(This is a repost of my December 12, 2017 blog. At the bottom, I will include additional links to related blogs in this series.)
Early on writing this book, I wanted to believe the story would continue. However, considering all it took to get this written, this seems a formula for madness.
The challenge for me wasn’t writing another book. It was getting this one published.
One thing few will likely notice (until now) is that the copyright date on the book is 1996. (Yes, that was a while ago). After completing it, I sought out a literary agent to assist in getting my book published (While I speak in ignorance of all this profession entails, for me those were the dark ages of book publication, as you will soon understand).
As defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary, a literary agent is “someone who represents a writer and tries to get his or her work published,” or “a person whose job is to help writers sell their books to companies so that they can be published.” Like any agent, they would represent you before a publisher (i.e. … actually no, I’m not going to name a publisher), in order to get either a contract or ‘deal’ for your book(s), or sell any amount of limited rights to its publication and distribution.
As you may realize, a book deal can be their income, in the form of commissions or a percentage of the deal they get for you. Now, it would seem that an agent would be ready to jump at the opportunity to publish your new original work.
Before I answer that, let me give you an example of three responses I received from two agencies. None of these are in my hometown, as there were not an abundance of them there, and I did enough research to know that it would be better to work with an agent that sought the genre you wrote. One was in the Denver area, and the other in NYC. The NYC agent I contacted my snail mail. It seemed the better option at the time. I didn’t send a manuscript, because that would be a waste of paper, I told myself. If they’re interested, they’ll let me know.
I received a response: A form letter, requiring that I send ONLY the first five thousand words, and, if contacted, send the rest, only if it is AT LEAST fifty thousand words. Just so you know, my book is north of one hundred thousand, so I was wondering what kind of short stories this guy was getting. The fun part was where I had to send a postage-paid envelope with it if I wanted whatever I sent back.
In the twentieth century, I was very green to this whole process. I actually did research on copyright law shortly after I got this letter, because I felt like this was an easy way for someone to steal my brilliant work of fiction! (I was so young. It’s awesome to think about this now). Understanding copyright law helped quell my fears.
However, the problem wasn’t simply mailing a phone book to this agent in the hopes of consideration (The postage! The postage!), it was that I might have to do this several more times. Me was not that kind of wealthy.
I decided to go an alternate route, using a newly available resource: The Internet!
That is how I contacted the second agent in my example. Searching for agents then was … sketchy. It was hard to tell who actually knew what they were doing, especially from their websites. I found that most were of two particular styles.
A well-done site might give the impression of a person who was qualified, until you realized they had no real background as an agent. They were basically me: someone who could design a CSS-based website when this stuff was bleeding edge tech, to host a resume that had two unrelated jobs on it, and very little schooling. All in the hopes of being a graphic designer or something. It was beautiful, but lacking in depth.
By contrast, many of the other pages were basically text on a colored background, with all the information you actually needed, put together in a format that could be described as ‘transitioning typewriter user.’ The agent was clearly well qualified as an agent. However, they probably should have asked someone else to make their site.
The agency in Denver was the happy compromise of the two in this particular search. I was able to contact them by email, and could send the book, should I so choose. This seemed a good match for my wallet.
When it came to working with an agent (or really, anyone), I prefer to establish a relationship with the other party before I start blindly sending all my info (Sorry about that. No, just kidding. I will never be sorry about that). So I contacted this agency via email, to find out what I needed to send them. Now, I realize after I received the form letter email from them that I could have read the website more thoroughly and found the answer to that. But the letter was a little … condescending, we’ll just say.
In my preparations, I ran across an interesting detail: please have your manuscript edited/proofread for print before sending. I’m pretty sure they mean using more than spell-checker.
Writing was not my vocation; I do not live and breathe writing, I do not live in a writing enclave, the people I know are not ‘aspiring’ authors debating their nascent works. And while I would’ve like to engage in this, I was too young (and poor!) to visit such groups for support. Online groups, at this time, were rarely credible to me in this field (didn’t trust the internet, I guess).
I did have friends who read my novel, and more than a few made efforts to edit the most glaring mistakes. But these edits were unlikely to be suitable to qualify my manuscript as ‘proofread.’
I decided to contact them again, addressing my concern regarding the need for a proper edit, before I send the manuscript. Since this wasn’t addressed on their site, I noted as much in the email, stating that I wasn’t ready to publish, but would like to find out who they would recommend for proofreads. The request in my eyes was innocuous, but even if it wasn’t, the letter that followed made it clear it didn’t matter what I thought.
I received the same form letter email. VERBATIM. Not only did it not address my concerns, this email made it clear they didn’t even read mine! At this point, I was less mad than annoyed. What was the point of having this as a point of contact, if you had no intention of using it?
While this is only three instances with two agencies, many of my other interactions with agents at this time were similar. Today, I attribute it to simply the sheer amount of available fiction that was seeking publication, and the inability of the market (i.e., the agents out there) to absorb it. Still, it left me with a bad impression of the industry as a whole.
I decided then I would embark on self-publication. After all, I would be master of everything, and it will all work out for the best.
Wait, what? More work, FOR FREE?
–Near Completion (original blog)