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  1. #1

    Question Getting Published - Your Questions Answered

    My name is Tim Stretton and my first novel, a Jack Vance-influenced fantasy called The Dog of the North, was published in TOR paperback this month.

    As a new writer I naturally have a low profile, but I hope my experiences might be of interest to readers, and particularly to aspiring writers. (If some of you want to check out the book too I won't complain...). My novel was published originally by Macmillan New Writing last year, and if nothing else is proof that you don't need an agent to be published.

    I'd be delighted to answer any questions people might have about the mysterious process of being published. There are a lot of misconceptions out there, but if my story shows anything it's that you can get published without any contacts or track record.

  2. #2
    Hey Tim,

    Just a question or two.
    1. Once you have a significant portion of your first draft done, should you begin looking for an agent? Or how much should you have done before you do?

    2. Is an agent needed? Or is it better to shop your work and see if anyone bites?

  3. #3
    Peckish hippokrene's Avatar
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    Just my opinion.

    For your first novel, you should have a finished work to present to an agent. Usually you send an agent a query (sometimes with 5-10 pages or a first chapter), and if they're interested, they'll ask for a partial or full document. If you don't have that, well... that agent won't pick you up.

  4. #4
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Stretton View Post
    My novel was published originally by Macmillan New Writing last year
    That's an interesting note, Tim. So, does this mean I can take a previous e-book published work and TOR would consider it?

    Kerry

  5. #5
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
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    Crongrats, Tim on getting taken up by Macmillian New Writing, and Tor.

    To echo hippokrene; Smiler 127, have your novel, complete and edited till it shines. I know with the Macmillian New Writing submission, you have(or used to) to submit the whole manuscript. A first draft will not do, you need to submit the best you can. The class of manuscript you will be up against is high, same as with submitting to any publisher or agent. To send out a half finished or unedited manuscript is to throw away a chance with either publisher or agent.

    Kerry; more likely Macmillian has a deal with Tor to publish their US edition. Depends on what contract or deal Tim did, UK or World rights. Or Tim could now have an agent, who did the deal. Though I could be completely wrong on this.
    Last edited by Holbrook; June 24th, 2009 at 12:14 PM.

  6. #6
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Holbrook View Post

    Kerry; more likely Macmillian has a deal with Tor to publish their US edition. Depends on what contract or deal Tim did, UK or World rights. Or Tim could now have an agent, who did the deal. Though I could be completely wrong on this.
    I would have to guess something like this too - it's awfully rare that any traditional publisher would want to pick up a previously published work, but it was worth the ask. Grats to Tim in any case, cause the last time I had a chance meeting with Tor's owner, he wasn't too optimistic about accepting new material.

    Kerry

  7. #7
    @smiler127

    1. Once you have a significant portion of your first draft done, should you begin looking for an agent? Or how much should you have done before you do?

    2. Is an agent needed? Or is it better to shop your work and see if anyone bites?
    It's no secret that getting published is very competitive. I'd say the best course (the one I followed, anyway) is to finish the book, make it as good as you possibly can, and then worry about agents afterwards. I don't have an agent, in fact: the terms of Macmillan New Writing are non-negotiable (and not exploitative) so an agent wouldn't have helped me. A lot of publishers won't look at unagented submissions, on the other hand, so it depends on the avenue you want to go down.

    As a debut author, the chances that an agent will want to look at a partial are pretty slim. Why would they, when there are good writers with completed works pitching to them? Hippokrene and Holbrook are bang on the money.

    That's an interesting note, Tim. So, does this mean I can take a previous e-book published work and TOR would consider it?
    Kerry, not only e-books, but self-publication. I had self-published The Dog of the North and two other novels, but as far as Macmillan was concerned that was fine. My minuscule self-published sales weren't going to dent what they could do by distributing the book through Amazon, Borders etc.

    @Holbrook
    The way it worked for me was the I signed a world rights deal with Macmillan New Writing, who brought out the hardback. TOR UK is another imprint of Pan Macmillan and they are publishing the paperback as part of the same deal. Pan Mac's rights departments then tries to sell on overseas and electronic rights, sadly without success so far - so no TOR US edition yet.

    I still don't have an agent: my contract gives Macmillan first refusal on next book on the same terms as the first, so an agent can't get me a better deal. If Macmillan want the second book (they're hedging at the moment) then an agent comes into play, because a third book would be a brand new deal. I'd be very happy to stay with Macmillan/TOR because their editorial team were prepared to back me when no-else was.
    Last edited by Tim Stretton; June 24th, 2009 at 01:26 PM. Reason: clarity

  8. #8
    Start judging theWallflower's Avatar
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    I have a question: What's considered too long and too short for a first novel (in nbr of words)?

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by theWallflower View Post
    I have a question: What's considered too long and too short for a first novel (in nbr of words)?
    Mine is 135,000 and Macmillan were a bit twitchy about that - that translated into a 470 page hardback and a 14.99 RRP. I can understand that they were worried that such an expensive book by an unknown wouldn't sell.

