Friday, September 25, 2009

How to Find Representation after Self-Publishing

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This question was recently asked of me, “any suggestions for new writers looking for representation after self-publishing? Finding representation is hard!”

Her last four words put the entire process in perspective. It is difficult and is not getting any easier. I was at a writers’ seminar last night where three outstanding, published women were on the panel of speakers. They told of their initial forays into the agented world and two of the three told a story of serendipity. Not where I wish to place my future, to be honest. After their initial and fortunate encounter with agentry, (hey! A new word!) it was easy, as you might expect.

Another of the speakers, with an insider’s connections, mentioned the NY times receives around seven hundred fifty submissions for reviews on a weekly basic, of which maybe fifteen or so would be accepted. Tough competition, indeed! I don’t remember the source, but an article I read the other day says there are about one million manuscripts submitted to the industry for publication annually. About fifteen percent are actually published.

What these examples show is competition for publication is not only tough, but fierce. Our individual chances of being published are minuscule, at best.

This compels one to ask, how is agentry, (there’s that word!), ever accomplished.

There are some basics in the industry that cannot be avoided. For example, if you’re famous, your odds increase exponentially. Alas, most of us are not. If you’ve already produced a highly successful work, again, your odds increase in geometric fashion. Alas, most of us have not.

So, what choices do we have?

First and foremost, learn the craft of writing. Learn it well. Without this, you’ll never sell. Immerse yourself as much as reasonable possible in the writers’ world. (Join groups and surround yourself with those more accomplished, continue writing, read other works in your genre, etc, etc, etc.) And as important as all else, learn the business of writing.

Secondly, one may self-publish. The stigma of this is quickly diminishing, but without knowing the business of writing, it will not lead to sales.

Now, to the first part of her question, how does one find representation after self-publishing?

Well, it is my understanding, it makes things more difficult.

Some years, yes – years, after writing my first manuscript, an agent to whom I had submitted the book called out of the blue. During the course of what was to me an exciting conversation, I mentioned I had finally self-published the novel we were discussing. Before the sentence was out of my mouth, his attitude shifted from interest to disinterest. I asked him why the sudden lack of curiosity and he mentioned once a book has a UPC code, it’s DOA as to publishers. It just created issues, he said. These issues went undefined because I didn’t think to ask. Lesson learned.

So, if you have a self-published novel, don’t mention it to people. Though the stigma of POD is diminishing, attitudes with some hold fast for a long time.

Since then, I’ve decided what I will do with that first novel should I ever be picked up for representation on something else. I’d first, rename it then rewrite it. I’d not change the entire manuscript, but rename characters, change some events in the story line, that sort of thing. I’d also rename the book. Then, I’d resubmit.

Further, I’d not tell anyone, who doesn’t ask, I’d rewritten my manuscript. Keep in mind I don’t encourage dishonesty with agents as they are your partner, but I simply would not answer questions that were not asked. Besides, once you’re successful, they’ll tell you to do this anyway for it translates to more sales for you, and thus commissions for them.

So, assuming you have a viable manuscript, I’d recommend you rewrite, rename and try it again.

Now for some good news.

The publishing industry is changing at breakneck speed and yesterday’s publisher is losing his control over distribution, which was his only real trump card. The Internet, POD, social networking and the like are opening the distribution channels to anyone who understand the BUSINESS of writing. (Was that enough emphasis?)

In the very near future you, as a writer, will not need representation. You’ll need a publicist, a production partner, a distribution partner and a good editor. As a writer, these people will work, as independent contractors, for you and respond to you rather than the other way around. Oh yeah… you’ll also keep a MUCH larger portion of the profits.

Best of luck to you all.


Author of “Born to be Brothers”

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