof. Square one. Or square -4. That sucks.


Publishing is an uphill hike that never ends. That's why Janet insisted we celebrate our personal milestones. You can't wait until you've reached the summit, because this mountain has no summit. Just more rock, and mosquitoes, and snakes and sunstroke and little pebbles that will make you stumble. But if you pause and turn around, there is also a spectacular view. And some days you claw your way through the underbrush; other days you take a rest and enjoy. But the mountain goes on, and so do you.

We can't be overwhelmed by our setbacks. That's the time for all good woodland creatures to clap each other on the back, have a drink or seven, adjust our packs and keep trudging. We can do it.

DLM said...

I'm glad I did not blow my three comments already today.

Brian, you are a positive blast of sun and crisp breezes in a spring which has been drab for the most part. I always adore seeing you. And yes - you are capable. (Good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people LIKE you!)

Susan P., that really is the thing, and what is gelling for me these days. I have known two self-pub authors. Each has had some success, but the road was different. One is a brilliant woman who saw this as the path all the way along, and the other also a brilliant woman who was afraid to try to go the trad-pub route. A fascinating contrast of approaches and outcomes, though neither failed even remotely. Truth be told, I think I *could* be successful on the traditional route, but there are two things about that that fall short of what I call true satisfaction - one, that it is less and less every day a case of either/or, when it comes to self- or trad-pub. I think it's ever more important to understand - and at the very least to be ABLE - to use both, even if you never do run both tracks. And two, I think the rewards of traditional, considering my prospects there, may not be truly satisfying. I may never be able to build the slate screened in back porch of my dreams, or a brick-column, shingle-roofed carport with electricity on the yield of self-publishing profits. But I've begun to believe the manner of control there, as opposed to those things I might control via trad-pub, are more suitable. And I just might get the floors sanded, anyway.

Angie: you made my day even more than they did, and that's a job. I want a t-shirt that says Clovis is my king on it. THOU ROCKEST MIGHTILY WITH THY BAD SELF (and, for everyone else, no indeed, I do not indulge that sort of gadzookery of language in my histfic!). I shall have to go home and perhaps do a booty-wiggling dance when Penelope the Publishing Pup and I sally forth on our walk this evening. Like nobody's lookin'.

Thank you. I love this place.

LynRodz and nightsmusic, I use my butterknife to go at the dragon that is EDITING AND REVISION ... eep ...

nightsmusic said...

Oh, Dear, sweet DLM...I use an army tactical knife for my edits and revisions. Just sayin'...

Donnaeve said...

I don't use a knife at all. I use fire. (Inspired by colors of the backdrop of this website.)

Donnaeve said...

Oh, and Angie...because I'm still at heart, a woodland critter. ;)

BJ Muntain said...

Ha! I use an obsidian knife: How Stone-Age blades are still cutting it in modern surgery

Sharper and more accurate than any metal knife. And I knapped it myself.

Julie Weathers said...

Damascus hunting knife for me. Those little bastages will fight back when they know you're going to cut them.

Joseph S. said...

More on GUY CLARK. I know this is way off topic, but Guy Clark through his music has impacted my life so much I intended to (and may still) dedicate my novel "Obrigada Pumpkin" to him (and Neil Gaiman for a different reason).

Guy Clark in an interview said his favorite version of Desperados Waiting for a Train was a spoken word version recorded by cowboy actor Slim Pickens. I searched for it and her it is:

Those of you who are Guy Clark fans will cry. Those who never heard of him can use this clip to see how great writing in a song can bring to life the relationship between two men.

So many great lines. I wish I could remember to write a line like "He ran his hand through 70 years of living."

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Shoving my three comments into one post.

"Just go to a conference," they said. "Great way to meet agents," they said.

Good idea if one lives in the US where conferences and conventions are rife and agents can toddle over there for a day or two for listening to pitches.

But I live in Western Australia. I can't possibly get any farther away from the rest of the world without leaving the planet. (Considering my ongoing MSci, that's a viable alternative.)

I would love to be able to have a convention close enough that had agents doing pitch sessions. But that rarely happens. Most agents have no desire to travel to the Antipodes in search of clients. Is it because they think we're small fry in a very small pond? (Talent has no geographical constraint.) Also, most of the publishing industry in Australia is authors approaching publishers directly. Great if one is simply looking for a local, limited audience and distribution.

But I want an international audience. That means publishing overseas.

I pitched my Regency Romance to over a hundred agents over the course of 18 months. It received a few nibbles, but nothing solid. So I made the decision to indie publish what I and my betas and my ARC readers believe is a really, really good book. It's not out until tomorrow so I don't know how well this will go. I'm hoping readers, who don't have to worry about the commercial viability of a book before buying it, will love it as it deserves.

Meanwhile, I'm pitching another book to agents. Again, I'm getting absolutely no love. I'm talking form rejections and NORMAN crickets. Until now, I thought it was my query letter being weaker than it should have been, but now I'm wondering if my quiet background of previously-published works is dragging it down. I have a handful of novellas published with a respectable Small Press. No, the sales haven't been skyrocketingly spectacular, but those who do read them are reviewing them well.

At least there is one little warm glimmer of hope. We've been so worried lately about the debut novel that we forgot about that second chance, the breakout novel. My debut novel chance is already gone (yay, Friday 20 May!), but I am wonderfully ripe for a breakout.

