Do You Want an Agent and Publisher? – Chris Longmuir

You’ve finished writing your book. It has an original plot with plenty of twists and turns. It’s well written. It’s a page turner. You’ve put your heart and soul into it, and it’s as good as it’s possible to be. Plus you’ve had it professionally edited, and critiqued.
          After climbing down from cloud nine, you start the hunt for an agent and/or a publisher. You consult the Artists and Writers Year Book, and make a list of editors and publishers who handle your type of book. Then you send your baby off with a professional covering letter. In fact you’ve done everything by the book, followed all the advice, so you’re bound to be successful sooner or later. Yes?
          Well, I’m afraid in most cases, unless you are exceptionally lucky, the rejections will start to bounce back. If your book is as good as you think it is, these will most likely be what are known as rave rejections. You know the kind of thing – “We love your book but I’m afraid . . .”, “Loved it but not what we’re looking for”. I’ve even had, “Loved it, but not 101%”. It’s that last 1% that’s impossible to achieve.
          So, what’s going on? Well, it’s simple really. Publishers are businesses, and the accountants are probably the most influential people in these businesses. So, what they do is look at the potential of your book to make money. If you’ve published before they look at your sales figures, and I’m afraid in these hard economic times, unless you’ve sold trillions, you’re on a loser. If you are a new author, they look to see if you are a public figure, someone with a name famous enough to sell books. That’s why there are so many celebrity biographies and cookbooks. After all, everyone’s heard of Jamie Oliver, and Katie Price AKA Jordan. And of course the agents follow suit. They know that no matter how good a book you’ve written, the publishers aren’t going to offer for it, for the reasons I’ve stated above. Besides, they’re all overloaded with submissions from the hopeful writers out there, who seem to be increasing year by year.
          So what hope do the Joe Bloggs, writing their first magnus opus, have in the profit seeking business of publishing. The publishers and agents know that a first book, no matter how good, is unlikely to sell many copies. Someone in the publishing industry told me that the majority of first books don’t sell more than 300 copies. That’s not a money spinner for the publishers, nor the agents, so invariably the result of the submission is either a common or garden rejection, or one of the rave variety. If you get the rave one, don’t fall into a pit of despair (sorry for the cliché), look on it as validation that your book is good and worth reading.
          Luckily, over the past couple of years, authors have had another avenue for publication, the ebook. So take your courage into your hands, invest in a professional edit, and cover, and leap into this brave new world of epublishing. I know I did it, and I’ve never been sorry.

Chris Longmuir


Bill Kirton said…
Spot on, Chris. I was naive enough to be surprised, 10 tears or so ago, when my then agent told me it was useless telling publishers that I'd already been published in hardback because they wouldn't say 'Were the books any good?' but 'How well did they sell?' And since they were by a then newbie novelist and cost 16 quid in hardback, the unsurprising answer was 'Not very well'. I've never regretted going solo.

(BTW, I did notice the 'tears' typo but I left it there deliberately.)
Excellent summary of the issues, Chris. Sometimes the whole industry seems incomprehensible to me. Have a read of this painful series of posts if you can bear to! A whole other can of worms - involving the amazing fact that even when they have a sure fire hit on their hands, they don't always exploit it. And perhaps most distressing of all are the comments which say 'why is he complaining? He should be thankful for what he has.' Well, he's worked hard for what he has, and what they can't see is that he is simply gobsmacked by the sheer inefficiency. Years ago I did a dramatization of Ben Hur for radio. It had Jamie Glover, Sam West, Michael Gambon and many others. It was a beautifully produced and popular production and you'd have thought it was a dead cert for release on CD. They turned it down. I never found out why. I remember my agent's incredulity though.
madwippitt said…
Spot on Chris!
Lydia Bennet said…
yes, spot on. Apart from ebooks the writer can do paperbacks with Create Space - anyone found this a good method of going indie? Be good to hear from a few who've used this route as well as ebooks. Small presses are great too. And although I spend a lot of energy attempting to market my work, I've heard the big publishers do naff all PR any more so you still have to do it yourself, or get dropped for duff sales for which you'll be blamed even though they did nothing to tell the world the book existed. So even in the marketing sphere, going indie might be the best bet.

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