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Advice Needed from Published Authors

Is anyone a published author? Not journalists. I’m interested in writers of novel length fiction or nonfiction. Short stories also.

I’m curious about how are you went about it - producing something worthy, finding an agent, working with an editor and publishing house. Any practical advice would be appreciated.

I am not interested in self publishing, by the way.

by Anonymousreply 2407/02/2020

Do the “produce something worthy” part first and we’ll get back to you.

by Anonymousreply 106/26/2020

One thing that helped me was that I worked in publishing--mostly educational and a little bit in commercial. Having worked with writers, copy editors and production people, the process was less mysterious.

Submitting to literary journals (the few that still exist) is probably a good idea. It will get you familiar with the process and put a few credits under your belt.

Agents are fairly approachable. Have your sample chapters and outline if you are writing non-fiction. Have your manuscript if you are writing fiction. Then start querying.

Editors at the houses will not do much with an unknown writer. They mostly will take your work and figure out how to sell it to the public. Any real shaping or requests for rewrites will come from your agent, not your editor.

This s not a big mystery. As with anything, you have to take smaller simple steps to get it all going.

by Anonymousreply 206/26/2020

One thing you should understand as part of the business of being a book author is that most authors today make VERY little money. It’s a labor of passion for most and not a career that sustains them financially. Sort of like the majority of Screen Actors Guild members make under $1,000 per year from acting while a select few make millions, most authors make scant money—it’s certainly a far below minimum-wage job for most if broken down hourly—while some catch on and do pretty well. So if your motivating force is to be rich and famous, then recalibrate.

by Anonymousreply 306/26/2020

Literary DLers, are any of you on CritiqueMatch? It would be fun to see some DL quality there, and up the ante a bit. No sci fi, horror or romance please! Just some good, old-fashioned writing with characters and plot.

by Anonymousreply 406/30/2020

Anne Lamott rightfully says that most people who want to write a book actually want to “have written” a book.

by Anonymousreply 507/02/2020

I did write a book. I made a decent amount of money - and still get royalties. I don't get enough to survive, but it's a nice little chunk on a quarterly basis. I contacted numerous publishers - most never returned my messages, but one did. I already had the concept, an outline, and chapter titles. They gave me nothing up front. I only receive about 30% of the actual sales of the book - which is fine. It was a humongous pain in the ass. I thought it was such a great idea, and was very motivated at the start - they started pressuring me to finish much more quickly than I'd imagined - and then it became torture to finish it. But, I did, and I'm glad I did it. I have zero motivation to do another.

by Anonymousreply 607/02/2020

I wrote a novel once.

One top agent almost represented me and then changed her mind...she felt I needed, as a young writer, more support than she could give me.

But no one else picked it up.

It was a GHASTLY experience....from start to finish.

by Anonymousreply 707/02/2020

How do you avoid having your concept or actual manuscript stolen while you shop it around?

by Anonymousreply 807/02/2020

[quote]Anne Lamott rightfully says that most people who want to write a book actually want to “have written” a book.

R5 That is so true. I've heard that attributed to other published writers, too. They were tired of being cornered by 'wannabe' writers who didn't want to put in the work or didn't have the talent. EVERYONE thinks they have a great book inside them.

by Anonymousreply 907/02/2020

[quote]How do you avoid having your concept or actual manuscript stolen while you shop it around?

You can store it at a bank vault - get the bank to sign it and date it - automatic copyright.

by Anonymousreply 1007/02/2020

R7 Just because you weren't published, you're not a failed writer. Please keep writing. Keep a journal, write every day. That's what writers do.

by Anonymousreply 1107/02/2020

& go through all that again? No, thanks.

by Anonymousreply 1207/02/2020

R6 Can you share, in very general terms if you don't want to be specific, the genre of your book and the subject matter? It sounds like you went directly through a publisher without an agent...was that intentional? Did you try to secure representation first? And I understand if you don't want to share, but I'm really curious how much you've made from sales of your book, even if you were to just give us a very broad range.

