By Patty Smith Hall
I believe a person should know what they’re walking into before they go head long into battle and make no mistake about it–getting published is a fight. It takes knowledge and strategies; knowing when to retreat and when to push the boundaries. It is a never-ending learning process–just when you think you’ve got a grasp on the industry, it evolves into something new and ever-changing.
Between 250-300 manuscripts are published annually. This doesn’t include Love Inspired who publishes 240 books per year. So we’re talking 490-540 inspirational books released by publishers every year, That’s 540 slots for both pre-pubbed and published authors to fill. When I asked two editor friends of mine how many submissions they received in a year’s time, both said about 200 unsolicited manuscripts(That means manuscripts they didn’t ask for.) So if you added the number of submissions they probably got from all the conferences they attended plus the proposals they received from published authors, you’ve got close to a thousand plus manuscripts per publishing house per year. 43K for 540 slots. What that means is that as a new writer trying to break into the market, you’ve got to be at the top of your game. Your story has to be solid from start to finish, unique yet familiar. And published writers have to continue to produce at a high level to keep getting contracts.
And the battle doesn’t end when you hold that first book in your hands. Most publishers would like at least 2 books out of an author per year which can be overwhelming if you’ve not a particularly fast writer like me. Their budgets have been cut so that you’ve also taken on the job of marketing and publicity which means a presence on social media as well as book signings and a teaching platform. Then there’s proposals you’ll need to work on so that once the book you’re working on is finished, you have another one under contract. And don’t forget the business part of it–the royalty statements, the contracts. While you may have an agent, it’s still very important that you understand this part of the business.
Facts you need to know about the publishing world:
Publishing is always evolving
If you’ve ever been to a writing conference, there’s a list of about 5-7 classes you can chose from during your class time. Now certain classes never change–POV, plotting, the basics of writing. But you can see which direction the writing winds are blowing if you look at the classes dealing with genre and business. The first four conferences I attended might as well have been a hen party with all the chick lit classes being taught. Every editor was looking for the next ‘Bridget Jones Diary,’ and no one, I mean NO ONE, wanted to talk about historical fiction because it was as dead as a doornail. Four years later, you couldn’t find a class on Chick-lit at the ACFW national conference. You also couldn’t find classes on two other areas that had publishers quaking in their boots–social media and self-publishing. Now, e-publishing is a huge topic at most every writing conference.
As a writer looking toward publication, you need to keep aware of these changes. Follow:
- Publisher’s Weekly which gives you daily reports of what is happening in the writing world.
- Subscribe to Writer’s Digest
- Read Agent’s blogs. Chip MacGeogor and Steve Laube offer tons of information on the publishing front.
- Also, look at what ABA publishing houses are aquiring–Christian Fiction is generally two year behind them in ‘fad’ books like Chick Lit, so keep and eye on the ABA market to see what’s coming down the pike.
Publishing goes in cycles
Back in 2008, I entered the ACFW Genesis contest hoping to get some feedback on my first try at a historical romance but I never expected this from one of the judges:
‘You’re a good writer but you’ll never sell this.’ That judge’s argument was against the time period I wrote in which was WWII–everyone in publishing knew that WWII was extremely unpopular with editors. As the historical market was just beginning to take off again, she suggested that I concentrate on another time period or better still, woman’s fiction(that year’s Chick Lit.) But between the time I won the Genesis for that same manuscript and the day Love Inspired Historical offered me a contract, the historical market, and WWII books specifically took off.
So what did I learn through this experience? That genres go up and down in popularity. What may be on every editor’s wish list one day might not tickle their fancy the next. Just keep writing your story. Your day is coming!
The Writing World is very small
Writing is a very lonely business so it’s nice to connect with other writers online through Facebook or on a writing loop, and that’s great–but no matter how innocent your comment may be, THINK TWICE before posting it on any of your social media because there are agents and editors lurking out there, watching. While it’s okay to rant about the rejection letter on that book you were so sure was going to sell, it’s not okay to badmouth the editor who didn’t buy it. Think about it–would you want to work with someone who was so unprofessional and immature as to rant about you on Facebook? And if you don’t think that’s true–I had an author friend who went off on an editor from a very well-known publishing house(I actually saw this on one of my writing loops) and it took four years for her career to recover from the damage she’d done in that one little rant.
Characteristics of a Successful Writer
Perseverance –you’ve got to write even when you don’t want to, don’t feel like it, or physically can’t. You’ve got to keep at it when the rejects pile up, when everyone around you is telling you to give up, and when you’re so discouraged by it all, you wonder what you were thinking. I wrote my first two books flat on my back when I couldn’t sit up in a chair. Take Dora from Finding Nemo credo as your own–just keep swimming!
Teachable spirit–Sorry to say, but you will never learn everything there is about writing a book. Which is great because the craft keeps stretching you, keeps pushing you to write better, to be better. But if you close yourself off to the possibility of learning something new, you’re cheating yourself and your readers.