There are probably twice as many individual stories about the experience of getting published as there are published authors–taking into consideration that many authors have been published by more than one press. BUT, in an on-going discussion on Murder Must Advertise, new authors have asked those with publishing experience to share their stories. I sent a reply directly to a couple of questioners, but my answers turned out to be quite long, so instead of sending them to MMA generally, I am putting them here.
1. My first publishing experience:
DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow, a non-fiction book of essays about country living and the transition from city to country sold, unagented, to a New York publisher in 1993. I got a medium-large advance and standard royalties. There was good and thorough editing support and a two-year lapse between acceptance and publication (in hard cover). The publisher assigned a publicist to me but I think all she did was contact radio stations about interviews. This eventually resulted in three hour-long interviews, one in coastal Alaska, one in California, and one in a small-town southern market. I went on to get several more interviews on my own. The publisher sent flyers and posters to bookstores and media contacts in my home area, and gave a stack of them to me. The publisher suggested bookstores for signings but left me to make arrangements when the time worked for me. (They did not pay my expenses.) Neither my editor nor the publicist had much knowledge of the mid-south area and, at one time, wanted me to schedule same-day book signings at two Arkansas bookstores that are more than a day’s drive apart. If the publisher or publicist submitted my book for reviews in major markets I never learned about it. The books were in major distributors and were returnable.
Note: Though the book sold moderately well and my editor said she was pleased, the final thousand copies were dumped in a landfill when the book went out of print. This was heartbreaking for me, partly because of the environmental cost. (DEAR EARTH was later brought back into availability by my second publisher.)
2. Second publisher–the first five books in my TO DIE FOR mystery series featuring Carrie McCrite and Henry King:
When I had finished the first two books in this series I did find an agent (I had an interview with her at a writers’ conference and she was the first one I had contacted.) She was with a major agenting firm in NY and, so I was told, submitted my first novel to several publishers. When I asked to see rejection letters she stalled (I thought) saying many authors did not want to see rejections. I said I needed to see them and when, eventually, she sent me five letters, they all began with statements about my work that I could have used for jacket endorsements on a novel! Then (turn the page) there was that “BUT” and what followed was usually the vague comment suggesting changes or, alternately, one of those “Not for us at this time” rejections. Sometimes the suggestions for changes were contradictions from one editor to another and, when I did do a re-write as one editor suggested, my agent did not re-submit. Confusing and frustrating time for me.
Eventually this agent and I parted good friends and I soon sold the series myself to a small press I found in a write-up in the Mystery Writers of America newsletter. This firm offered a small advance, very generous royalties paid monthly, offered excellent editing support, and submitted my novel to all major reviewers. The book came out in trade paperback one year after acceptance, and was widely reviewed. The publisher sent flyers to several hundred libraries and independent bookstores, and, with each, included a card the recipient could return for a free copy of the novel being promoted at that time. Book tours were not arranged nor paid for. The publisher supplied me with 1000 flyers with retail prices, and around 250 with bookstore discounts. The publisher also sold second rights for my books to a large print hardcover firm who markets to libraries. We split that advance and royalties evenly. The publisher did a second printing on the first series novel, and let the second novel drop when it sold out. (Returned all rights to me.) This publisher also made all my books available for Kindle.
3. Third publisher, beginning with sixth book in my “TO DIE FOR mystery series:
Small press. I made arrangements myself, and was offered a standard contract including a small advance and standard royalties. There is good editing support. The publisher will submit ARCs to major reviewers and a few others and gives me copies to use for my own submissions. They supply 500 bookmarks, a template for flyers I will have printed, a list of radio interview hosts I can contact. Books will be in major distributors, with returns allowed. (This is in the contract.)
This is a Print on Demand publisher, and that’s one reason I chose them. I have long been active on behalf of environmental causes and organizations, and I am willing to walk this publishing path for that reason. I evaluated my dreams and goals and my conscience, and decided that, at this time in my life, it was time to allow my best instincts to guide me, and to keep within my comfort level. It was a personal choice, and maybe not a path many of you would choose.
I have never been a “big city, big publisher” gal I guess. I work hard on publicity and am comfortable doing that. Though publisher number two came very close to getting one of my books reviewed in the New York Times, and always submitted to them, I don’t aspire to any notice from that source. As the song says, “I gotta be me.” I write to entertain myself and my readers; to create characters that–I have been told many times–become like family to readers; and to accomplish what good I can through my writing as well as my life.
I can’t tell you more about publisher three yet because most of that experience is still ahead of me.
My advice to anyone seeking publication–especially if you are finding the path difficult–is, first, to be sure the book is well edited by someone other than yourself. It’s almost impossible for any author to catch all problems. It helps, of course, if you have had previous publishing experience as I had, since I was a magazine feature writer and journalists for several years before I wrote my first book. Many of the essays in DEAR EARTH had been published previously.
Second, study agenting and publishing options. Know and understand the many plusses and minuses. Investigate, investigate, investigate. Talk to published authors.
Third, understand yourself and your publishing goals. Look inside yourself to understand your comfort level. These days publishing options are open to most since there are now thousands of small presses, a number of them “legitimate,” to use an industry term.
While I don’t advise self-publishing or publishing for pay for most writers, (for one major thing, distribution options are very limited and there can be a stigma attached) it might be a proper choice in some instances. One example comes from our local critique group. This member of our group is in his late 80’s and a cancer survivor. He self-publishes. In another example a friend in another part of the USA where there is a huge tourist industry self-publishes fiction set realistically in actual locations in her area. She includes mentions of many real restaurants, shops, etc. when her characters patronize them. State and local chambers of commerce, tourist sites, many businesses, especially if mentioned, plus real estate organizations,and the media support her work. She sells–big time.
Of course all this comes from my own life experience, and that was my intention in this blog post. I hope some readers here will share their own views and experiences. If you are a beginning writer, talk to many people. From this blog take only ideas that sound helpful. Ignore the others.