getting published

You Don’t Need to Schmooze Or Go To Conferences To Get Published

You don’t need to schmooze or go to conferences to get published is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for a while. One thing I’ve seen for years is how so many writers think of publishing as this clear cut industry where the writer queries the agent, the agent gets the book deal, and everyone lives happily ever after. Another thing I’ve seen is this impression that there’s this “in-crowd” where everyone in publishing knows each other and that’s how people get published.

But that’s not how is works in most cases. What prompted this post was a comment I saw on a publishing blog yesterday left by an unpublished writer who sounded more than disillusioned by traditional publishing and the query system.

I actually happen to believe that queries are important. Writers should learn how to write a decent query letter and know how to approach their careers in publishing as professionals. And once those skills are learned they can be applied to all aspects of publishing, especially when it comes to writing a good blurb for a book or story. I’ve always thought of writing query letters as an exercise in word economy as it relates to book descriptions. Because the most important part of the query is talking about the book.

I also happen to think good literary agents are important. But these days querying agents isn’t the only thing writers need to do. It’s no wonder that person who commented sounded frustrated if all she’s doing is querying agents and reading blog posts and articles about traditional publishing. I’m not Joe Konrath and I have nothing against legacy publishing, but I do think authors have other options to explore nowadays, and to ignore those options suggests you’re not getting all the information you need about the changes that have been happening in publishing over the past ten years. And I’ve heard one thing from more than one agent over the years. Querying works sometimes, but most of the time it’s like trying to win the lottery. Anyone who has ever queried for any length of time will back me up on this.

The writer who left the comment also thinks that writers have to be these social butterflies who have to schmooze a lot. I’m not even sure what that means, but it sounds like she’s been reading too many agent blogs that put a spin on publishing that’s not always realistic. Maybe she’s talking about book signings? Maybe she’s talking about socializing in places where agents and editors hang out in New York, as if there really were such a place in the universe. It sounds more to me like this writer is romanticizing publishing from articles she’s read and heard that make things sound more fascinating than they really are.

Another part of the comment seemed to suggest that writers need to go to conferences in order to get published and build a career. And I understand why she would think this. I’ve seen publishing professionals hock and plug writers conferences over the years more times than I can count. That’s because these publishing professionals are involved in the writers conferences and there’s something in it for them, not you. They are getting exposure, they are getting transportation, they are getting the chance to pick maybe one writer out of one thousand writers to publish…if that. But the majority of writers going to these conferences and conventions aren’t getting any closer to becoming published authors than they are querying.

I’m not knocking conferences and conventions either. Some people really do enjoy them and turn them into social events. But writers conferences and conventions are expensive. People have mortgages, kids in college, or even college loans to pay back. I’ve known people who can’t afford car payments and they’ve spent over two thousand dollars in one shot to go to a conference or convention and get nothing back in return. That’s right, nothing in return. This is when writers need to think like business people. And good business people don’t usually invest in anything unless they think there’s going to be a return on their investment. I can understand if the conference is being held in Hawaii and you can turn it into a vacation. But most of these conferences and conventions are held in cities most people would never even venture to travel to under normal circumstances.

One reason I’m not going to Gay Rom Lit is because I don’t travel often and when I do it’s a big deal because I have two dogs. I take them with me when I travel. I don’t board them or hire people I may or may not be able to trust watching them while I’m gone. I also have a partner I would take with me, so that would be double the cost. As I said, Tony and I don’t travel much. And this year Gay Rom Lit is in Albuquerque, which isn’t a city we would normally pick for a vacation. I’m sure it’s a fine city, indeed.  I’m sure Gay Rom Lit is a fine event. I would love to meet some of the people I’ve met online, but it’s just not a practical event for me at this time in my life. If a publisher wanted to pay my expenses, that would be a different story. But I don’t think publishers do this for most authors, especially small start up presses…and I wouldn’t expect them to do it.

When it comes to getting published, the best thing any writer can do is write something good that he or she thinks people will want to read. It’s not easy to get published, but it’s not impossible either. And while you are waiting for that literary agent to get back to you after you’ve written all those queries, spend some time looking into some of the new things happening in publishing and take control of your own career as a writer, especially in e-publishing. All the resources you need are there and they are growing daily. Better yet, they are all free. You can get better results making online friends and building a readership online through social media than you can “schmoozing” or going to conferences. It’s hard to give exact examples because different approaches work for different writers. Some blog, others use twitter, and I’m seeing a lot on pinterest lately. The point is this: do something and don’t sit around talking about the things you can’t do.

