Q&A: Authorship [Publishing]
A lot of people have a story they want to tell, but it takes more than this to see it in a bookstore… or as an ebook via one of the online versions of a “big box” store. As a rough guess, maybe 1 in 10 people want to write down that story. A tenth of those do so, and a tenth of those finish the first draft. Maybe another tenth learn to refine it adequately, and again a tenth will get to the point of publishing it somehow. But the possibility of it being produced by a professional publishing house gets even smaller. Still, with 300,000,000+ people in the USA at present, those fractions only bring us down to 30,000 potential story-tellers who get something in print each year. That’s a lot more than actually make it to the final step…
- How difficult (or easy) was it to get your first book published? *
Well, if we’re talking about our first co-authored novel, S1B1: Dhampir, that’s a long story unto itself, so we’ll do the short version. In the USA, virtually all of the big publishers had long before turned to a “no unagented manuscripts” policy. The editors simply would not — will not — look at unagented manuscripts 99.9% of the time. We ended up being one odd little exception… sort of.
At that time, Barb had a fairly unknown agent as a new aspiring author with a few publications under her belt — mainly short stories and one specialty press novel. J.C. had some small credits to his name, mostly in SF/F/DF poetry of varied forms, one short story later on, and a few non-fiction articles on writing and one column on writing/publishing in a small quarterly publication. Barb wrote up the first three chapters and an outline for what we had so far. Her agent then submitted it to Jennifer Heddle at Roc (Penguin-Putnam) in New York. Jennifer liked the “partial package” but wouldn’t commit until we finished the whole manuscript.
Back then in Denver, Colorado, J.C. was working as a partner in an IT consultancy, and Barb was teaching composition full time in a college classroom. Barb’s agent suddenly decided to try a different line of work; he released all his clients from their contracts. And so we ended up without professional representation, but we had already acquired a standing invitation from an editor at one professional publishing house.
Over the period of a year, we completed Dhampir and began developing an ambitious notion of not just a series but a series of chronologically connected series. We kept the latter part to ourselves, for we were already learning the business; that part would have scared off a publisher starting out with a couple of newbies. We submitted the work to Jennifer once again, hoping she would remember us and that the book would make it to her desk.
And oh yes, she remembered us. Jennifer wanted to contract not only Dhampir but an immediate sequel as well. We still held our tongue about the “saga” notion. We needed an agent to handle the deal and the contracts, for Jennifer (like any good professional) would not let us represent ourselves in such legal considerations. Barb got on the phone and called a US agency she’d heard about for some time from other authors, the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency.
We’d already been researching agents and, like editors, the good ones are picky. A finished manuscript and/or some limited publishing credits aren’t enough to get the better ones enthused. Especially ones who’ve been around a while. They don’t get paid until the author’s work sells, so they don’t want to burn time on something they don’t believe will sell well enough for the time they put in. They are in business; they are patrons of artists—authors.
One of the agents at AGLA, Dan Hooker, turned out to be someone we knew from the past while we were running a small press publication during our college years. He wasn’t enthused about the book, but when we told him we had a standing invitation at Roc (Penguin-Putnam), he agreed to represent us if Jennifer did offer a contract. And of course she did. When it was learned that a second unnamed, unoutlined, as-yet-unproposed sequel was in the contract, we quickly ended up with a contract with AGLA as well.
Keep in mind that the way we got this first contract — and then an agent — is a fluke and a rarity. Barb still had to have an agent to submit the proposal (which entails more than you’d think) that first time.
As a last little detail, from the day we got our first computer (a Commodore 64) and started writing, it was thirteen years until we sold Dhampir. Even then, we were fledging “young” writers by industry standards. It is a long, hard, challenging road from the want of telling a story to putting it into the hands of many readers. So that estimated 30,000 mentioned previously is even smaller… much smaller.
- * Based on material from an interview in UK Writing Magazine, 2006.