Nathan Bransford posted this little gem on his blog last week: The Publishing Process in GIF form. It takes a while to load, but it’s well worth the wait. For those of you who don’t know him, Nathan Bransford was a former literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. He left to focus on his own writing career, but he’s still an authority on all things publishing.
Some of my writing friends felt his video parody wasn’t a realistic portrayal of the publishing process; that it made it look too easy. I have to admit back when I was an optimistic (I use that term lightly), naïve dreamer of a writer, I thought things would play out just like the post suggests:
I’d write my first novel and then query agents. CHECK √
That’s how far I made it. Even after writing and querying my second novel, I still couldn’t land an agent. Boy, was that depressing. It wasn’t until I joined a well-known writers’ site that my traditional publishing hymen broke.
I got to hear stories of other writers in various stages of the game. Here are some sobering things I learned:
1. Even if an agent requests a full read of your manuscript, you may never hear from that agent again. This is called a non-responder, and it’s the equivalent of being stood up for a blind date. I can’t tell you how many agents don’t respond at all to a simple query unless they’re interested. It feels like high school all over again, and you’re being picked last for the basketball team, because you suck.
2. Even if you sign with an agent who’s over the moon for your book, it doesn’t mean they will be able to sell it. Remember, it has to be loved by an editor too, and then they have to convince their bosses to buy it. It’s like being a contestant on The Bachelorette (or The Bachelor) and making it to the final three, yet still needing to work it so you’ll be invited to spend the night in the Fantasy Suite.
3. Sometimes your book doesn’t sell, and the wonderful agent whom you were considering making godmother to your next child up and drops you. That’s right. She terminates your contract. Kinda like being a mail-order bride and getting sent back. Then you must start the entire freaking process of searching for an agent all over again.
4. Even worse-case scenario? Your book sells, doesn’t sell well enough, and the publisher drops you. Now that’s like marrying the man of your dreams, and having him leave you after three years for his mistress who’s prettier and thinner than you are. Ouch.
Before you start thinking, Geez, singlewritermom, you’re a little black rain cloud, I’m sorry I even signed up to follow you, know that for the first time in publishing, a writer has OPTIONS. No, not stock options—other routes available to them, rather than the traditional one that has been in place for many years. Authors nowadays have so much more CONTROL over their work, and that’s empowering for a great many of us who also happen to be perfectionist control freaks.
We no longer have to sit around, waiting for an agent’s response, which may or may not happen in our lifetime. There are small-and medium-sized presses we can submit our work to, and e-publishers—many who request the full ms right off the bat, which makes me giddy inside, because I hate the pressure of having to titillate an agent in ONE fucking paragraph.
And for those who have an entrepreneur spirit to them and prefer to be the dominant over the submissive, there’s self-publishing—the humdinger of responsibility, because in this situation, one must be writer, editor, and publicist. This route is not for the weak, meek, or easily overwhelmed author. Not only must you wear many hats, you must figure out how to distinguish yourself from the gazillion other self-pubbies out there. Short of committing a heinous-enough crime to wind up on TV, and managing to spit out the name of your book while being dragged away by cops, I have zero suggestions for how to go about doing this. But all the more power to you, I say.
No matter which avenue is right for you, it’s important to remember one thing: You wrote a goddamn book! Here, let me say it again: YOU WROTE A GODDAMN BOOK! You may be a failure in every other area of your life, but you accomplished something that most only dream about. It’s not an easy thing to do. And for that you should be proud.