And if you want to be a career writer, don’t say no to anyone. If Betty Jane Publisher asks you to write a short story on the color blue, say yes and start writing. In other words, don’t sit around waiting for that big book deal…or even that medium sized book deal…without working on building publishing credits at the same time. Check out small presses, especially small e-presses where calls for submission are posted all the time. Self-publishing for some is the best option around these days, especially for the highly creative types who like to have absolute control over their work. I’ve read and blogged about more than a few self-published authors who have taken their careers into their own hands and have had fairly decent small successes. And many fine literary agencies now have their own self-publishing services they are offering their own clients, so they aren’t going to hold self-publishing against you like it was held against writers ten years ago. Frankly, I wouldn’t work with an agent who knocked self-publishing now.

Don’t underestimate the things you can do for yourself as an author nowadays. The best example I can give came to me in the form of a private message a couple of weeks ago from one of my readers. She is a huge fan of m/m romance, and she recently self-published a short story on Amazon all by herself. I went right over to Amazon and bought it and was surprised at how much I liked it. She took control of her work and did something about it.

Question and Answer…

I receive a lot of questions from new writers and other authors. Once in a while, readers have questions. Sometimes the questions are private and other times they are more generic. I’d never mention any names on this blog. But I’ve decided to answer a few of the generic questions because I think most people are curious about them.

So many writers seem to be getting into self publishing now. I see all of them on facebook and twitter promoting books of non-fiction and fiction novels. Does this mean it’s a waste of time to query agents?

Like most questions about getting a book published, there is no easy answer to this. I wish there were, but there isn’t. I can only talk about my own personal experience and how I feel about querying agents.

First, I think it depends on the book you’re writing. If you’re writing m/m erotic fiction or m/m romance, I don’t think querying agents is the best route to go. This is based on my past experience, and someone else might have had a different experience. But I never got anywhere pitching m/m anything to literary agents. In fact, I’ve had some reply with scathing e-mails, insinuating they are far too grand to represent m/m erotica or romance. Those agents who say they represent “gay/lesbian” authors are usually looking for more literary novels…the arty, sad-sack, novels where gay people are repressed and helpless, where gay people are bullied, kicked, and discriminated against in society. I call them quasi emotional novels, kind of like when you know a popular talk show host on TV is exploiting a serious issue to get ratings. And I don’t write novels like that. I don’t exploit the gay community ever. I also know one or two agents out there are gay, but not openly gay. Ironically, they represent mostly mainstream straight fiction. I’m not fond of that kind of insincerity either.

But if you’re trying to get something more mainstream published (in any genre), I certainly don’t think it can hurt to query agents. A good agent will guide you and nurture you, and set you on the right path toward publication. I do think it’s important to research each agent you do query to make sure they represent the kind of book you’re pitching. I also think it’s important to follow each agent’s query guidelines to the last letter because it will give you a better shot at getting their attention…and respect. And please be sure you never use the term “fiction novel” like in the question above. They don’t like this; they will penalize you for this. And you always want to make a good impression up front with the query letter. These days, there’s enough information on the web about most literary agents to get a feel about what they are like. Do the research.

One common factor I’ve always seen about querying agents is that writers tend to obsess about it a little too much. I’ve known writers who would spend weeks working on one query letter instead of working on their books. I know it takes time to write a decent query, but if you’re spending more time writing the query than you are writing the book, there might be something wrong with the way you are going about things. And the ironic part of it all is that it’s really the writing that’s going to impress the agent in the end, the query letter is just the vehicle that’s going to get you there.

As far as self-publishing goes, I know a lot of authors who are doing it. I haven’t, but I’ve thought about it many times. I do applaud all these authors for taking their own careers into their own hands. The Internet has opened up opportunities for authors in ways that couldn’t have been imagined ten years ago. And if you’re not taking advantage of all the opportunities out there, it might be time to take a step back and evaluate what you’ve been doing. Self-publishing used to be what writers did when all else failed. I think that’s changed now, and I think self-publishing is something writers do now when they want to empower themselves and control their own careers.

To sum it up, do it all. Query agents, query publishers who take unagented submissions. Contact all the wonderful e-publishers out there. And don’t get hung up on rejection for too long. When you hear that publishing is a subjective business, it’s not someone being polite.