Thursday, January 12, 2006

RLH: Getting Published 101


I wrote my first novel in 1981, which means in 2006, I have been writing professionally for twenty-five years. Wow! I'm not sure how that happened. 2006 is also the year I will see my 50th release published (A Carol for Christmas, October 2006, Zondervan). Not sure how that happened either.

About four years ago, an unpublished writer in a writers' group I'm in posted the following:

"Like many of you, my goal and hope [for next year] is to get a contract and be published. Of course that brings a whole bunch of scary thoughts with it. I would really like to hear from those recently published and those who have many books out there about how you accomplished this! Is there anyway we could hear via the loop or the newsletter or the writing tips ... or all three!? This could include many things, i.e., what publishers to start with, how do you really know what is going on in the market and who wants what, do you need an agent or not, how far can a contest take you, etc. I've read a lot and researched the market to an extent, but it seems tougher than ever. Please share your thoughts about this when you have time.”

Here is my response, updated slightly for Charis Connection:

It's my belief that perseverance has much more to do with getting published than talent. As with anything of value, getting published takes sacrifice and commitment. Are you willing to give years to the quest without seeing any visible results? Sometimes (many times) that's what it takes. I personally know two who both wrote ten novels over about ten years before they made their first sales. Would you continue to write even if you never got published?

For Christians, of course, there's the faith issue. Are you seeking God's face? Did He call you to write? Are you willing to follow Him no matter what, even if the road He takes you on diverges from the one you want to be on or takes longer than you planned?

I have often read or heard a comment that goes something like: "God wouldn't have given you the talent if He didn't want you to use it" or "God wouldn't have given you the desire to write if He didn't want you to be published." I don't agree. If you study your Bible, it's clear that God often uses people where they are the weakest and need to rely on Him the most (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). As for the desire to write, Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart." (NASB) This verse is often misinterpreted as, when you delight in the Lord, you'll get what you want. But the true meaning is, when you delight in the Lord and love Him above everything else, He will change the things you want into the things He wants.

Remember, there's a danger in wanting to be published so much that you make it an idol. Want Jesus more, and then be amazed by the blessings. Follow what He has called you to do, and you won't go wrong. If He has called you to write, then write. Pursue excellence with everything you have; don't give God second best. Write for Him and not for an editor or a critique group or even with the goal of getting published (or, if published, to hit the bestseller lists). Write to please the Lord. It's so easy to pursue success. I know. I've done it. I've compromised in the past, been guilty of wanting the wrong things, and I always regret it.

What publisher do you start with? You must know your market. What sort of books do you most like to read? What published books are most like the one you're writing? See who that publisher is and start there. Go to your local bookstore and see who all the publishers are. Get a copy of The Writers Market and The Christian Writers Market Guide. On-line lists are excellent sources to know what's happening in the markets and who wants what. Visit the publishers' web sites frequently. Go to conferences where editors will be attending. The best source is the horse's mouth. American Christian Fiction Writers puts on a great conference in September. Other great Christian writers conferences include but are not limited to: Mount Hermon, Sandy Cove, Glorieta. Invest in your writing by attending one of these conferences, particularly if your main goal is to publish with a CBA publisher.

"Do I need an agent?" This is the great, $64,000 question. The answer is, it depends. It's often harder to get an agent than to get a publisher. And getting the wrong agent can be worse for you than no agent. I firmly believe that you should start marketing to publishers yourself and be looking for an agent at the same time. But don't sign with the first agent who says he likes your stuff. Take your time. Meet agents in person. Talk to an interested agent several times on the phone. Ask for client references, then call the authors and ask serious questions: How long does it take for the agent to return phone calls? How long to release checks? Does he or she read everything before it goes to the editor? Is he or she hands on (like a first reader) or is his/her primary role negotiating contracts? What do you like most about the agent? What do you like least about the agent? You also must know what you want from an agent. You discover this by getting with other authors and finding out what they want from their agents. I have friends who need/want their agents to be their first editor. I don't want that. I want a champion and someone who will help me plan my career steps.

A good agent will know who is looking for what. She will have a solid relationship with certain publishers and will often be able to get your manuscript before the right person at the right time. A bad agent will submit anywhere to anybody or let your manuscript linger on her desk for a year. (I have heard horror stories that could turn your hair white.) I negotiated contracts for my first seven books myself. Then I hired my first agent, which only lasted for one contract. I have been with my current (second) agent for over 16 years and it's been a very positive relationship.

Contests? I'm not sure a contest can take you anywhere, but it can give you an edge. It can get you read when otherwise your manuscript might linger in a slush pile or not be seen by the senior editor with buying power. My advice is to enter only those contests where the final round and/or the winner is read by an editor. Contest wins on your resume may look nice, but editors don't give them a lot of weight. But being read by an editor in the contest itself just might get you a contract.

