The other day someone asked me what I thought a first novelist needs to know about the business.
- You have one opportunity at each of the publishing houses. There are no second chances. Your agent (and yes you need an agent to get your book in front of an editor) can’t send the book to another editor at a house if one has already passed. Publishers are small operations these days and everyone inside them knows what everyone else is being submitted. An agent who sends the same book to two editors at the same house will be considered a nuisance and not taken seriously. And when your agent isn’t being taken seriously, you won’t be either.
- You have one opportunity to be positioned as a fresh new voice. Your agent can’t pitch you as the next up and coming thing on your second novel if your first novel does not sell. As a former big six editor, I can tell you how quickly my eyes glazed over when I was pitched a new novel from someone I’d rejected before.
- You cannot expect an editor to buy on “potential.” The days of working through multiple drafts of a novel with an editor at a publishing house are gone. If she can’t figure out how to position and sell the manuscript that is right in front of her, no matter how well written the book is she won’t buy it. Don’t hold back expecting someone to help you take it to the next level.
- Just because the big publishers did not believe enough in your novel to take it on doesn’t mean that there is no audience for your work.
I was then asked how writers can best deal with these realities.
- Know what kind of book you’ve written before you submit it to an agent. If you don’t know what genre your novel fits into, you’ve probably written a lame book.
- Comb through the internet and identify as many of the book editors at the major publishing houses that you can. Find out which editors specialize in your genre.
- Read the books that the editors who specialize in your genre have published previously. You can find this out by looking in the acknowledgements pages of your favorite books. Knowing the landscape before you submit your work to an agent … This is the kind of book Jim Marshall at ThrillerBooks would publish … signals to that agent that you are not a dilettante. Do your homework.
- If you know what genre your book fits into and you know the kind of editor and publisher that specializes in your genre, chances are you know the kinds of readers who would appreciate your work.
- If you do not get picked by a major publisher, but you know your audience, think of a way to find and engage them. Then after looking at as many covers and interior designs that the big six have published in your genre, package and publish the book yourself so that it has the same visual professionalism.
You may only have one shot at the big six, but there are innumerable opportunities for the dedicated pro to find their tribe online.
If you wrote your book to get third party validation from bigwigs in New York, you’ll probably never write another one.
If you didn’t, bet on yourself and get to work. The worst thing that will happen is that you’ll learn something.