You're an aspiring novelist or nonfiction writer; you've written, rewritten, edited, and polished your whole book manuscript, over many months. Are the New York publishing houses ready for you? Do you need an agent?
No. And not necessarily.
Let's take a peek inside a big publisher's office. Ssh.
In the corner, a stack of money from last year's sales of blockbusters, and a few bucks from dustcatchers (books that don't move). Planning next year's offerings— that would be a few sequels from our stable of writers, some newsworthy hot topic books, celebrity bios, and the steady stream from the genre mill. Those will take up just about the whole marketing budget.
Oh, wait. Here are a few new MSS from unknown writers that editorial passed along. They might get listed in the catalog, send out a few ARCs; that's about it.
Hmm, writing is good, but no evidence of readership. Ah, now here's one, seems to me I've seen this name online before. And comments from several people, even a reviewer. That'll get a second glance. Agents never mentioned this one. Why haven't I heard about this writer before?
The scene in an agent's office is similar, but focused on specific market targets and the publishers that serve those audiences. Agents are one way to go. Here is a free resource listing lots of agents and their areas of expertise.
Speaking as a small publisher myself, I'm not immune to the above scenario. I know what I like, and I like what I know. It's the stuff I don't know that might get skipped.
So, what can a writer do? Self-publish? That's a different kind of commitment: to be not only a writer but a publisher, marketer, designer, planner, budgeter, etc.
I had writers in mind, two current clients, when I created the Beta Books project. It takes the above scenario, and steps in early. If, in fact, a publisher's "marketing" of your book consists in sending out review copies— why not do that yourself? That's essentially what a Beta Book is. That may be your next step:
It transforms your MS to look like a book
You can send out paper edition copies to reviewers (best if you don't pay them— "paid" reviews by people who didn't even bother to read the book was a scam much decried a couple of years ago)
And send copies to people, possibly authors you respect and/or know, who might be willing to write you a quotable blurb (glowing or not, any comment is better than none).
You might want to provoke interest by posting online an ebook version or sample chapter as a teaser or limited-time free offer. Are you willing to do that much for your book? I hope so; you put in so many hours, just put in a few more.
One last word. Don't be discouraged to get rejection letters back from publishers (at least 95% of MSS get rejected). If they make comments (good or bad), that's a good sign. Even if they just scrawled a signature, that's a human contact. Next time you send, they'll at least glance at your stuff.
JAMES PEPPER, James Pepper Rare Books
JOHN MARTIN, Black Sparrow Press. “Ms. Newborn [offers] a fresh approach to traditional text design.”
Any publisher is delighted to find someone bringing a new audience to supplement their established market niche. Anna B. Brooks
Bandanna Books • Santa Barbara
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