Happy New Year! How many of you have made resolutions? Last year I went planner happy and filled up a whole page with resolutions…it didn’t end well. Or successfully. But the fact that I’m getting published trumps anything else that didn’t get done, or so I tell myself. And now I’m yanking – that’s right, yanking – back the curtain on that journey to share with you just how Hart & Seoul (H&S) is making it to the printed world, mainly because I’ve been getting this question a lot and want to share it with any potential new authors. It’s a bit of a long post, so bear with me…
Traditional vs. self-published, that’s the dilemma that every author faces. And I think, for most, it’s one that you don’t actually face until you’ve tried traditional. Emphasis on the word tried. Because these days, for a debut author to get picked up by an agent is akin to catching lightning in a bottle while riding a unicorn over a rainbow and high-fiving a sloth on your way down – or at least that’s how it felt to me. They say that writing the book is the hardest part, which is true, but getting an agent is pretty dang close to it. The agent is that magical being that reads your query letter (basically a short letter that begs for them to take you on as a client) and, if you’re lucky, the first few chapters of your book…then your full manuscript…then signs you on as one of his/her clients.
Oh yeah, it’s a process. And now I’m going to tell you aaaaall about my process. A note before I begin my tale: my experience is through the YA lens of literature, so it very well could be completely different for someone who writes mysteries or romances, for better or for worse. Now, on to what basically consumed me for the past three years…
I began querying H&S about two years ago, having worked on the manuscript for a year prior to that. Terrified, that’s what I was. Absolutely terrified. Although I’d dreamed of being published for years, when the time came to actually, you know, share what I’d written, I froze. It’s bad enough to share with a writing group, who are there to help you, but to an agent? One who will either accept it or reject it? The idea was enough to make me freeze in cold fear. It took listening to K pop music at full blast before I actually garnered up the courage to hit send to the first agent. And then I literally ran around the house in celebration, before plunking back down to do it all over again. Best cardio workout ever, let me tell you.
Tip #1: When getting ready to query, organize your list of potential agents into your A, B & C list, and contact a few of them at a time. If none of them are responding for full manuscripts, chances are there’s something off with your first few chapters and/or query letter. I created a spreadsheet of agents, noting when I queried them and how long they said they took to get back to people (6-8 weeks, on average). And then you have to wait, which is the worst part. You don’t want to query them all at once, because if you do need to revise your work you’ve blown your chances with a ton of agents, but if you do it just a couple of agents at a time you’ll be waiting until kingdom comes for any results. There is a balance, and you have to find what works for you. Me? I looked at any and all agents accepting YA contemporary novels, paying special attention to new agents who would be looking to boost their clientele.
Not sure where to look for agents?
Tip #2: In addition to looking online, your local library may have the answer. Writer’s Market annually publishes a beautifully thick book chock block full of agents; plus you’re in the perfect place to pick up books in your preferred genre and look at the author’s Acknowledgements page to see who the author’s agent is. I found a lot of agents this way.
I’ll be upfront with you: querying is a great way to be humbled, unless you are one of the few lucky ones that gets picked up almost immediately. That occasionally does happen, so there’s hope! But in my case, agent after agent either wouldn’t respond at all, would send back an automated response turning me down, or would request my manuscript and then disappear off the face of the earth. Two beautiful, wonderful agents gave incredibly helpful feedback as to why they were saying no, feedback which I used when I went back to revising. But it was beyond frustrating as I watched book after book being published, every author thanking their agent for taking a chance on them and seeing the potential of their idea, while I was left twiddling my thumbs and wondering why agents couldn’t see my potential.
After about a year of querying, sending in the full manuscript to some agents, taking a break to revise, then starting all over again, I faced the fact that I may not get picked up by an agent, and began to consider the other option: self-publishing. Self-publishing is something that many authors shy away from, for a variety of reasons. For starters, everyone dreams of being published by one of The Big Ones in NYC. There’s a level of prestige that comes with getting published by an established publishing house. And then of course there’s the matter of money; when you self-publish, it’s all up to you. Editing costs, printing costs, cover design – you name it, you’re paying for it. Depending on what kind of printing you do, the book may be of good quality, but then again it may not. And, the hardest part of all, it’s up to you to advertise/market/distribute your books, which may/may not end up on a book store shelf.
