As a published author and creative writing teacher I often get asked how writers can get published. One of the simplest ways to answer that question is tell the story of my publishing contracts with two different publishers.
Like many other writers, I have always wanted to write a book and started scribbling stories as a child. I have also always been an avid reader. When I started my first book I did not know what I was doing. It was a learning experience and I was not sure I could even write an entire book, but at last I did have a completed manuscript. I then began my search for a publisher.
As I knew no other authors or writers I started with the only place I knew. The Writers Market book. I came up with a list of publishers and started sending out queries. I had some interest from some of the big houses but as time went on I collected a pretty impressive list of rejections.
I worked my way through all the major publishing houses and then started on the smaller houses. Then came the exciting day when I got the call that a small house was willing to publish my novel.
Now in hindsight I’m not so sure I should have leaped at the offer. Small publishing houses can offer opportunities that the bigger houses cannot. They are often more willing to take a risk on an unknown author or a manuscript that does not fit cleanly into a niche. But they are riskier ventures. Many small publishing houses do not have a long life span.
My first publisher did print my first book and contracted with me for my second but went out of business before the second book even came out. Smaller publishers also have lower distribution. It was up to me to arrange distribution in my regional book stores as well as arrange my own book signings and promotion. However the biggest drawback for me was the lack of editorial support and guidance.
Remember, this was my first book and I wasn’t even working with a critique group. I could have used more editing than I received from that publisher. While getting my first book published was a confidence booster and an education, it was not a financial boon. I received only one royalty check before the publisher went under.
After that experience, I then became even more determined to learn about publishing. I sought out writing groups, attended writers conferences, and joined a critique group. As I gained more confidence in my writing I started entering writing contests and placed in the top three in several writing competitions. One of my first place prizes included being read by a senior editor at Kensington. The editor liked my manuscript and offered me a two-book contract.
This experience was dramatically different from my first. A major publishing house meant a standard contract, a standard advance, and regular royalty payments as well as good distribution. However I also lost a great deal of control over my book. Both covers are bodice rippers and the title of the first book was chosen by the marketing department and I was not even given the right to approve it.
Even worse for my writing career though was the fact that the editor who bought me quickly passed me off to another editor and then when that editor left I was handed to yet a third editor. As an orphaned author my second book received little support and I was not offered a new contract.
I would be lax if I did not mention agents during this article. Many unpublished authors ask if agents are important. Obviously as my story points out you can get published without an agent. In fact, I might have gotten published sooner the second time around if I wasn’t working with an agent who did not take advantage of some of my previous contest wins. The problem is that the type of agent who is willing to take on an unproven author is not likely to do you much good.
If you can make a contact with an agent through a conference or contest or the like then definitely do so but I would not recommend spending a lot of time trying to get an agent before you are published. After I had my contract with Kensington I did work with a higher quality agent for a time but nothing came of that experience although the fault probably lies with me as well as with the agent.
I wish you luck in your pursuit of book publishing and hope me story is informative and helpful.