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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Primary Job in Publishing: Writer


I have been running out of publishing jobs to post about, but this week my aunt asked for my advice for her nephew (on the other side of the family) who has written a book. I thought I'd post my advice here, as I do get this question periodically, and it's technically a publishing job, although one I'd avoided until now. So, for you future authors, here are some starting points (please pardon the advice being all male-specific, but this was for a male):

Is he in a writing group? He should be. He needs to get constructive criticism from people who won't let personal feelings get in the way. The book needs to be as close to perfect as he can get this. He needs to think about submitting a book the same as applying for a job. He'd never send out a resume or cover letter that hadn't been proofed by a half-dozen friends and read and reread, right? Same with a novel. If this is a first draft, then he's years away from ready.

Also, he needs to be doing research. While yes, asking your aunt about her niece who used to work in publishing is great, he needs to be researching this on his own. One thing both agents and publishers like in an author, is demonstrating that the author understands this business, has done his/her research, and is willing to work hard. So here are some websites he needs to read:

Query Shark
Bookends
Miss Snark I know the Miss Snark blog is dead, but he needs to read through all the archives.
Of course there are scores of other blogs on writing and getting published, these are just ones I've found particularly honest and sensible. They all link to dozens of other related blogs which should also all be explored.

He needs to read. Books in his genre. That way he know the competition, and the comparisons. It's shocking how many people want to write books, but who don't READ. They're not successful. He needs to know things like what current trends are in his genre, what a typical book length is in his genre, who the bestselling authors are. Then he needs to google the heck out of those authors and figure out who their agents are. Those obviously are the primary targets, AFTER the book is as perfect as he (and his writer's group) can make it. Then he needs to write a perfect query letter (which he needs to research as well, how best to do it. Some examples of what NOT to do can be found at Slush Pile Hell.) All agents he submits to should be cross-checked at Predators and Editors to be sure they aren't scam artists.

Being an author isn't a get-rich-quick scheme. There are no benefits, and the pay is terrible. When I was an editor (2000-2004), most books I bought (22) had advances in the $3000-5000 range. That is not a typo. And yes, I was at a major top-six publisher. I think the most I paid for a book was $20,000, and that still is not much to live on. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 95% of books don't earn out their advance. For the vast majority of people, this needs to be a labor of love, as it's hard to impossible to live on. Most authors I worked with had second or third jobs. This is a hard job, it normally takes many years to be published, and at that point you still might only make chump change. I know everyone thinks they have a book in them, but don't enter into this endeavor lightly. It is not for the faint of heart. But good luck to everyone who gives it a shot.

1 comment:

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Well said! Especially the not for the faint of heart part.