In publishing, maybe the cliché is true: It is easier…

February 6, 2014 9:14 am Published by 1 Comment

I know why you’ve read at least this far. “It is easier…” to do what?

First, a little history. Since I retired thirteen years ago, I’ve been living my life’s dream of writing fiction. I’ve completed a trilogy of thrillers and a book of short stories. Still, with none of my thrillers have I been able to snag a conventional publisher. Consequently, I self-published with iUniverse. I have no complaints. iUniverse provided good editors, thoughtful cover designs, some marketing support, and production quality that competes with the best. My books have received excellent reviews and, for self-published books, have sold well.

Three years ago I switched genres. I thought I might have a better chance of connecting with a conventional publisher by writing an historical novel. I focused on the Japanese internment of World War II, a particularly poignant episode in our country’s history. About a year ago, I completed How Much Do You Love Me? It’s a love story/mystery intertwined with the drama and pain of the internment.

As I did for my thrillers, I searched for a literary agent. New writers today understand that it seems nearly impossible to get an agent interested in you. And over the next eight months, I reaffirmed that notion. To be fair, there is good reason. Publishers are taking fewer chances on newbies—at least for fiction. (If you are a famous person or have a killer real-life story, an agent will snap you up in a heartbeat. If you don’t believe me, try this: send out a handful of queries whose first sentence begins with the following: “I slept with Osama bin Laden, and here is my story.”) And there is one additional truism; to a literary agent, being self-published is equivalent to being unpublished.

Over an eight-month period, I sent queries to 180 agents. I received replies from 134. Many agents requested, up front, a chapter or two; others requested additional material based upon the query. Nonetheless, all agents declined. Nearly all replies were polite, with a common refrain being “this isn’t right for me,” or “we have decided to pass on this one.” The most encouraging reply I received was from a high-powered, well-regarded agent with whom I had met personally several years earlier. She said: “Thank you for thinking of me…You write well and this is an accomplished story – do keep going with this. Unfortunately I’ll have to step aside, but do know it was a close call, and I wish you the best of luck.” Note her phrasing, a close call. That letter made my day.

When I ran out of agents, I tried one other route. Using Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents, I browsed through his list of Publishers. This is a tougher approach because very few publishers accept queries directly from authors. Still, I found a few and one, in particular, that seemed to be a good fit for my story. To that one I sent my query letter on October 7th. By then, I felt that my query letter had evolved into the best I could write.

Four days later, on October 11, I received an e-mail reply (the most professional looking reply of any I had received from an agent), saying that they would be “very interested” in seeing my manuscript. That sounded encouraging but, from previous experience, I wasn’t expecting much. And then—may the publishing Gods be praised!—on November 6th, I received an e-mail offering me a publishing contract.

Long story short, I signed the contract, and my editor and I are now working to make the manuscript the best it can be. These people work fast and precisely: the cover has been designed, and they already know the book’s release date, August 12th.

And so, to rephrase the title for this blog: Yes! Sometimes it is easier to find a publisher than a literary agent.

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This post was written by paulmarktag01

1 Comment

  • Kay Olson says:

    Congrats, old friend! Well deserved. I will get to read all your books one of these days. My mind hasn’t been geared to reading since the death of my son’s father. I’ve been going to be with him in Pgh. when I can. I’ll be out there during his break between Seminary terms in early March–any chance you’ll be in Somerset? We’re about an hour away in Westmoreland Co. Let me know. Oh, and let me know if there’s an East coast signing–I’ll be there–with bells on.

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