On January 2nd I put out a call for questions (in conjunction with a contest) and many of you asked some great ones! Every Wednesday (until I run out of questions), I’ll be answering them here! There may be ones that are related, so I’ll answer multiple questions at once. You can always add a new questions to the queue by posting them as a comment here.
Melissa asks: My question deals with publishing. I have been trying to get a book published for quite some time. I write for a Federal Newsletter in which my short story column has been featured for years. I’ve gotten great feedback. I’ve also had a few shorts published by small companies. I’ve gotten good feedback there as well and have built up a small following of repeat buyers. Yet, I never have any luck in landing an agent. Do you have any advice?
Finding a mainstream publishing contract or liteary agent is hard. I sold my tenth book (my current literary agent started working with me at the ninth book). There are people who sell their twentieth. There are people who sell their first (I’m talking mainstream publishing, of course). The same is true for agents. Agents and editors have to not only LIKE a book and an author, but they also have to do a math problem of effort versus return. They could absolutely adore an obscure story, but if they don’t feel like there’s a big enough audience, they might pass. That’s why a lot of authors have found success in self-publishing. Your measure for success when you’re getting more of the royalty, may be very, VERY different than a publishers.
For example, if you put a book up on Amazon and sell 1000 copies a month and price it at $2.99, you’ll make $2000 a month. Success! If you sell 1000 copies a month with a traditional publisher? They would cound that as a modest failure/borderline low level success, depending on the advance. So the agent and editors have very different thresholds.
So obscure niche can be an issue. You’ve mentioned short stories. If that’s what you’re trying to become agented with, that may also be an issue. Most agents don’t rep short story collections or novellas (alone, of course they rep them from their current clients). Again, it’s a math problem and they won’t make enough to justify the effort they’d have to put in.
Finally, sometimes it comes down to close but no cigar. If you are submitting books and getting a lot of full requests, a lot of good feedback in rejections, you may be in a right author-wrong book situation. Keep trying and keep writing more books. Resubmit to the most enthusiastic agents you’ve submitted to. If you’re not getting much feedback or many requests, write and rewrite, be sure to double and triple check your query and synopsis to make sure it’s strong enough. And write more books. That’s always the best advice.
Write a book. Write another book. Keep writing books. You’ll write a better book every time and you’ll probably get closer to your goals, no matter what they are.