I have an MFA in creative writing. I studied fiction writing, but I've published only nonfiction and nonfiction is really what interests me. (I was slightly misguided, but I think it served my writing well in the end, in a way.) I have written several novel-length fictional works, and I did solicit agents years ago for a couple of them, but I know that none of them is a good read in total. I think two of them have interesting ideas that are explored in interesting ways, but certainly in more of an experimental writing way than in an engaging-reading kind of way. And that's honestly fulfilling enough to me.

I have a nonfiction manuscript currently being read by an agent and I've been waiting a couple of weeks now and expect I'll probably have to wait a couple of months, and I expect a rejection, and I expect to be devastated by it. I know this cycle pretty well. But anyway, I know that this agent is interested in the topic I've written about, but I suspect that since it is nonfiction and I am not a celebrity or a CEO or public speaker who can plug a book to hundreds of people at a time over and over, no one will bite.

I used to write a blog that had a strong readership and was dedicated to a specific topic. An editor from a major publisher wrote to me with an offer for a book deal: He had enlisted a high-profile M.D. to serve as co-author and as the credentialed expert--but I had very successfully written about the topic at length and in depth, and so he wanted me to "coauthor" the book, explaining what that meant: I would write the book. The book should be approximately 50,000 - 60,000 words. It should be comprehensive, easily digestible but thoroughly researched, and the manuscript needs to be delivered in two to three months. The M.D. would be listed as the primary author. The compensation would be $5,000 split between the two of us. Now, if you watched Sex and the City, you heard that Carrie Bradshaw was paid $4 per word for her column. This offer equates to $0.05 per word. And I was asked to deliver it practically in an instant, and someone else would be credited primarily for what would be my words. So I declined politely, explaining why, and asking if there were any room for negotiation. No one ever replied.

by Anonymousreply 1307/02/2020

I have several friends from grad school who have been published and have been VERY successful in different ways:

--One won major literary award with a cash prize that is more than most literary authors will ever make from book sales. They have not published much since. If you gauge success by impact, then this author is successful and may be satisfied with their success.

--One has been published in almost every major literary journal I know of, and got a two-book deal with a highly esteemed elite publisher after being contacted by an agent who was wild about their writing. The publisher made my friend's first book their big push--meaning, they promoted the author as a breakthrough writer, the book as a major, important work, and they put a pretty significant amount of money into the promotion. Unfortunately, the books did not sell very well, and now my friend has been downgraded to a non-priority by publishers because of that. They only made money from the two-book advance, not sales, and the total was under $15,000, from which the author had to pay some promotional fees, including travel and lodging. If you gauge success by how "important" the imprints that choose to publish you are, then this author could retire and be regarded as having had a brief and notable writing career.

--And one was published in oddball lit journals and had a couple of books published (I believe without an agent.) by a small university press that is not typically associated with 'important' writers. This friend's career stumbled along as they taught creative writing at a university, and suddenly their writing caught on a couple of years ago (It's brilliant.) and they have won MAJOR prizes, have sold big, big, big and have been featured in the most highly regarded mainstream publications--not only book reviews (all A+) but also author features. This author is a success by every measure I can think of.

So to sum up, one of my friends entered the publishing world like a firecracker and then basically stopped producing. Another was greeted by the publishing world like royalty because of beautiful prose, but did not sell well and was summarily dismissed by the publishing world. And another was "a nobody" whose slow-and-steady progress eventually became known to more and more people like a burning fuse and then blew up like a fireworks grand finale.

The publishing world is enigmatic to me. But the bottom line is the bottom line: publishers are story factories. Stories are their products. Major publishers exist for the same reason any business does: for profit. So they're all about sales. Fiction and nonfiction are approached very differently by publishers, and I get the strong sense that (despite what editors say) in almost all cases, nonfiction books are sold based on the renown of their authors, because the more connections they have to promote and sell books to, the greater the profits, and that is what it's all about.

by Anonymousreply 1407/02/2020

[quote]and I get the strong sense that (despite what editors say) in almost all cases, nonfiction books are sold based on the renown of their authors, because the more connections they have to promote and sell books to, the greater the profits, and that is what it's all about.