    At the other end of the scale I think you'd struggle to sell anything much below 85,000 without a name and a track record, unless it was for the Young Adult market.

    That said, if the book's good enough, excessive length shouldn't matter, although I'm sure a publisher might be concerned that a newbie might struggle to organise a 200,000 word narrative (and books that long are expensive to produce, so the publisher has to be certain there's a market for it).

  10. #10
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Thanks for this, Tim.

    I'm impressed that your debut was made without the help of an agent: the most common maxim I hear is 'Use an agent/editor!'

    But would you say that your sale through the New Writers scheme was special circumstances?


    Just to add: I'm sure others will correct if wrong, but John Jarrold told me that these days anything less than 100 000 words is not really an option unless it's YA. That would seem to match your experience.

    Mark
    Mark

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit View Post
    Thanks for this, Tim.
    But would you say that your sale through the New Writers scheme was special circumstances?
    Macmillan New Writing is certainly designed as a business model outside of the mainstream. They're out there actively looking for new writers, not because they're altruistic--although my editor genuinely loves finding new voices--but to discover fresh talent for the main Pan Macmillan brands which will go on to make them money. They don't pay an advance, so a new writer is comparatively low risk for them. One big hit will pay for all the others.

    I wouldn't have had a chance with TOR if I'd pitched in with an unagented submission: the only way through that particular door is via Macmillan New Writing.

    For sf/f writers the other thing to be aware of is that Macmillan New Writing takes all genres: they aren't sf/f specialists. In three years the only other fantasies they've taken on are MFW Curran's "Secret War" series (historical fantasy) and Gavin Smith's Dogfellow's Ghost, which I suppose you'd describe as literary fantasy. I don't know how Macmillan's internal acquisition procedures work, but I'd be very surprised if Peter Laverty at TOR didn't have a major say in whether the New Writing imprint picked up an sf/f title.

    One of the things I have learned is just how much the publisher thinks in term of "brand". They're not just asking themselves the question "can I sell this book by Tim Stretton?" - it's more "can I sell the idea of a 'Tim Stretton book'?", because then it's creating a self-fulfilling demand for future titles.

  12. #12
    Hi Tim. Congratulations! I love success stories.

    I am in the middle of the second edit of book one of my trilogy. Book one does stand alone. If you were going to start looking for publication, do you think a publisher/agent would be positively influenced if you said in the letter that you had three books in a trilogy already written, or do you think they would rather only look at one book as a stand alone to begin with?

    I welcome anyone's thoughts on this, btw.

    Thanks!

  13. #13
    www.shevdon.com shevdon's Avatar
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    Hi Tim,

    Many congratulations on your publication. I hope the book sells massively.

    In terms of novel length, 70,000 words is normally considered to be the lower limit. Anything below that is novella country. The upper limit is more nebulous. 120K words is considered a long novel, with Tim's 135K being a fat novel. My own novel which is being published in November is 154K and has been accepted by a mainstream publisher (HC) with a minor edit. My publisher referred to it as immense, but in a nice way. :-) It has been known for 200K plus words to be accepted.

    The real issue is keeping the reader engaged and entertained. I'm sure that if you write an absolute page-turner of 300K words then you could find someone to publish it. There is a problem, though, that as the book gets bigger it gets more expensive to produce (which is what Tim was alluding to) simply because of the number of pages to edit, print and distribute. With an unknown writer the readers are less willing to spend larger sums of money on an unknown, so it has to be absolutely exceptional from page 1.

  14. #14
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    And good to see another new writer here too, Mike. Thanks for joining in and correcting my vaguaries.

    It might be worth pointing out that both of these examples are based on the UK experience. Other places may vary (though as we've talked about it before around here, I don't think it's radically different.)

    Mark
    Mark

  15. #15
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Oh, that's not good, but more opportunities for writers to get published are more opportunities.

    However, the no advance plan that some major publishers are trying out is not, overall, going to be advantageous for authors. It means that authors have to wait a year and a half before receiving any money on their work. Essentially, Macmillan New Writing is operating along the lines of category romance publishers (though those often pay small advances.)

    That's not the worst way to break in, but you will notice that Macmillan has Tim locked up for two books, without promising to buy the second one, with a draconian option clause. Most SFF authors these days are seeing a lot of their income come from foreign rights sales; Tim is at the mercy of Macmillan's rights department, which may not bother to pursue sales even though they have World rights. (Tor UK may remedy this if Macmillan turns over rights sales to them, but if they just bought paperback reprint rights, then not so much.)

    While it sounds like things are going well, I'd strongly suggest Tim that you try to get a literary agent on the third book or the second if Macmillan rejects it. There are a lot of things an agent can do for you, starting with not having option clauses like the one you have. Hopefully, though, your editor will go to bat for you in-house, giving you some time to build up an audience.

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