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Takoren
July 13th, 2007, 01:00 AM
Hi, guys. I have a few questions I'd like to ask those on this board who already have published novels.

Did you write and/or attempt to submit any manuscripts prior to the first novel you actually got published?

Assuming the first novel you wrote was also the first published, how many rejections did you receive before it was picked up for publication?

Did the fact that you were previously unpublished have any bearing on the rejections you received, assuming you received any?

Did any publishers insist that you have an agent prior to submitting any work to them?

Did having a University/College degree open any doors for you that might otherwise have remained closed?

Are there authors without a college education getting published? Is it harder for them to get published initially?

Did any of you receive any rejections due to there not being a market for traditional fantasy?

Did any of you receive any rejections due to there not being a market for progressive fantasy?

Anyway, as you might have guessed, I don't have a degree, I'm writing my first real attempt at a manuscript and I'm prepared to have to really work hard in submitting my work. I know that I can probably expect a flood of rejections, but I would like to know just how hard it really is for a never-published writer submitting his first completed manuscript and who had no college education to actually find someone willing to publish his work. I have heard of some authors, like Tad Williams, who sat down to write a novel for the first time, only got one rejection and then managed to become a multiple-published author, but I figure it can't be that way for everyone.


Any advice you can offer would be more than appreciated.

James Carmack
July 13th, 2007, 01:39 AM
Although I'm not published, I can answer a few of your questions.

Being an UN is going to make life difficult. (That's an unagented, unpublished author with an unsolicited manuscript.) Few publishers are interested in UNs. Your piece will likely get a straight shot to the slush pile. You can expect a form letter saying something to the effect of "We're sorry, but your manuscript is not what we're looking for right now."

The sad part is that I hear snagging an agent is harder than getting published. Ha ha ha.

By all means, fire away at the few publishers who'll deign to glance at lil' ol' UN you. Keep in mind that it's a short list, particularly if you're a genre writer (and even more particularly if you're a fantasy or SF writer).

By being a fantasy writer, you've committed yourself to being ignored by the vast majority of the industry. Most publishers and agents are explicitly not interested in you. (I always get a warm fuzzy when I see "NO fantasy or science fiction". >_> ) That's just how the cookie crumbles.

A college education doesn't necessarily help. Now, there are connections you might make that could play in your favor, but there are no guarantees. You want to know what really helps? Being published. Yes, you stand the best chance of getting published if you've already been published. Great, isn't it?

Probably your best bet is to market some shorts on the periodical circuit. That can give you some leverage, maybe enough to get your foot in the door. Try all options, naturally. Research potential publishers and agents and fire away. The worst they can do is say no. (It can be a real pain if you print out a whole double-spaced manuscript for them just to have it shot back to you, but that, too, is part of the game.)

Above all, it's going to take time, money and most importantly, persistence. Brace yourself to hammer away for years. Yes, years. Get yourself a nice day job so you can pay the bills and fill your belly. Don't stop writing either. It certainly can't hurt to have a few more manuscripts stocked up in case that magical moment happens.

And that's about all this UN can tell you. I know there are at least a few agented writers on this board. Plenty of people who've been playing the game longer than me. I'm sure they'll be following shortly.

lin
July 13th, 2007, 02:59 AM
College education is totally irrelevant here. Trust me on this, please. Just put it aside and don't worry about it or let it undermine your confidence. Having one is not going to open any doors in the fantasy world anyway.

Books aren't rejected because they are in any category. Except the "we can't sell this thing" category. You shave your odds by carefully examining the market. Home in on books like yours, write down the publishers and research them. Look at the acknowlegements in the books. Very often, especially on a first novel, the writer will thank his agent. Aha.

Refine your search for agents who like fantasy. They are there. Agents don't get excited about selling stuff that is not their cup of tea, even if it's good work and there is a market. You want your agent to care about your book, they want a book they care about.

There are several sites for agents that allow you to search by genre and keywords. Collect the ones that sound good...and that are accepting clients.
This is a good site to start with http://www.agentquery.com/resource_ww.aspx

Also publishers market, aar-online.org

It has become more and more common for publishers to insist that MS come to them from agents. The slush pile is an endangered item. Fortunately many of the publishers holding out are publishers of romance, SF and fantasy.

If you have an idea for a second book, I would suggest that when you finish the first one you lay it aside for awhile, work on the other one. Then go back and read, rewrite the first one. I have heard people say to write a first novel, then just drop it in a drawer and move on. There's something to that, but they don't know who you are or what you can do. Plenty of people have sold the first novel they wrote.

Most agents and pubcos will want to see a first 50 page or first 3 chapter sample if they bite on your query. If they like that, they will ask to see the whole MS. (A bad thing that can happen to you is to have a book that starts out great and peters out...you end up sending out lots of expensive MS but not selling them)

I wouldn't go out of my way to submit short fiction to bolster your query unless you enjoy writing shorts and have some on hand.

