In my last post on this topic I blogged on some aspects of the relationship of writers and editors. For myself I can report that while there is progress with my latest project, a historical novel, it is a vexed adventure. As you can see from the title of this post I have moved on to Phase Three of the process; the search for an agent. From all that I have read over past years and continue to read, almost daily, on the hopeless state of publishing with a “real” publisher (as opposed to plunging into the “new” self-publishing world with an eBook) the majority of writers who are self-published state they would relinquish that process in a heart beat to sign a contract with a publisher.
After much thought I decided to try the “old” road again and find an agent, the gatekeeper to the publishing kingdom, someone who will help me grab the publishing ring. I made this decision because several years ago I took the innovative route with my novel “Leela’s Gift” and found while I enjoyed the experience of producing the book as both easy and satisfactory, as I worked with a self-publishing company, the marketing and publicity process proved expensive and time consuming. In fact so focused on writing and then producing the book I neglected the before publication PR vital to selling the Product. At least with an “old school publisher” you have a shot at some “before publication” PR.
The back story? My first agent found me after I appeared on the PBS News Hour in an interview with Judy Woodruff. He was an “old school”, veteran New York agent, and after several fruitless leads found a “home” for my political memoir. The next agent came easily too. She was recommended to my co-author (we were writing a book on the psychology of personality) and she landed us a six-figure deal after sending the proposal to several editors in an “auction.” (The book project failed but that is another story.) This agent stuck with me and helped me secure publishers for my next two books. I felt assured of continued presence in the publishing realm.
Then? Then the publishing world began experiencing volcanic shifts as if its citizens lived on the lower slopes of a Vesuvius in near-constant uproar. Publishers failed to see the consequences heralded by the ramifications of the exploding Information Era and Information Technology Age. One of those ramifications being the democratization of accessibility to knowledge and to those who want to share their inner expressiveness with this vast new wave of readers. Amazon.com, whether generator or purveyor of this movement (or both) ruled and continues to rule the universe. Both reviled and praised, Amazon, and a legion of other web-based publishing enterprises, flourish while “real” books wither in the “virtual” Kindle and other reading devices onslaught, and once mighty bookstore chains as well as independent bookstores go the way of dinosaurs. Web-based book clubs and venues for readers to rate and recommend books proliferate…and so?
And so, writers still write books and readers read. Agents still exist, publishers publish (on an ever diminishing scale) what some writers write. Here is the rub, as Shakespeare said.
My agent moved on to other ventures. Finding a new agent is daunting. Several weeks ago I sent out several query letters based on recommendations from some people I know in the broader publishing world. One agent replied within ten minutes and asked me to send the manuscript. Another replied the same day with a similar request. A third asked for the “(in)famous” first three chapters and a synopsis. Could I have a “hot” property? How long will it remain that way? Week after week passed (it was August the “dead” spot of the publishing year) I heard nothing. Yes, during this time I could have self-published the novel…but still something in me wants to honor the “old” process. How much longer do I wait until I send out more query letters? Haven’t I been here before? I am caught in a time warp.
I’ve done the agent hunt process a number of times now. Each time it’s been radically different. The first time, in the very early 2000s, a lot of agents still only operated by snail mail. I endlessly rewrote my first novel, hoping to get an agent to take it. In the end, I seemed to come a hair’s breadth to snagging one, who backed out before the handshake. She ended up recommending I take on an editor-associate to clean it up or whatever. I said no, shelved the project and devoted myself wholeheartedly to a second novel.
The second book, I’d say everyone I contacted was by email. All, however, requested hard copies of the ms to read. Again, it was a long drawn out process and the only agent who seemed serious, ended up saying no, while suggested I avail myself of the for-hire services of an editor-associate. I said no and continued on my own.
Finally, I did get an agent. who, while enthusiastic for my book, was unable to provide any concrete recommendations. His wife was an editor and part of the deal was that she would read it and make editorial recommendations. It never happened. Instead we did an idiot rewrite dance for almost two years.
Then one day he sold the book to a major publisher for the proverbial six-figures. He did it all within a matter of days, which was pretty remarkable. After that, though, it went very bad. Rather than go into the crap details, I’d just say, the great publishing paradigm shift took place under my feet. . Publisher didn’t know what to do, so instead of putting it on shelves for Christmas when people buy books they waited six month to February when they’d have a clear shot at a dead market. My book a failure.
Previously, when I searched for agents, I got the feeling they were at least reading my query letters, now my instinct tells me, it doesn’t even get that far. In the last two years a tiny handful of agents asked to see the ms but basically what happens is a year later, I get a form letter rejection.
I once felt confident I had a grip on how the process worked. I think I did, by the way I got responses. Now its all impenetrable. I expect any that might be initially interested find out the horrible numbers of my book sales and stay away. I feel like a leper.
I have my second book on Kindle, I occasionally sell copies and occasionally get reader feedback and mostly they like the book. Not really sure what to think. I’m a professional writer and journalist, so I know how to keep readers reading. But agents and editors have begun to seen like some other creature altogether.