How to publish a novel (in theory)

It occurs to me that many of you won’t really know what the process of trying to get a book published involves, and therefore have no idea what I’m rambling about when you meet me in the street or find me rocking back and forth in the corner of a dark room. I thank those of you who have born with me thus far. Your patience has not been in vain; I’m about to say something coherent for once.

From what I have gathered, like an information hunting internet squirrel, there are three paths by which a writer can seek publication. The options go a little something like this:

1. Write a book and Self-publish–either hard copy or e-Book. Hard copies cost money from your own pocket!

2. Write a book and send to small publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts.

3. Write a book, find and agent, have agent pimp your book to bigger publishing houses that never accept unsolicited or unrepresented manuscripts.

Now, there are ways around these rules. It is possible to self-publish a book, be extremely successful (which in the self-publishing world means selling more than 3000 copies, preferably a lot more), use these stats to score an agent, and then land a major publishing deal. Or you can try to find a small publisher who is excited about your work and then try to lure an agent with your pending contract.

Of course, I figure, why sell myself short? I’m going to take soul-crushing door number 3. I have next to no credentials, zero industry connections, I don’t really know how to write a proper query letter, and I have not done my research on appropriate agencies but, dammitall!,  I’m going to wrangle myself an agent.

Really. I actually believe that.
If, for some obscure and unforeseeable reason, this doesn’t work… I’ll just have to sneak into some poor unsuspecting publishing house and hold someone hostage until they agree to print my book. Anything to avoid having to self-publish.

Self-publishing is like going to work, and having to pay for the privilege. I realize that a lot of people do it, and do it successfully, but realistically I know that I won’t be one of them. I have no earthly idea where to start when it comes to self-promotion, tours, book signings, websites, whatever. And have I mentioned that I’m a broke-ass writer?

‘Cause I’m a broke-ass writer.

I can’t afford to self-publish. That’s not to say I won’t be crawling on hands and knees to Author House if all other avenues fail. I want to see my book in print badly enough to pay for it myself, even if it will take me ten years of working at a non-writing job to be able to afford a decent run. Which means The Timekeepers’ War will likely be my first and last novel.

Unless I become one of those annoying “one-novel-per-decade” authors who have the audacity to write series’, foolishly believing that their fans will still be alive when the next instalment finally comes out. Which, let’s face it, I probably will.

Moving on!

What does all of this mean? What the hell do I do on a day-to-day basis?

Well, for starters, yesterday I dusted myself off and got back on the damn horse.

After receiving my first real rejection letter on Monday, I dove straight into the downward spiral of over-analytic self-doubt and self-loathing (we’ve talked about this). So, in order to distract myself from the sense of impending doom, I jumped into the internets. I spent most of the day yesterday reading more “How-to-Write-a-Super-Amazing-Query-Letter” resources, decided that mine was all wrong, rewrote it, and sent out another four. We’ll see if I get any bites on batch two before I start tearing my hair out. What’s left of it.

Trouble is, the standard 6-8 weeks wait is killing me. It’s only been two, and in some cases one, and I’m already checking my email like an obsessive compulsive squirrel…
…that has email.

I’ve tried to limit myself to sending out only a couple a day. Well, 2-5 really. Not just because it’s a lot of work, and I’m kind of lazy like that. But this way I won’t get all my rejections back at once and then try to drown myself in the bathtub. See? Strategic preemptive-self-defence manoeuvring. That’s a thing. Once the form-rejections start rolling in, I’ll still have to force myself to get out of bed every morning just in case.

So there you have it. In a nutshell (will the squirrel metaphors never stop?) this is what it looks like to try to get published. If you’re me. There are probably a lot more elegant guides out there, retrospective success stories and the like. But let’s face it. If you or someone you know is trying to get published for the first time, this is probably a little closer to the truth. You know, unless they’re not neurotic, angsty, depressed, anxious, and/or delusional.

But then, they’re not really writers, are they?

Now, it’s time for me to do some real work. I still have a short story to finish and a newsletter to publish sometime this month. Hopefully this was enlightening for some, and useful to others. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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7 thoughts on “How to publish a novel (in theory)

  1. Nowadays there are some free self publishing avenues open. But, sure, these are last resorts. Without wanting to be banned for advertising a giant, Amazon looks the best for ebooks – they do a zero-price promotion (people have used this blog host to advertise). I went with lulu.com back in the days when they were the leader, and still great for PoD books and pdf ebooks. Of course, these days there’s a welter of self published novels, so I guess you have to target your readership through sites related to the subject of your book to get downloads in the thousands. One thing’s for sure, the traditional agent/publishing house/bookstore model is changing to point where even supermarkets are losing out to the web for convenience alone.

    I think there will come a tipping point where the majority of début authors will decide they don’t want to rely on the judgement of a small number of people who think they know what the market [in the next few years] wants (and that based on a current trend). But for now it seems literary agents are essential for most authors to get on the big lists.

    1. You’re so right. The traditional publishing industry is definitely going to need to change in order to keep up with e-publishing and other alternative markets. Especially now that Amazon (among others) are actually publishing books for themselves, on top of offering self-publishing and e-book platforms.

      Sure, if you signed with Amazon, your exposure would be more limited. But they are rumoured to be paying their authors up to 30% more than traditional publishers. Plus, if your work can only be available at one location, Amazon can’t be a bad place to be.

      I’ll admit, there’s way more to self-publishing than I’ve looked into. But I do know that the few successful self-published authors I know of have spent a lot of time and money in getting there. If the publishing costs don’t get you, self-promotion bears a hefty price tag. Unless, unlike me, you know how to rock the free publicity avenues (which are probably everywhere!)

      Even though it is frustrating, like you said, to have to rely on the judgment of a select few in order to get noticed, it’s probably the best bet. For me, personally, finding an agent will be the best chance I have in getting published.

      If I can do it. If I can’t, I’ll have to go back to the drawing board and figure out exactly how these self-publishing prodigies are working their magic! If you know of any good resources please link me!

  2. I’m really enjoying your blog, Cat. I think this is a great way to keep us informed and for you to analyse the process as you go through it. Keep it up.

    1. Thanks for reading! Please do share it. If it can’t be of help to anyone, at least you all can be of help to me! BTW I just received my first request for a partial manuscript from a great agent. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

  3. Hi Cat!

    If you’re looking to self-promote you should definitely check out tor.com! As a reader I can only say where I’ve gotten great books and stories from, and that’s definitely a good place. Maybe they accept shamelessly self promoting angsty writers-to-be for short story submissions? Might be a good way to plant the seed of Cat Phillips all over the inter tubes!

    1. I’ve been kind of hemming and hawing over the whole TOR thing. For short-fiction submissions, they still have submissions from September of 2010! And you’re not allowed to submit it elsewhere in the meantime. Although, to be fair, they do say that they reply to most submissions in 8 months.

      When I finish my next short, if I still haven’t heard back from Strange Horizons (I just submitted my story “Dreaming in Red” to them last week) then I’ll likely submit to tor.com. Neither likes multiple submissions (to them) or simultaneous submissions.

      TOR Books I’ve been procrastinating, though. So far I haven’t sent any submissions directly to the publisher, I’ve been sending to agents. I think TOR is one of the biggest science fiction publishers to accept unsolicited/unrepresented work from first time novelists. That’s a huge plus!

      But they only accept snail mail submissions, which is a huge downside. I can’t afford to send out many hard copies, but when I get to that point, TOR will be top on my list. But have you seen pics of their slush pile? Terrifying. Google (images) that shit.

      Come to think of it, it would make sense to send that one in early in the game…

      Dammit.

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