Saturday, June 24, 2006

FAQ about Getting Published...

I get an average of two inquiries about getting published each and every day. They don't annoy me, because I remember what it was like to be in that place. But I need to put a FAQ out because I find myself spending time writing the same thing over and over again.

To recap: I've written three books to date. Two are non-fiction and one is a novel. My books have appeared on the Los Angeles Times bestsellers list, and almost twenty times on the Essence Magazine bestsellers list (the main black books list). In 2007, I have two books being published by two different publishers. One will be with my long time publisher Kensington Books, and the other with Thunder's Mouth. I have been a full time writer since 1995, and I've been able to write full time since 2000. Combining lectures/booksignings, I've traveled to nearly 500 different events to sign books and speak on my books. I've signed at the Book Expo, at colleges and universities, in foreign lands, and anywhere else you can imagine. I've had sponsorships with Lifestyle condoms for a six week HBCU tour and I've done a product placement with Suzuki.

So I think I know what I'm talking about. But despite all of this success, I'm pretty much a midlist author, which in the publishing industry, is a working stiff. I'm the guy wearing the hard hat, but the Stephen Kings are the CEOs and upper management. I reliably sell thousands of books, and so I get to write more books each year.

So, as a public service, I give you some words of wisdom about getting published. Some of this is REALLY depressing, but it's reality:

Words of Wisdom #1:

Like everything in writing, there are LONG odds involved in getting published. The publishing industry has various filters to make sure that they can separate the crap from the good. Or good crap. So here's the normal process.

A writer has a great idea for a book. Shazzam! It'll sell billions of books! If I can just find someone to publish it.

Step #1: Buy the Writers Digest for 2006 or whatever year it is. That book will explain to you many parts of the book industry. It has listings for agents, publishers, etc. It'll show you how to write a query letter (I know some of you are saying, what the hell is a query letter?). And then it'll get to the odds of getting published, which are--

Tiny. Miniscule. Microscopic.

Typically, a new writer sends a query to a literary agent asking them to represent you. The letter talks about your book idea and your writing experience. A typical lit agent gets a bunch a day. Every writer thinking their book idea is wonderful, and is the next bestseller. Well, agents tend to have differing opinions. Lit agents reject about 95% of the stuff they receive. Since they only make money with writers who can write and books that can sell, they have little time to roll with writers missing either one of those attributes. Cruel, but true. Are they always right? Of course not. But they are in this game to make casholo, not hold the hands of someone not ready. Make sure you're ready and then send them your query.

More later...


Unruly Brown said...

I used to be hit up with so many questions about all aspects of writing and publishing that it became the biggest headache I had related to that writers' association. Too many people thought I was there to be their personal publishing consultant.

Now I'm much less visible, but what I still get every now and then are notes from people who are "desperate" and need my help to get their book picked up or sell more copies. This one person recently sent me her entire manuscript and a sob story about what she was going through, so I looked at a few pages. I immediately noticed it was in DIRE need of editing (line and copy), and I told her that. This chick replied that her "publisher" (TRAFFORD!!) wouldn't let her make any changes to it and she felt people would ignore the errors because her story was so REAL.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that one...

Lawrence said...

Most of the time, I don't mind answering them. One of the things that kills me is that folks sort of look at writing as some sort of vacation. You know, if I had the time to write, I would be so happy. For them, that one book they have in their brain is something they do as a hobby. That being said, I still try to be as direct and honest as possible. But that's not what folks want to hear. A lot of people who approach me want me to tell them what they want to hear, which is "your novel is a masterpiece, you're going to get a seven figure advance, and baby, it's straight to the NY Times bestsellers list". I try to tell them that life as an author tends to be more on the four figure advance, take out from What-a-Burger into your Holiday Inn room, and then signing books at a store that decided to only order ten books. Dee-lish. But it's going to get worse at my convention. I LOVE my frat brothers, but I'm going to hear every, single, brother who wants to write. And I'll listen. In fact, I might even do a quick q & a, but after that, folks are going to have to chill. Or read the FAQs. lol

Dakota Knight said...

I receive questions about publishing even as a debut author. I know a bit about the industry because I've worn other hats in the biz, and I don't mind answering questions (and saying I don't know) because there were people who did that for me.

I do believe a lot of would-be authors have a blurred view on the real life of a writer. They hear all of the stories about six-figure deals and think everyone is getting the same cut. I actually have a hard time convincing people that the big deals are the exception, not the rule.

Lawrence said...

From time to time, I do two seminars. One is called, From Idea to Book in 1001 Easy Steps, and another called So You're an Author, Now What? and I try to give the realities of the situation. I don't mind talking about the generalities, but there are some basics that writers should understand. One, is that publishing is a business. But I'll write more in my FAQs.