Is the market tougher than ever? No, I don't think so. I've been in this business for 25 years. It's always been tough. There are growth spurts in certain markets/genres, ebbs and flows. Not all that long ago historicals were king and a writer couldn't give away a single title contemporary. But historicals have been hurting for a several years and the romantic comedy, chick lit, and the suspense novels are ruling the shelves. I've seen this cycle several times in the past two-plus decades. Back in the mid-1980s, I read the statistic that over 100,000 novels are written every year and less than 1% get published. I suspect that 1% statistic remains about the same today (not counting self-publishing and non-traditional publishing avenues).

Now, I'm going to return to the very first question of: How did I personally get published? This is the quickie answer: I wrote my first novel in 1981. I sent queries and partials to 21 publishers. All rejected it without reading more than those three chapters, except for two who requested to see it. The first publisher to read the manuscript bought it. I signed the contract and the publisher went bankrupt two or three months later, before I ever saw a penny. I kept writing on the sequel, and in 1983, I sold both books. They were published in 1984. In addition to the 19 rejections received on that first book, I've been rejected by agents after I was multi-published and by other publishers when I was seeking to sell elsewhere. I've had proposals rejected many times. So every time a rejection comes my way, I nurse my wounded ego for 24 hours, then I get back to work. (For more on my publishing story, check out my Fact and Fiction blog at http://robinlee.typepad.com/fact_and_fiction/.)

And that's my advice on Getting Published 101.

Robin Lee Hatcher is the Christy and RITA Award winning author of The Victory Club and the Hart’s Crossing series. Learn more at her web site at http://www.robinleehatcher.com/ and on her Write Thinking blog at http://robinlee.typepad.com/.

9 Comments:

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Domino said...

Robin, Thank you for the wonderful encouragement. It means so much to me to hear from your experience. What a milestone! Fifty books!

I pray God will bless you today and fill you with energy to press on. May you live in joy today.

 
At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Kristine dB said...

A similar topic, since it involves getting into the publishing field - I'm in a Book and Magazine Publishing program and the final requirement of the course is to do a 6 week internship. I'm hoping to do mine in the editorial department of a Christian publishing house. Do any of you know which places would be open to doing this?

 
At 9:29 PM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

Thanks, Robin. This is a very honest but encouraging word for new writers. For me, my relationship with God has been what keeps me persevering in my writing.

I try to remind myself to keep looking to Him to make sure I'm doing what He wants me to do--whether to continue writing or to stop. So far He's been giving me the green light.

It's incredibly reassuring to know that as long as I keep looking to Him, He'll let me know when He wants me to stop and do something else for Him. His guidance is kind of like a safety net.

Camy

 
At 9:40 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Thanks for sharing this, Robin. This is pretty much what I've been hearing. My main goal for 2006 is to keep my eyes on God and let him show me what he's got planned.

 
At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kristine db,

My daughter did a summer internship at Bethany House in Minneapolis. An enjoyable experience for her, AND she met, fell in love, and married one of their pressmen. So if you're looking for both editorial experience and love....

Jack Cavanaugh

 
At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Kristine said...

Thanks Jack.
I actually forgot to mention the places I've already been in contact with. Unfortunately, Bethany isn't taking interns right now due to a lack of supervisory positions to oversee it. I also talked to Multnomah and they don't usually have interns. But I have applied at Tyndale, so we'll see where that goes. If anyone else thinks of any, let me know!
Thanks again, Kristine

 
At 9:21 PM, Blogger Katy said...

Thanks, Robin! I can't tell you how much encouragement you've been to me over the past year. I SO agree that not all of us who delight in writing will necessarily get published--nor are we meant to be.

Daily dedicating my writing to the Lord and trusting that He'll lead me into the paths He's prepared for me brings peace. You've inspired me to trust Him more!

Katy Raymond www.fallible.com

 
At 9:17 AM, Blogger Carol Collett said...

Robin wrote "I don't agree. If you study your Bible, it's clear that God often uses people where they are the weakest and need to rely on Him the most (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)."
Robin, thanks so much for saying this. I hear so many say that God has called them to write. I get discouraged because, while I want to write, I want to be published, I don't feel God specifically calling me to write. God calls me to be Christlike and to spread the good news. (As He calls all believers to these tasks.) Can I be Christlike and lead others to Him through writing-of course. Just as I could do that through many other careers. So, I offer my desire to write to God. If He chooses to use it, great. If He doesn't I will continue to write and to seek Him and how He would use me for His purpose.

 
At 9:21 AM, Blogger Carol Collett said...

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