This one time at Writer's Camp…
How Do I…?
I want to get my book published. How do I do this?
This question was asked a few days ago in a chat room I frequent on rare occasion and I felt compelled to answer. Then I realize I have this nifty site that actually does the hard work for me (advertising posts, etc) and figured the response could help many struggling and aspiring authors out there.
Many authors have different ways. Some try for years and get nowhere, while others get lucky on their very first submission. J.R.R. Tolkien received something like 50 rejection letters for The Lord of the Rings books. J.K. Rowling? 200, so I hear. David Weber? 75. Michael Z. Williamson? Zero. These aren’t small names in their respective genres, in case you haven’t been able to tell yet. These are the people who commanded decent sized advances and are considered the top of their weight class.
Don’t get me wrong, much of their success comes from the simple fact that they can tell a damn good story. But the fact that Harry Potter was rejected that many times should tell us something, or that we almost never got a chance to read about Frodo and Sam while Kendra’s story made it in on first try. It’s just a business, which is one thing we authors tend to forget in our creation of a novel.
Now, in hindsight we can see that all the houses who rejected Harry Potter initially are kicking themselves hard and most even committed seppuku. Agents gnash their teeth in frustration, and so on. It’s not a pretty sight, being in those back offices in 2002 and listening to the Editor in Chief of a publishing house screaming at his incompetent so-and-so’s…
But back to it being a business.
You see, most publishing houses don’t employ psychics, so the art of judging a book is an acquired skill. How does a slush reader (or an acquisitions agent) know which book to select? I’ve received many rejection letters which say “I like it, but I don’t love it.” So how do we make them love it?
First off, you have to know which house or agency you’re submitting it to. Most houses state on their website what they’re looking for. It makes no sense, for example, to submit a romance novel set in Victorian England to Baen Books or Tor. Or a space opera starring Buck Walters to Harlequin (unless you did something to it that you should go to jail for). So… keep your genre straight. Submitting the right genre to the right house is what 50% of first time novelists fail to do, then they wonder what’s wrong with their novel. Don’t believe me? Ask around…
Secondly, you have to have one hell of a plot hook. Original ideas are there, trust me. For example, everyone does vampires these days. Even me. Anybody can write vampires, and there is little you can do with them. But… how do you hook the agent or publisher when they already have a set author who uses vampires?
You could cheat and get in touch with the author in question and propose a collaboration. That works, but more often than not unless you have a previous relationship with the author in question you’re going to get shot down faster than a B-18 during World War 2. And get laughed at.
Trust me, I know. I still remember what I was told. “That’s not how you ask someone if they want to do a collaboration with you.” Though to be fair, I kinda did come out of left field with my request.
Or you can have a different twist. Blade wouldn’t have been interesting if he was just a run-of-the-mill vampire hunter. However, making him a “daywalker” who is both vampire and human makes for an interesting plot hook. Or take the Sookie Stackhouse mythos. Sookie isn’t a vampire but early on falls for one. Booooooooooring. But then, Sookie is psychic and can read almost anyone… except vampires. Vampires are intrigued by her, humans who know distrust her… okay, an agent thinks. This has potential. Let me see what this is about.
So that means that after your magnificent outline and proposal letter, the individual who receives your novel will want the first three chapters. And that means… what?
That means your book, in the first three chapters, must blow their socks off.
More next week.