Yes, I want to be commercially published because I love producing books with a team. I love having an editor and a cover artist and someone to help with marketing--specialists in their field who really know their stuff. My Small Press might have been small, but the wonderful experiences I have with them only reinforces my desire to continue being commercially published. I'd love to delve into the power of a Random Penguin and see where it takes my works.

Meanwhile, I am trying the indie publishing thing. Nothing wrong with going hybrid. Will it work for me? It's still early days.

But still, I'd love a agent, if only to be able to tap into her wealth of knowledge regarding my career.

I use a laser scalpel. Cuts and cauterises in a single swoop.

RachelErin said...

Wow. Knives. Now I have an image of woodland creatures with bundles of knives like chefs, only next to the paring knife, the chefs knife, and the cleaver is an obsidian blade, an army tactical knife, and depending on genre, a silver blade.

I'm at the broadsword stage of editing myself, hacking and whacking and breaking scenes cracking.

OP - it might also be interesting to network with authors who were in your situation, and hear some personal success stories. You might glean some themes, or just some hope. Even stories from authors who took ten years off between novels might be interesting - how do you reenter the fray after a decade of change?

Joseph S. said...


Tomorrow is your Publication Day - BIG DAY. Shout it out.

What is the title of your book?

Will it be available in USA and Europe?

nightsmusic said...

Hey! Wait a minute, Her Grace! Your book sounds like it's right up my alley so why isn't there a title here? I Want To Read It!! And I have a multi-pubbed friend from Victoria who publishes with Berkley and sells primarily in the US so yes, we want you! It's just a matter of finding the right agent/publisher. Do NOT give up!

Okay, waiting for deets...

Karen McCoy said...

Is it too late to nominate Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli for the subheader? "But setbacks mature us. Don't leave sleep over it and move forward."

And DonnaEve, I can't get your unicorns out of my head!

BJ Muntain said...

Joseph's link to the Guy Clark song by Slim Pickins (love that man):

Desperados waiting for a train

BJ Muntain said...

Your Grace, the Backspace conference - previously NYC only - has gone online. As far as I can see, they've got agent pitch sessions and other goodies. I've only been to the live action one, though, which they don't do anymore, so I can't say if this is as good or better. I do know it's less expensive than the in-person conference was.

Backspace Online Neverending conference

Also, Janet says that published novellas and their sales shouldn't affect novel publication.

BJ Muntain said...

Reading closer about the Backspace conference - no actual pitching sessions, but you do get your work in front of agents...

"The beauty of the Backspace query letter and opening pages workshop format as opposed to pitch sessions is that authors can get agent feedback on their work in a relaxed, no pressure environment without burning bridges. Naturally if agents are interested in a project, they will ask to see more. But if a student’s materials are not as well-received as they had hoped, they can take the feedback that resonates, rework their project, and submit to these same agents later. - See more at:" <-- from their FAQs

BJ Muntain said...

Oh. They threw a link in there. Let's linkify it: Backspace conference FAQs

CynthiaMc said...

Congrats, Heidi!

Why do I write?

Why do I breathe?

For me, writing, acting, singing, are all part of life.

Not doing them is as much out of the question as not breathing.

Colin Smith said...

Heidi, Heidi, Heidi. Dear Heidi. How long have you been coming here, and still you neglect Marketing 101. TELL US THE NAME OF YOUR FREAKIN' BOOK SO WE CAN LINK TO IT AND PEOPLE CAN BUY IT!!!!

Please. ;)

And now back to the marvelous Mr. Corby, who hails from... Sydney, USA? Uhh... no...

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and one more thing... for those who don't follow me on Twitter, or who missed it when I posted the link, here's what PW has to say about THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS:

Read it, and find out why it must be QOTKU's favorite in the series... :)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Colin, I'm jealous.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Julie, this line of yours really hit me: "Write like your life depends on it, because it does. No pressure there."

Likewise, the wisdom of CynthiaMc: "Not [writing] is as much out of the question as not breathing."

I know I'm gushing but boy! do I love the inspiration I get here! :D

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Oh very well, Colin, because you asked nicely. While I'd love for the whole world to read and adore all my books, I don't want to become That Guy who's always talking about her book online.

Her Endearing Young Charms, a Regency Romance with magic, is sure to appeal to fans of Mary Robinette Kowal and Georgette Heyer.

Available in paperback from Amazon and in ebook
wherever all
ebooks are sold.

For Colin and all other hybrid readers, if you buy the paperback from Amazon, I've selected the option to be able to download the ebook for free.

Unknown said...

I’m stunned by praise and thanks for this informative post, without questioning why writers should have to put up with disdain from this agent and her "ilk" for taking a business risk that did not work out for the best.

They are free to decide at what $-point they’ll grant less opportunity to such writers, compared to debut authors. But before jumping through extra hoops to "make" agents of this ilk "love your kick-ass... book" now, consider some math and other viewpoints on sales stats:

Janet Reid said...

Melinda, I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here since the post isn't about money (advances) at all.
It's about sales stats.
Whether the writer got a huge advance or no advance has no bearing on this blog post.

I'm very sorry you think I disdain writers since I make my living selling their work.