Adventures on the Road to Getting Published 1
This is the first in a series of posts on getting published. I've just finished a novel that I hope to sell this year. Its chances are better than any of the previous six unpublished books I've written, because it has a strong topical slant. I'll report on all the curious goings-on in order to enlighten other writers.
I have an agent, so that particular adventure is over. How to get an agent? Meet other writers and get signed by their agents.
My agent is the fifth in a series, so there were quite a few adventures on that particular road.
One of my agents sent a satirical novel, ALL THE PEOPLE YOU CAN EAT (a weekly serial in this blog), to 18 publishers before she gave up. We got warm, enthusiastic rejection letters. "We all laughed loud and long." "The new Terry Southern." But no bites. Probably too tough to make money on a first-time satirical novelist.
One of my agents was very powerful. Plain sailing, I thought. He suggested I have the manuscript, HOLLY'S URGE, edited before he read it. I paid an editor $1,000. Good job. But then I had a hard time maintaining any contact with this famous agent. I later surmised the novel (highbrow, literary chick lit) was too loaded with sex for his taste -- but he never told me. Beware. No news is bad news.
Agent #5 really believes in me, and says so. I never had this before. Sure helps. On the other hand, a writer I know has told me that the relationship between you and your agent should be strictly business, not at all personal. Pick your preference.
Last night, inspired by a panel discussion on authors taking charge of their publishing destinies, I wrote a marketing document about my novel. It may be difficult for the solitary, literary scribe to think about how to market her book, but I strongly suggest you give it a whirl. If anything, it will improve your party pitch when someone asks you what you do.
Questions asked by publishers:
1) What is the author's platform? If you're a celeb, or an expert in the field, or have done something extraordinary, that's easy. But if you're not, what do you say? I thought hard about this, and then decided you need a story that connects you personally to your "material." (Pardon the marketing jargon in a book-lovers blog.)
So I hit on this as my story: "The author grew up in apartheid South Africa under a regime that, in defense of its policies, loudly proclaimed its Christianity. The author exiled himself in protest. The current U.S. administration follows the same script. The author wrote his novel in protest." Now the publisher has something to talk about. So do you. Remember, you're the main salesperson. That's how the publisher sees you. If you're shy or awkward about hawking your wares, take an acting class.
2) What is the book's market? Define your readers as narrowly as you can. This will give you an idea of how to go after them. If, for example, you define your readers as the kind of people who read The Village Voice (write down what that means), you have a vehicle for your marketing right there.
3) How can you reach this market? Think of novel ways to reach potential readers, besides readings. One novelist I met had a rap song recorded about her book.
This might sound too dreadfully mercantile and prescriptive, but if all you do is sit tight in your garret and your book sells badly, your publisher might not give you a second chance. Think how dreadful that will be.
I will report again when my agent has read my novel and makes her comments. Tip: have a friend read your book. I did. She found a confusing plot point. A promise: If I do get published, I'll blog my marketing document for all to see.