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.

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Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"


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  1. Basilis on September 28, 2012 at 3:34 am


    If you don’t have a clue about all this, you save (a lot of) years from learning them by the trying/failing procedure.
    And if you now them, it’s still good to see them all together in one article!

    But I still wonder: Do I really learned my lesson about all this?

    Also, reading about the visual professionalism concept, something came in mind:

    It’s of course a great idea to make a cover somewhat familiar with what the big publishers prefer to choose for the books of your genre when you decide to self publish.

    But the stain of the self published writer is still there. You must know exactly what are you going to do starting this adventure.

    I believe that the publishers don’t like the idea of writers bypassing them…
    I’m convinced that if you try to take your self published book, that you haven’t achieved something with it, to a publisher you are doomed.
    (If he tries to contact you, this is another story-the most preferable I guess!)
    From the other hand, if you give him a book that you haven’t published your shelf, -a fresh new work- and he knows that you have already self published something else, will he bother to see it at all?

  2. david Y.B. Kaufmann on September 28, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Thank you, Shawn. Knowing your track record, this was both generous and insightful. The key is to understand what being a professional means. It’s not a shortcut, it’s a mindset.

  3. Simon on September 28, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Shawn you said novelist, hat about non-Fiction books? Can you expect a similar experience? If different, how so? Thanks for the insight.

  4. Helena on September 30, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Much of what you write applies to artists as well, especially in the fine art illustration field where publishing is concerned.

  5. Dave @ Mijas Golf on January 8, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I’m sure all this is relevant but the publishing world is changing rapidly and for the better. The increasing growth in self-publishing will eventually squeeze the publishers to adapt or die. And to be honest, its such a closed industry that the death of publishers is a good thing. However, this will also bring the demise of the book shop, following in the footsteps of music shops.

    To any writers out there, write and publish your work through amazon. if its successful, the publishers will come knocking on your door.

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