Friday, September 18, 2009

Can a Writer Get Published without "Inside" Connections?

Question: I've sent out several query letters for my book and have received only form letters back. I've had several people tell me that the book is great, but if you don't know someone on the 'inside' of the industry, or go to a conference, or pay someone, forget about getting anyone interested in your work.

I can't really afford to pay anyone to read my manuscript at this time, as I'm already paying my assistant to help me edit the work. It is very difficult for me to attend writing conferences due to my speaking and work schedule.

I guess what I'm wondering is; in your experience, without a lot of contacts, is getting published a lost cause?

Please understand I totally 'get it' if it requires a financial investment, and if I'm unable to make that commitment, that is just the way it goes. - K. T.

Answer: With all of the books I have published over the years, I still need an agent to rep me to get new contracts, and those are by no means "automatic." The industry is particularly cautious about taking on new properties these days, what with the economic climate and all. From my observations, I'd say that one out of twenty writers gets published when he is repped by a good, reliable, reputable literary agent (not easy to find). Without representation, I'm guessing that number would fall to one out of every two or three hundred. Neither of those are very impressive odds.

Part of the problem, of course, is that publishers don't trust untested writers. If they put money into a property that never reaches fruition because the writer takes a hike or fails to deliver a satisfactory manuscript or delivers one that just won't sell, they're stuck holding the bag. Collecting too many bags full of nothing leads to collecting something totally else entirely: unemployment. At least with an agency-repped writer, a publisher has some degree of confidence that the agent has done some vetting and believes in the writer, his potential, and his ethics.

Another part of the problem is the tremendous number of unsolicited submissions a typical editor receives in a week. More than 99 percent of these are not something the editor is interested in, not something the publisher will publish (children's books, poetry, sci-fi, or whatever), not well enough written to merit publication, or not targeted to the publisher's niche market. Sending a romance novel to Workman Publishing makes about as much sense as sending a how-to book to Black Velvet Seductions.

So what has this to do with the difficulty of getting an unagented property published? When all these overworked and overloaded editors want to lighten their load (and they can't do it by ignoring their currently viable titles and contracted authors), they do it by rejecting all of those unsolicited and (mostly) unsuitable manuscripts. One mass e-mailing or one afternoon's work for a harried assistant can lessen an editor's load by several hundred properties. "Look, ma, no In Basket!"

The better editors, of course, will at least take a look at the first few lines or paragraphs of a manuscript and, perhaps, set aside those properties that he thinks MIGHT have merit to read more fully at a later date. Other editors simply send them on their way with the ubiquitous pre-printed rejection slip firmly attached.

As for paying someone to get an "in" to a publisher, it's not advisable. Agents who charge reading fees are almost unanimously viewed by the industry as unscrupulous scammers. Publishers who charge to produce a book are either scammers or vanity presses that turn out "printed" copies of your book with no marketing or sales backing behind them. You could accomplish that much by going to your local Kinko's.

The only time you might consider paying someone to help you get published is when you need a reputable book or script doctor. AmSAW and several other reputable editors will work with authors to get a property in shape to begin shopping it around (making syntax, story line, grammar, and formatting suggestions to bring the property up to professional level). In addition, AmSAW has a standing invitation from several respected literary agents who will look at any properties its editors guarantee to be of professional caliber.

Sans those options, your alternatives are pretty much to find a legitimate publisher on your own or to find a literary agent who loves your property and wants to represent you, which is even more difficult a task (if you can believe it) than finding a publisher. Neither option is easy, but writers succeed all the time. It's unfortunate that they don't succeed very often or very quickly. I know writers who have sent their material around literally for years before getting a nibble from an interested publisher. I guess that's what makes the concept of being a published author so "special."

As someone once said, if you want to be a published author more than anything else in life, sooner or later it will happen.


Copyright 2009 AmSAW

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