Publishing a first novel


Lots of you read my May 14 post about completing a “New York published” novel. One reason you did seems to be that you write, or hope to write, fiction of your own. So, I’ll expand on the topic.To paraphrase the Red Queen, things on my ‘blog mean exactly what I want them to mean. First, my definitions of selected aspects of U.S. fiction publishing.

“New York published” means published by one of the remaining six major US publishing houses, all of which office in Manhattan, as opposed to published by a Legitimate Independent.

“Legitimate Independent” means a publisher, often outside Manhattan, run by people as passionate about books as any “Big Six” editor, many of whom cut their publishing teeth at the major houses. Legitimate Independents lack the distribution avoirdupois and vast resources available to the Big Six, but can offer writers marvelous opportunities. A Legitimate Independent is NOT a Vanity Press.

“Vanity Press” means an outfit that, no matter how creatively it disguises its “assistance” to aspiring writers, is paid by the writer to print whatever the author has written. Vanity Presses are at best Kinko’s-by-mail and at worst confidence schemes as vile as stealing a blind widow’s wooden leg. That’s not to say that a legitimate author can’t be Self-published.

“Self-published” means doing, or subcontracting, it all yourself, from writing to editing to printing to arm-twisting booksellers to stock your books to putting up all the money to keeping all the profits. I know a few (very few) authors who operate in the black doing so, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Within this heirarchy, I’ll confine my remarks to the little slice within which I have a little experience, which is an author’s-eye view of major-house fiction publishing.

What many of you who write me seek is a “silver bullet” that will get your debut novel published. I know of no such. On the contrary, I do know of a very smart and personable aspiring novelist who was closely personally connected to an influential New York editor, which sure sounds like a silver bullet. But the editor’s house rejected the person’s manuscript, nevertheless, because it just wasn’t good enough.

Four steps worked for me. The first three steps are:

1. Learn to write well, then write lots;

2. Rewrite;

3. When you think you have created a masterpiece realize that you haven’t, and reinvent. I reinvented by more or less completing seven novels that never saw the light of day before Orphanage. Your mileage may vary.

Fourth step, after you have completed those first three steps: Follow the suggestions for querying and getting an agent and so on that you can find in any number of “how to” books. If anybody expresses interest, I might expand on these suggestions in a future post(s).

Steel yourself to persevere despite rejections. Virtually no New York editors have time any longer to read material that has not been vetted by an agent they trust, and editors have to reject most of even the agented material they do read. That said, a legitimate agent today receives on the order of 25,000 queries per year from non-celebrity debut novelists, and rarely chooses to represent more than one of them. However, if you find the road rocky at first, remember that if I got New-York published, it can’t be that hard.

If any of the foregoing sparks your interest, let me know, and I’ll try in future posts to expand on these and other aspects of my experience writing novel-length commercial fiction.


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