Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Adjusting Expectations to Hasten Publication

Finding Your (Publishing) Soul Mate
(Part One of Two)

There are several adjustments in a writer’s expectations in the search for publication that will not only hasten the publication, but lessen the hurt of rejection.

One of those adjustments is the expectation that the first editor and/or publisher who reads your piece will fall in love with it and buy it. The desire will always be there, no matter how many years you’ve been writing or how often you’ve been published. We want our creative babies, the pieces of our heart that we send out into the world, our soul children, to be loved the moment they are released. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.

You have a much higher chance of acceptance if you do your research before you submit. How often do we see questions on forums from writers who sent off a query or a proposal and then, when the agent or editor in question responds affirmatively, the writer suddenly feels trepidation? Often that trepidation is well-founded. The writer hasn’t done the research and has sent off the piece without any knowledge of the recipient. And then panics when said recipient says, “Sure, I’ll publish you. For X thousands of dollars in reading/handling/editing fees."

Run.

If they want money upfront, they are not legitimate.

And do your research first.

How do you research? It’s similar to what you learned in high school English, when your teachers taught you (or should have taught you) the basics of journalism – the six questions (who, what, where, how, when, why?) and cautioned you to always double check your sources.

Where do you find lists of reputable agents and publishers? Check The Writer’s Market, that big old book that comes out every year and can be used as a coffee table or a footstool when you’re not paging through it. Writing magazines such as Writer’s Digest and The Writer have market listings in every issue. Go in to bookstores and libraries. Hunt down books that fall within the realm of your work. Read the acknowledgements and dedications. Often, a writer will thank an editor and an agent. Make a list.

The list isn’t enough. Now check on Predators and Editors to make sure the editor or agent doesn’t have a list of complaints filed against him/her. If there are complaints, get as much information on them as possible – there are those sour-grapes writers who will file illegitimate complaints occasionally. P&E is pretty good about making sure the claims are true. Then, cross-check to see if anything has been posted in “Whispers and Warnings” over on Writers Weekly (http://www.writersweekly.com) . Again, research the agenda of the person making the complaint.

We’re not done yet.

Now, check Publisher’s Lunch and Publisher’s Marketplace to make sure the person is still there. And, check the agency/publisher’s website. Agency websites often given bios and information on the agent; publishers are more protective of their editors, and it is rare to find detailed information. See what else the agent has handled to make sure it’s a good match.

When all of those avenues have been thoroughly checked and you have your hugely shortened list of places to query, then you send it out.

If you feel this is all too much work, ask yourself, "How much do I really want this?"

Success takes work.

And you may get rejected. So you send out more.

I sit down with The Writer’s Market when it comes out every year. I get a paper and notepad. I put the title of each project – or, if I have multiple projects in similar genres, the genre – on the top of a piece of paper – and I sit down and, literally, read the WM from cover to cover over a period of several days. Each page has three columns marked “A”, “B” and “C”. Any listing that is appropriate for one of my pieces goes into one of those categories – “A” list is those I feel are the best match; “B” list is for the markets I think might work; “C” list are the borderline markets. I use the hard copy rather than the online version because it is easier for me to read through it this way. And I often find markets I would never think of if I simply used the "search" function.

Then I check them all on P&E and “Whispers and Warnings”. Now I have my list. And, when I’m ready to send out queries, I check to make sure the person is still there before sending off the query.

Taking the time at the beginning saves time in the actual querying process.

Remember that rejections are often a good thing – do you really want to be with a publisher or agent who isn’t crazy about your work? Once your work is published, you have three months before you’re on the backlist. You have three months for your book to make an impact. The publisher is going to put the bulk of his advertising money into the sure things. You better be sure that the agent or editor handling your book is in love with it, so you can get as much support as possible from them in the marketing.

You usually don’t find your soul mate the first time you go out on a date. You have to meet a variety of people, learn their quirks, find out what you are willing to put up with and what you are not. It’s the same in publishing. You’re looking for a long-term partner, not a one-night stand. You want to build a career, not be published and then sink into the abyss of remainders.

Simply getting published isn’t going to launch your career. You have to find the right fit. This is a stepping stone, a building block in your future. The more thorough you are in your preparation, the more quickly you will find your best match.

Agents and editors want to fall in love with your work. That’s why they’re in the business. That is their deepest desire – that this manuscript will be The One.

Help them by doing your research and finding the most likely match.

(Next week: Finish First).

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