Don’t understand the publishing business? Below, Terence Kuch, author of The Seventh Effect and See/Saw, details how he broke into the industry. The article is the first part in a two-part series.
So you want to write a novel? Or you’ve written one and it’s gathering e-dust in a corner of your hard drive, having been dissed by one or two publishers and ignored by an agent? Even your friends – but I won’t go into that. “Please read my new novel and tell me what you think” is the severest test of friendship. It can get worse if they actually read it.
So let’s say you’ve written a few short stories, and believe you’re ready to tackle something bigger. You’ve got a hero/heroine (yourself, probably, under a thin disguise) that you’d like to follow from adventure to adventure at novel length. Piece of cake, right?
Or you think that a novel amounts to a string of short stories called “chapters” about the same characters, and you could do that pretty well. Ah – not quite.
Well, in my own case, my first three short submissions were to paying markets, and all were accepted. But as it turned out, that was a fluke. I now publish stories frequently (Google me to see some), but I average about eight submissions (five rejections and three no-responses) for each story before it’s accepted somewhere. About half of my acceptances have been for money, from e-zines and hard-copy publishers in the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia, with some “for the love” publications in those countries plus India and Thailand.
The Seventh Effect
A few years ago I decided to write a novel, knowing little about it except that people like Patricia Cornwell wrote novels that made them rich and famous. I could do as well, I thought.
So I wrote a techno-thriller called Rondo in F, about a cyber-cop named Duane Rondo who discovers and thwarts a bio-terrorist plot. I kept it simple, with screen or TV adaptation in mind: One central character, all third person past tense, no going back and forth in time. I had a beautiful and sinister female terrorist, a corrupt senator, a clever way to kill millions of people before they knew what hit them, and of course car chases and sex and gunplay and suspicion and betrayal. At the end, a victorious Rondo was poised to star in several sequels, each titled Rondo in ___ (some letter from A to G).
I looked at books on how to sell novels (there are many of these, and they pretty much give the same advice), and wrote a synopsis, a pitch, a bio, and a query letter. Good to go.
Then I compiled a list of literary agents * and sent a query letter to some 50 of them ( Good places to start your agent search are the Wikipedia entries “Literary Agent” and “Guide to Literary Agents,” especially their external links. Do not, under any circumstances, front an agent money. Legitimate publishers know these agents, and reject their offerings sight unseen). A handful of the agents asked to see the first 30-50 pages, and one took me on.
The agent shopped my novel around the major New York publishers. I believe he tried (he would have made money), but after six months reported that he hadn’t found a publisher for me, and lots of luck. That taught me…
Lesson 1: Don’t make your novel too topical; the selling-printing-publishing-marketing cycle is lengthy, whether or not you make a quick sale, and you don’t want your book to remind the reader of last year’s headlines.
Then I searched the writer’s essential guide to publishers, Duotrope.com (Editor’s note: There are also listings on Wrightspeak), and came up with a list of some 30 book publishers who might be interested in a techno-thriller. But Rondo in F was only 64,000 words long, which was a black mark. This taught me…
Lesson 2: Your novel, if you want to see hardback or paperback trade publication, must be the right length for its genre: 90,000 – 120,000 for most genres including mainstream, shorter for romance and a few other specialized areas.
Then the publisher-hunt began. After a large number of submissions, I received an acceptance from “Publisher O.” This publisher gave me a sentence-by-sentence critique which was very useful – I accepted almost all his comments. One of the suggestions was to drop the title Rondo in F. I suggested The Seventh Effect, which he liked. (And that’s the title you’ll find on Amazon now.) But then, just as we were getting to the contract stage, the publisher dropped the project cold. Why? Typical reasons are being over-committed, or cash-strapped, or having too many of the same genre and not enough of another, or qualms about saleability of your novel, or your commitment to it or to the publisher.
I immediately began querying other publishers, and, amazingly enough, received four acceptances within a few months. I picked the one with the most favorable terms, signed a contract with “Publisher S,” and sent polite “Thanks, but no thanks” notes to the other three.
Contract negotiations with “S” had been brief: their position was “take it or leave it.” The terms were passable, however, and I signed on. At 64,000 words I was lucky not to be restricted to e-publication only.
After several months, publisher “S” announced that it was going out of business and all contracts were cancelled. That taught me…
Lesson 3: A contract can be broken – but not by you.
But never fear, a new publisher called Melange would be interested in picking up all “publisher S’s” backlist (or, a publisher’s list of older titles kept in print) and titles awaiting publication. Would I agree? At this point, having no backup plan, I agreed. A new contract duly appeared, and I signed it.
Although publisher “S” and I had made three rounds of content edits and copy edits, Melange needed their own, and a new contract. Fortunately these steps were brief, and I was soon dealing with their designer about a cover. The cover design process began with a 16-page questionnaire about each of my characters, and the setting(s), and et cetera cetera, to give the designer some ideas. Only two or three back-and-forths later I had a cover for The Seventh Effect. You can see it on Amazon. I think it does the job, but isn’t anything special. I had some ideas for the back cover, but they were politely ignored, which taught me…
Stay tuned for part Part II of Terence Kuch’s publishing story. Keep up to date with Kuch by going to www.terencekuch.com.