My advice would be to take it seriously, as a businesslike enterprise. Work steadily. People will tell you that hard work and studying writing will get you sold. It's not true, unfortunately. If you suck, you suck and no amount of work or information will help you. Sorry about that.
If you're good, you will start learning to solve problems on your own.
Peer reviews can be helpful, especially for typos and grammar. But they can also freeze people up if you take them seriously. It's just the opinions of people who are no more accomplished than yourself. Friends and family are not reliable critics, either.
Consider posting the first few pages of the book, or the first scenes you write for comments on websites, just to see how the wind is blowing.

Brush your teeth before you cross the street, a penny shaved is a penny urned, buy savings bonds, woof quack tweet.

Good luck

Takoren
July 13th, 2007, 05:07 AM
Thanks for responding, guys. Believe it or not both your answers have been helpful.

Just thought I'd point out that I have researched a few publishers who accept primarily genre fiction: TOR, DAW and Del Rey. Del Rey is the only one who insists you be published and that you submit works to them through an agent. The other two specifically tell you on their submission guideline FAQ's that they do not require either and will accept and publish first-time writers as long as they like their work.

Oh, and by the by, I do have a job, and one that will keep me gainfully employed for several years. I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but I am not dumb enough to try to write for a living. I know people who do that. Gotta love the Spartan look they go for in their home decor.

James Barclay
July 13th, 2007, 05:34 AM
OK, answers and other comment follows:

Did you write and/or attempt to submit any manuscripts prior to the first novel you actually got published?
Yes, in fact I started out writing science fiction and failing to get it published. That and short stories too. I lose count of the magazine submissions I made.

Assuming the first novel you wrote was also the first published, how many rejections did you receive before it was picked up for publication?
Well, it wasn't but let's answer anyway because it was the first novel I submitted that was publishable in any way. I have a file with rejections in it. Let's just say, plenty of agents and publishers rejected me before I was picked up. Unpublished authors need determination, thick skins and the strength to adapt, learn, improve and move on. Some authors are picked up quickly. Lucky them. Many are not... JK Rowling - 8 rejections. Stephen Donaldson... 40 (or some such huge and depressing number). A rejection does not mean your novel is unpublishable. Not necessarily. It means one person, on one day, didn't like it. On the other hand, my editor would tell you that less than 1% of the MSS he receives are worthy of reading, let alone be considered for publication. Most people who submit, should not be doing so (just like most people who audition for the X-Factor should not be doing so).


Did the fact that you were previously unpublished have any bearing on the rejections you received, assuming you received any?
No, definitely not. The fact that what I was submitting was unpublishable had EVERYTHING to do with the rejections I received. But I learned, and fast. A publisher doesn't care if you are unpublished. In fact, it is a marketing bonus if you aren't. 'Great new series from fantastic debut author' rings more bells than '53rd novel by rather tired hack'. What a publisher wants to know is, can you write a book, can you then write more, and if you can, will the first and subsequent sell enough copies to justify publication?


Did any publishers insist that you have an agent prior to submitting any work to them?
No. And it is still the case that my publisher will buy from the slush pile. That's because gems nestle there. Joe Abercrombie and Richard Morgan for starters. Many publishers use agents as an automatic filtering system but as others have mentioned above, SF&F editors are still on the whole willing to accept MSS to their slush pile. But you have to be patient. My editor receives, on average, one unsolicited MSS, every single working day. I doubt he has time to read one a week. Remember, editors do not just spend their lives reading MSS looking for the next big thing. What they mainly do is edit... Think about the maths :)

Did having a University/College degree open any doors for you that might otherwise have remained closed?
No, absolutely not. This business cares not for your education. It cares if you can write or not. And it cares if your book will sell.

Are there authors without a college education getting published? Is it harder for them to get published initially?
Forget this college education thing. It has NO bearing. No publisher has ever asked me if I even went to nursery school. Why should a degree in Sport Science, or Japanese & Clog Making make you a better writer?

Did any of you receive any rejections due to there not being a market for traditional fantasy?
Well look, if you're submitting to a down-trodden, poor-selling market then you can expect to get rejected. The market has a cyclical nature. Do your research. Unless your novel is so good it could mark a spectacular rebirth of a sub-genre, you may be better waiting. I know it upsets some people on this forum but publishing is a business in which the publisher wants to make maximum profit. You just have to deal with that.

Did any of you receive any rejections due to there not being a market for progressive fantasy?
See above.


Anyway, as you might have guessed, I don't have a degree, I'm writing my first real attempt at a manuscript and I'm prepared to have to really work hard in submitting my work. I know that I can probably expect a flood of rejections, but I would like to know just how hard it really is for a never-published writer submitting his first completed manuscript and who had no college education to actually find someone willing to publish his work. I have heard of some authors, like Tad Williams, who sat down to write a novel for the first time, only got one rejection and then managed to become a multiple-published author, but I figure it can't be that way for everyone.

Everyone has a different story to tell and I don't think you can spend your time worrying about how it ought to be. All you can do is work as hard as you can to make your book as good as it can be and then submit it per publisher/agent guidelines. Pay attention to your covering letter, pay attention to the type size, spacing and all that stuff because it all helps you when you submit. But the bottom line is this: if your novel is good enough, it will eventually find a publisher. If it isn't and, as I mentioned, most submitted are not, then it won't.

