Writing a book is really hard. I know. I’ve done it six times now. Seven, counting this one.
However, as hard as it is, writing your book is the easiest part of this process. Getting published is infinitely more difficult, especially if you go with the first of the four basic choices: New York “Big Boy” Publisher.
Random House. Scholastic. HarperCollins. Penguin. WW Norton. Tor. Simon&Schuster. Harlequin. I would even consider Little Brown, Orbit, and other imprints of the Hachette Book Group in this (non-comprehensive) list.
Pretty much, if J. Q. Public has heard of them. They’re big.
These Big Boys also have countless number of imprints that look “Indie” at first sight, but they’re actually a Big Boy. Do your research. And there is extensive research throughout the publishing and marketing process, so get used to it. If you don’t know your way around the Internet, learn. Seriously.
Remember those questions I had you answer in the last post?
You’re going to start to need your answers here:
If you want your book to rocket to the top of the NYTimes Best Seller list, a NY Big Boy is your best shot, and it’s still a long shot. Happens every day, of course, but the ratio of authors on the NYTBSL to all authors published by NY Big Boys is very low. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, being on the NYTimes Best Seller list does not make a career, sometimes it doesn’t even make you money. And if it does help you earn out your advance, it unlikely will provide residual income. Google this: Realities of a Best Seller Royalty Statement and see what some best-selling authors have to say about it.
If you want a hefty five or six figure advance, a NY Big Boy is your best shot. That said, such large advances have become the exception rather than the norm. With the recent changes seen in the industry over the past two years, fewer and fewer new authors are being signed. Publishers aren’t taking the risks they once were, and that means sticking with known authors who bring in the bucks. Bad news for the new author and the little guy. Even if you are one of the fortunate ones and are taken under the large wing of a NYBB, advances are more in the $10,000 range, often for two books paid out in installments over a year or longer. This does not a living make.
If you want your book out within the next three-five years or you want more than 2-7% of the net (cover price minus printing & other costs), then you don’t want a NY Big Boy.
The NY Big Boy publishing houses are working on a century-old business model, and it’s starting to truly affect them. In 2010, Dorchester Publishing went bankrupt. Others will no doubt be merging and/or following Dorchester soon. Publishers are struggling to balance their bottom line, and part of this reason is their stance on eBooks and eBook over-pricing. As there is an entire section on eBooks, I’ll save that information for that section.
Reality Check: Let’s say, just for kicks, that you query some agents and by some miracle you get an agent to represent you this week. Another miracle, that agent gets you a publisher next week. Both are highly, highly unlikely, by the way. However, even if these two miracles happen for you, it will still be 18-24 months before you see your book in print. If nothing else, the Big Boy publishing is a long, long, long, long, slow, steep uphill road.
That’s how the Big Boys work.
Now think about the more likely scenario. You spend the next six months researching the ins and outs of every agent, which you absolutely must do. You find your dream agent and zero in on him/her, learning everything you can about them. Finding out what they like and what they don’t like. Reading their entire blog. Following them on Twitter. Interacting with their other clients. Reviewing their books. Researching queries and learning what to do and what not to do. Then you work on your query until it’s perfect, and you send it off to your dream agent. Most agents have a response time that spans from a few weeks to six months or more, and many do not allow simultaneous submissions.
After all that, one year has already passed. (There are, of course, exceptions to this, but this is the norm.)
Let’s say your research and query and manuscript are so good, this agent offers your representation. (Otherwise you have to start the process over again with another agent.) Congrats! You are represented in New York and are one step closer to getting published by a Big Boy.
But wait, you’re still not that close.
Your new agent loves your book, but it needs a little more work. After going through the edits your agent requests (another 2 weeks to several months), s/he starts shopping it out. The agent then queries the publishers, just as you queried the agent. This process also takes time. Sometimes you’ll hit the lottery and they’ll snatch it up, but usually it’s several months. Before you know it, another year has passed. And this is all before a publisher says YES.
From the time you started this process, up to two years have passed. Then you finally get that YES, and it was all worth it…but you’re still not done.
After a publisher says yes and you get your contract comes more rewriting, editing, and polishing. Like I said, another 18-24 months to publication from the YES. By the end of the process, two to four years have gone by for your first book. Hopefully in the mean time, you have been writing other books, so the subsequent books, if your first one sold well enough, will not take so long.
