Thanks to my parents and their wonderful ability to make friends wherever they go, I was unexpectedly treated to a two-hour conversation with someone who not only worked for one of the big deal, holy cow, publishing companies until quite recently, but did so in a majorly important capacity. I can’t and won’t divulge who that person is or where exactly they worked so you’re going to have to trust me on this one. What this person had to say not only confirmed some things for me but also reminded me about a few things that we busy writers sometimes forget. So, in summary (with permission, of course):
1) Don’t expect instant success: I know we all want to be the next (insert famous author's name here) and make millions, but for first time authors this is very hard to do. It usually takes three to four books to really launch a successful career…the publishers know this and take it into account when they are considering a new author. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptions to the rule, but for the most part building a career takes some time, especially in fiction.
2) Genre fiction is NOT dead: Nor will it be for the foreseeable future. Vampires, witches, werewolves, whatever…paranormal is still selling well and pubs are very interested in finding new voices and new talent. (Whew!)
3) You probably won’t have a ton of input on your book covers: So try not to be a prima donna about it. As much as your ms is your baby and all, you really need to trust those who know what they’re talking about where book covers are concerned and avoid being viewed as “difficult to work with.” By no means are you supposed to lay down and take it however it comes, but be professional about any concerns you might have and be sure to listen to those in the know.
4) Self-promotion is very important for new authors: Especially with regards to tapping into small communities. That’s where you’ll build your loyal fan base, in small towns and cities where they may or may not have heard some buzz about you. Get into your local papers and bookstores as well…make yourself available and be prepared to market yourself. If people don’t know you exist, how will they ever find your books?
5) Agents and their reputations are very important: I know that this won’t be a favorite to some, but this person did confirm that having an agent is really important in helping to get your foot in the door of the big pubs. This person also stressed the importance of having an agent who is known and respected. Although there have been a few instances where writers were discovered in the slush pile, it really doesn’t happen that often – the pubs rely on the expertise of the agents to bring quality work to the table.
6) For those of us in Canada: The Canadian Market is very small and often quite difficult to break into (especially if you’re writing genre fiction). Sometimes it’s easier to get a deal outside of the country first and then approach the Canadian pubs.
And finally, most importantly, (in my opinion)
7) You need to let things happen as they happen and not rush the process. It was stressed several times to me during our conversation that things take time in publishing…time to write, time to perfect, time to learn and grow, before you even get to the submission stage. It is very important not to jump ahead of yourself and skip some steps because you’re so eager to get your book in print. (Something that I personally struggle with quite a bit.)
And that’s that. Maybe not groundbreaking in the sense of hidden secrets on how to get published, but definitely very important information to be reminded of and to reflect on.