Keep the faith, stop carrying a chip around about not having gone to college and prepare to be patient because getting accepted can take a long, long time...

NOM

Takoren
July 13th, 2007, 06:23 AM
I think the "chip" as you put it comes mostly from my father who stressed the importance of having a college education all my life. Even today he inserts little asides into our conversations about how a good education opens a lot of doors.

He's very quick to bring up how all my favorite fantasy authors got their college degrees and spent many years being doctors, lawyers, University professors, etc. while trying to get their first books published. And he's not wrong, that's what kept me thinking about that. I began to wonder; would Stephen King have managed to get Carrie published if he had never been a teacher?

I mean, I'm 29, I have exactly one and a half years of college under my belt, I'm not a history buff, I've never been published...sitting at home with no published authors sitting there telling me that none of that matters can really start to make a guy wonder "Am I just wasting time?"

Holbrook
July 13th, 2007, 06:31 AM
Listen to what NOM and the others have said.

I would echo them about college.

After ten years of trying, this last 12 months I have started to sell short stories, and have both agents and publishers requesting manuscripts from queries I have sent out. (all rejections so far lol)

I left school at 16. I have earned my living by crunching numbers in Admin offices for private companies, and now the county council, just another office drone. (with a spell in between raising my family) I started with the crazy idea I would like to write and try and sell something about ten years ago. (ok, women do crazy things when they hit their mid forties ;) ) I had to re-learn all the English skills I had forgotten over 30 years. I kept trying to put down the stories in my head on paper. Tonnes of times I have failed, a couple of times the stories have turned out not half bad. I keep trying and keep writing ( because the trying has sent me slightly mad :eek:) no, not really ;) because I am too stubborn to give up. I suppose that is what I am trying to say. Keep trying, keep learning the craft and don't give up. If I can sell a story anyone can!

Rocket Sheep
July 13th, 2007, 06:43 AM
A flood of rejections? Hah! You should be so lucky. Expect a flood of being ignored! :D

gh0ti
July 13th, 2007, 07:26 AM
I'm not a published author - far from it, as until recently I've never considered writing for profit, but I thought I'd throw my two cents in about the degree thing.

I'm still studying for mine, which is in Medieval History. This has some obvious benefits for writing traditional fantasy - understanding how feudalism functions, how nation states are born etc. However, it does have pitfalls. The brand of fantasy I enjoy is founded in medievalism, but genuine historical fiction bugs me. Thus, sometimes when I write, I create a plot device I know is impossible or improbable in a medieval environment. This sends me into a shame spiral of doubt in my ability and whether my story is as water-tight as I thought. I think knowledge can be a burden on a writer - many of my works before studying History seem to function a lot better and are on a whole more interesting to me.

The only genuine benefit I've gleaned from my degree with regard to writing is that History is a great tool for organising information, redistributing it, drawing conclusions and finding solutions. All of these skills have applications in creative writing as they lend structure to stories and help engender a sense of stability and credibility in plots.

jchines
July 13th, 2007, 07:41 AM
I like NOM's formatting, so I'll be stealing it now...

Did you write and/or attempt to submit any manuscripts prior to the first novel you actually got published?

::Laughs:: Heck yes. I think I've got four or five novels -- about a half million words worth -- locked away in the trunk. While a few of them have potential, looking back I'm incredibly grateful that nobody else ever saw them. And that's not counting 60+ short stories that never made the cut.

Assuming the first novel you wrote was also the first published, how many rejections did you receive before it was picked up for publication?

My first novel published was the fourth (?) one I wrote, so I don't know if this counts. But I think that one collected at least 15 or 20 rejections.

Did the fact that you were previously unpublished have any bearing on the rejections you received, assuming you received any?

Not that I'm aware of.

Did any publishers insist that you have an agent prior to submitting any work to them?

Some publisher guidelines require you to have an agent, yes. Eventually, I changed focus from trying to submit to a publisher to trying to land an agent. I know authors who have succeeded both ways.

Did having a University/College degree open any doors for you that might otherwise have remained closed?

I have a Master's in English with a concentration in creative writing. And no, it didn't open any doors. I learned a lot about writing non-fiction and teaching and literary criticism, but grad. school did very little for my fiction writing.

Are there authors without a college education getting published? Is it harder for them to get published initially?

Yes. I don't know, but I doubt it.

Did any of you receive any rejections due to there not being a market for traditional fantasy?

Not that I'm aware of.

Did any of you receive any rejections due to there not being a market for progressive fantasy?

Nope.

Regarding the college thing, I've never once mentioned my education in a cover letter, and it has made no difference. If you can write, no SF/F editor is going to care whether you learned that skill in a classroom or on your own.

Your father is right. Education does open a lot of doors in most fields. If you want to be an editor or land an internship with a publisher, an English degree might help. But if you want to be a writer, what matters is the writing.