BUT, at the end of the day you are actually published, and you have full creative rights over your work, something that traditionally published authors usually sign away when they get the contract with a publishing house. It varies per contract, of course, and some authors have more rights/subrights than others, but for the majority this means that the publisher has complete control over the cover (oftentimes authors are asked for some input, but they don’t have final say), they decide on the title, and there can be a lot of confusion over who owns what, such as foreign, e-book, or dramatic rights. The upside is that you don’t have to worry about upfront costs, plus you get an advance. Keep in mind that it’s an advance, which means that the publisher takes the majority of profit from your book sales (royalties) until that advance is paid back. When you self-publish, you keep 100% of the profit, but you have to pay for all the costs that traditional publishers handle. So, either way, you’re paying for your book to be published.
And there are your two options…or at least so I thought. But was I ever wrong! Let’s look behind door number three for the option that I didn’t see coming:
Never heard of it? No worries, because I certainly hadn’t either, not until one summer day when I went to a meeting hosted by Mascot Books. I walked in prepared to take down info for the festival that I was representing while battling with the depressing thought that I may just have to give up my dream of being published (since there was no way I could afford self-publishing), and walked out filled with a dazed expression and the tentative hope that there may be a chance that H&S be published – and as you already know, that hope came to fruition.
Hybrid is, as its name implies, a combination of traditional and self-published. With hybrid, you pay the publisher to cover publication costs (printing, mainly, but also editing, which is crucial), but you have a publisher’s resources for cover design (if the hybrid publisher includes that) and marketing. For instance, my publisher is Mascot Books; with the publishing plan that I decided on, H&S is going to be available in bookstores as well as Amazon, have a professionally done cover, and be promoted online and via bloggers/podcasts/etc. I’ve been working with a team to make sure that the manuscript is edited, the cover is just right (I just saw a draft on Friday, and oh my gosh, guys, it’s GORGEOUS), and soon we’ll be creating a promotional schedule. Mascot Books hires people who know what they are doing; I’m getting creative control, with the advantage of the advice and support of a publisher.
As I sat through the discussion, my excitement grew even as I wondered if it was too good to be true. Really, all I had to do was query one of their agents, and I’d get a response back right away? And if they did accept me, my book would be sent to the same printers that traditional houses use? AND they would register the ISBN with Library of Congress, make sure that I owned the copyright, and make sure that it was available to purchase in store or online? There had to be a catch, probably with the quality of the work that they produced. Contrary to my suspicions, however, they don’t accept every submission sent their way, which I found reassuring because the last thing that you want is a publisher that takes anything and everything.
It took me a week or so to gather up the courage, but I finally queried Mascot Book’s agent, and THREE HOURS LATER she got back to me – yes, you read that right, just three hours. Not six weeks. Not eight weeks. Three hours. She set up a phone meeting with me, and by August 10th I had signed a deal with a publisher. Why? I think one of the things that stuck out the most to me was that Jess, the agent, believed in the story. She saw its potential right away, despite the flaws, and was excited at the idea of working with me. And as any author will tell you, when you find an agent who gets your story, who believes in it as much as you do (probably even more so, since they are not riddled with the insecurities that plague writers), everything clicks into place. I spent the rest of the month going over final edits before I sent everything in, an editor was brought in, and you guys know the rest.
Ultimately, you have to do what’s right for you. I’ve known from the very beginning that I wanted to share H&S with the world, dreamed of being published, and was determined that somehow it would happen. As I quickly learned, though, it can be very difficult to break into the publishing world. But just when I was starting to believe that it would never happen a different way was shown to me. Hybrid might not be the best option for some authors, but it’s just right for this one. Here’s hoping it pays off!
Have any questions? Ask away!