I love my writing group, Summit City Scribes. We get together twice a month and critique each others’ manuscripts. We mention what we find strong and wondrous in each piece and what we think might make it better. We bully and encourage each other, and eventually, most of us end up being pretty darned good writers.
And then it’s time to figure out what to do with what we wrote. This isn’t a how-to about selling books. It’s not practical advice, but from the heart. Some of us in Scribes have been writing for a long time. I remember the days when a writer could send a query letter directly to an editor at a publishing house. True, the editor might never look at it, but some poor underling or slush pile reader trudged through each submission, and if it was deemed worthy enough, a writer could get a reply from the editor. These were considered “good” rejections.
A few of us at Scribes have managed to survive “almost” deals, where an editor asked for a manuscript, held it to publish, and then the deal fell through. Twice, editors held novels I wrote for future lines their companies meant to start, and then, for whatever reason, decided against trying. Frustrating? Yes. But not nearly as frustrating as today’s world of traditional publishing where no editors or slush pile readers even accept unsolicited manuscripts. In today’s world, an author has to find an agent, and only an agent can submit manuscripts to editors. In the “old days,” publishers had a strong stable of midlist authors who might never reach the Top Ten lists, but sold consistently. There were lots of places to submit and sell short stories. A new writer could “cut her teeth” and learn as she got better and better at her craft.
Things have changed. I have a writer friend who claims that finding an agent is easy. It is for him. He’s well known in the publishing world. For the rest of us? It’s blood, pain, and tears. I was lucky enough to get an agent who’s anything and everything that I’d ever hope for an agent to be, but I still didn’t have any luck selling my books. I have a habit of writing cross-genre that I find exhilarating, but publishers aren’t so fond of. I also have a tendency to write for markets that are already full or starting to sag. So I bugged Lauren to let me put my writing online. She warned me that sticking a novel on amazon and Barnes and Noble, etc., would be no trip to overnight success. And boy, was she right!
Before she’d even put my work online, she had a list of to-dos I had to complete. I needed 50 followers on Twitter, I needed to start a blog and join some kind of internet group–I chose Goodreads and love it–and I needed to be on Facebook. None of these are any best kept secrets. There are lots of posts on how to create a “brand” as a writer these days. But what Lauren was making sure of was that I’d at least TRY to market myself and promote my work. No one does it for you these days, unless you’re a big name author who will make a publisher lots of money.
Writing is hard work. So is marketing. And what’s frustrating to me is when a new author shows tons of potential in our group, and she asks, “What should I do now?,” more often than not, the answer is, “If you want to try to find an agent and publisher, go for it. But if it takes forever and it doesn’t look good, put your work online.” Thankfully, Scribes has Melissa, our computer guru, who can whip up a book cover, format a book, and put it on Kindle in the blink of an eye.
The sad news, to me, is that it’s so hard to get a traditional publisher to take on a new writer these days. The good news? E-books have taken the place of midlist author slots and pulp fiction magazines that used to serve as practice grounds that gave writers time to learn and grow. But going the e-book route, an author has to market and promote to get her work any attention. The only exception that I can think of, off the top of my head, is Harlequin romance. Editors there still welcome writers and work with them. A writer doesn’t have to have an agent to submit to one of their lines. More places might exist, but I can’t think of them.
In a way, it’s so easy to put a book online these days that there’s no filter to assure quality of writing. There are so many books online that it’s hard to stand out. So my advice to writers? Enjoy putting words on paper (or computer screens) and write the best books you can, because that, for me, is the luxury part of the job. The business part is necessary, and I’m not saying it’s not without its joys, but it takes a new set of skills.