Additionally, Big Boy or not, it’s up to the author to market themselves and their book. Unless you win the lottery a third time (that’s after getting an agent and a big publisher with a fat advance), you won’t get any marketing budget from the publisher. If you’re really lucky, you might get matching funds for your out-of-pocket marketing budget.
And if you thought getting a publisher was hard, it’s a huge piece of dark chocolate cake next to marketing your book. During this entire two-to-four year process, you should be building your online networks, blogging, and making connections that will help you once your books is on those shelves.
Congratulations! Your book is now in every major bookstore across the nation! However, with a Big Boy, your book has three months (90 days) to make its mark, or they go on to the next book. If it isn’t well, your book is dropped, but the NYBB still has the rights, so you can’t do anything else with it.
That said, with a Big Boy, you will likely have the benefit of their in-house publicist, their impressive name, their media and industry contacts, prolific distribution, and possibly excellent bookstore placement, which is how 60% of readers find their next book. If you aggressively market on top of this, you have a good chance of earning back your advance, which in the eyes of the big boys is a fine success. They will likely buy your next book, and so on.
However, again, it’s extremely difficult (read: near impossible) to get a NY Big Boy as your publisher, especially in since the huge industry shift that started in 2009. Big Boys are taking on fewer and fewer new authors every day. Money is too tight and the industry is changing too fast for them to take that risk. Of course it still happens every single day, but, again, the odds are akin to winning the lottery. Seriously.
This is not to discourage you. If you write well and you have a lot of patience and can invest years into the process, Big Boys are the way to go. You have the validity and the prestige. You have fabulous distribution. Once in, you have the best shot at becoming that best-selling author. Once in, many publishers will treat you like family. This is especially true for romance authors who sign with Harlequin.
So. You have decided that NY Big Boy is the way for you. Now here is how to get one:
First, you absolutely must go through a literary agent. NY Big Boys, as a rule, do not take unsolicited submissions. Although author Dean Wesley Smith claims differently in his book Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing (this and other referenced sources can be found in the Appendix of this book as well as linked directly from my blog), and it is well worth the read.
Getting a literary agent takes huge amounts of research, a query letter even more polished than your completed novel, a very high tolerance for rejection, unlimited patience, and an unwavering positive outlook.
I’ll save that for the next post.
What do you see as the greatest benefit in going with a New York Big Boy? Do you think the eBook Revolution has changed anything concerning an emerging author’s options?
11 Comments Add yours
Bravo! But there’s no reason why we independent thinkers and artists can’t be successful. We can create our own rules. Sound a bit naive? Quite the opposite. After trying to play their game and failing, those of us whose minds just don’t operate like the mainstream can create an infrastructure for getting our content to readers on a more innovative platform. Cross-medium, collaborative, and creative is how we will gain support from engaged readers.
And hey, if one of the “big boys” comes knocking at our door then, it becomes our choice to play their game, not theirs.
Check out my post and others’ very thoughtful comments on the very issue at http://dontpublishme.blogspot.com and on Dan Holloway’s various posts on the topic, http://agnieszkasshoes.blogspot.com/
There is another way!
There sure is another way, Jenn. Stay tuned to this two-week blog series, and I’ll be talking about Indie Publishers, “Self-Publishing,” and Vanity Publishing as valid options, too.
Wonderful post! It’s nice to hear what to expect on the next stage of my writing journey from someone who has already been there. Can’t wait to read your future posts!
Side note: You rock! 🙂
Thanks Rachel! I’ll have lots of posts in the coming weeks/months on various publishing paths and marketing strategies.
You pretty awesome yourself. Thanks for the RT!
A really interesting article and one that made me glad I chose the indie route. The situation is very similar in the UK and with sales of Ebooks outstripping paperbacks and the dominance in the market of supermarkets selling cheap bestselling fiction it’s a grim picture for those tied to publishing houses. I see indie as the way forward to be honest, particularly with Kindle Fire and a cheaper Kindle available in the UK.
Exactly! Now with the Kindles priced so low, eReaders will become even more popular in the mainstream. This is certainly the time to be an independent author. No doubt.
It’s very early days for me, so I found it very interesting. It reinforces my feelings about how daunting the prospect of pursuing a publisher can be. I’m just concentrating on the writing at the moment and can’t yet face the amount of time that querying agents and publishers would consume. Thanks for your view.
Absolutely. You need to start building your author platform and networks now. Don’t wait until the book is done.