David Sedaris?

by Anonymousreply 1507/02/2020

R7 If your goal is only to be published, then I agree - give it up. But if you're a writer, you write because you have to write. It sounds like you want to be an 'author' not a writer.

by Anonymousreply 1607/02/2020

I don't want to be either, really. I'd rather write scripts. Maybe just one movie before I die.

& thank you for your encouragement.

by Anonymousreply 1707/02/2020

Okay OP -- I've written many bestselling books (all nonfiction) and have been at it for decades. Happy to help you with any specific questions you have.

It is true, however, what others have said here -- very few people make a living out of their writing. Most have other jobs, usually teaching, or, when lucky, partners who work/support them It's a grueling profession but there's no question it beats going to an office every day.

by Anonymousreply 1807/02/2020

R18 Questions!

Are you an expert in a subject, or an all-purpose writer?

Do you write according to what you think will sell, or do you write about what interests you and find that the industry trusts you to make any topic of your choice interesting?

Do you write text books, histories, memoirs, biographies, cook books, trivia books, travel books...what genre of nonfiction?

How did you initially engage an agent? Was it a lot of searching, or did it happen early in your career and with little effort?

What's a typical advance for you? And what do you think is a typical advance for an as-yet unknown writer who would write something similar to what you write?

by Anonymousreply 1907/02/2020

R19 -- I have written on many subjects, but I stick mostly to one now, having become something of an expert in the field. I alternate between writing what I want to write, and what I think will be commercial -- but I seldom write anything that I don't think will sell. Many of my books have been bestsellers, but some have flopped. I don't want to get too specific as this is an anonymous board.

It was easy for me to get an agent but it was an unusual circumstance. For most people I'd recommend doing research. For instance, if you're writing a book about, say, politics, go to the bookstore, find similar books, and look in the acknowledgments for the agent the author thanks. If you see them get thanked a few times in different books, write them a query. (Yes, I now use "they" which hurts but is now acceptable instead of "him or her.") Or, go to a writers' conference and try to corner an agent there. Or, send out 100 queries -- you can approach as many at one time as you'd like. Or, if you have a friend who has an agent, plead with them for help. Agents are always looking for new clients, even if it seems that they're unapproachable. Finally, go to the agent's website and pick out the lowest person on the totem pole. Usually that's an assistant who's just starting to pick up clients, and that person will be much more likely to take you on.

Advances are low. They vary widely for non-fiction, general fiction, and genre fiction. I've known people to get as little as $5K for a completed novel or a non-fiction book, but every now and then someone hits the jackpot and gets a great deal more -- and then there are those $1M advances that come once every few years to someone who's written what editors consider a sure bestseller.

by Anonymousreply 2007/02/2020

R13, I am R6. I won't share specific details of the book, but it was instructional, with humor and lighthearted tone. I went to the one specific publisher on my own, because I knew someone who'd been published. I'm guessing that's the only reason they listened to me.

The first year it was published (about 6 years ago), I made about 30K really quickly, next year about 20K, then next few years around 10. This past year I would say around $5,000 in royalties. No one's buying it on its own now, but it comes with other bundles. The publisher emailed and asked permission for that. It certainly cuts down on my direct percentage, but oddly it has continued to sell.

The reason it was so frustrating to finish is because I really thought I had a LOT more material than I did. It felt like I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. When I sent the draft in, the main contact basically said, "Yeh, this is more like a small workbook/mini publication. If you want us to move forward, you need to double the length." That was horrific news because I felt like I had written so damn much already. Finishing was torture, because all the core guts of what I knew were already done, I felt like I was now writing filler. In any case, I finished it, even though it took me nearly a year from start to finish.

by Anonymousreply 2107/02/2020

[quote]I won't share specific details of the book, but it was instructional, with humor and lighthearted tone.

Was it one of those "How to use a computer if you're a moron" type books?

by Anonymousreply 2207/02/2020

R22 It was not, but I bet someone could still make a fortune on 'how to use a smartphone' - every damn old relative I has uses about 5% of their phone's capabilities, and frequently asks me for help on the simplest of tasks.

by Anonymousreply 2307/02/2020

I've published 6 novels and a couple collections of short stories. The only decent money I've ever made was from film options/film rights purchase. That's where the money is (or was).

by Anonymousreply 2407/02/2020
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