The economy is awful right now. Unless you’ve been living under that proverbial rock these past months, that much is obvious. If you’ve been following the publishing world lately, the dire state of things is even more apparent. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt put a stop to buying new manuscripts, Borders is cutting jobs, and publishers are having to make more hard choices just to stay afloat. Whether you believe the doomsayers who are predicting the downfall of the publishing industry or not, one thing is clear: the difficult road to traditional publication has become even more difficult.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s not all bad news. People are still reading, and at least one study suggests that the number of people who read fiction is actually going up. And as long as people are reading, writers are going to get published. So, how does an aspiring author get published in a difficult economic climate? Here are a few points to keep in mind…
Realize That the Rules Haven’t Changed
A good book is still a good book. Generally speaking, what was marketable before the economic collapse is still marketable today. The fact that fewer books are being bought doesn’t mean that no books are being bought, so don’t give up before you start, or throw in the towel early. If you had a good book six months ago, you still have a good book now. Fewer books make it these days, but the cream will always rise to the top.
Be As Ready As You Can Be
Now, more than ever, your query materials need to be perfect. Perfect is a subjective word in this industry, and what I mean by it is that the presentation of your book needs to be the best that you can possibly make it. Your query letter needs to be as compelling as possible. Your synopsis needs to read like the great book it represents. Your sample chapters need to be engaging and free of errors. Your final manuscript needs to be fantastic.
Just as important, all of these materials need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. You don’t ever want to be in a situation where an agent requests chapters that aren’t quite ready yet, or a full manuscript that’s still undergoing editing. A delay like that can cost you representation, and ultimately a sale, so be as prepared as you can before you send your query.
Work Your Contacts
You’ve heard of the idea of six degrees of separation, that every person in the world is only six people away from every other person in the world (though the author of a recent favorite book of mine suggests that number is even smaller). That means that, even if you don’t know someone in the publishing business, chances are good that you know someone who does (or that you know someone who knows someone who does.)
Talk to your friends. Tell them what you’re trying to accomplish, and ask them to talk to their friends and family. Reach out to the contacts you’ve established on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social networks you might use. Ask those contacts to reach out to their contacts. If you look long enough, chances are good that you’ll find someone who’s in a position to help you, whether that help comes in the form of a introduction to an agent or actually putting your manuscript in front of a publisher. Sometimes, just one, well-placed person is enough to make all the difference.
Conferences are a great way to expand your contacts and, in some cases, actually meet agents face-to-face. They’re also great places to meet other writers, share ideas, and compare experiences. Of course, attending a conference is going to cost money, and getting to it could involve a fair amount of travel, but finding a good one can be well worth the cost and the effort.
Remember, however, that not all conferences are created equal. Do your research and determine which ones are likely to give you the most benefit for the time and money you’ll be putting into them. Also be sure to pick a conference that best fits your personality. If you’re the kind of person who thrives in social situations, pick a conference that lets you mingle with industry professionals in a relaxed setting. If you prefer something more structured, a conference with scheduled meet-and-pitch sessions may be right for you.
Re-evaluate Your Publishing Goals
If you’re seeking publication through a traditional publisher, chances are good that you’re doing it for a specific reason. It could be because you’re hoping for a big advance or a movie deal. It could be that you want to walk into a major bookstore chain and see your book there on the shelf. It could be because of the prestige and recognition that traditional publishers bring with them.
On the other hand, maybe you’re a person who just wants to see his name in print. Or perhaps you have a book meant to appeal to a smaller audience that might do just as well with a small-press publisher. Think long and hard about what you want to accomplish in your publishing career, and pick the best venue to accomplish that, whether that venue is traditional, small-press, self-, or electronic publishing.