Why you aren’t getting published – part one

Every now and again I hear as-yet-unpublished writers wondering why their work isn’t making it onto the spring list at Harper Collins or Daw Books. One of the speculations is that famous writers are taking up the spots, and that whatever they write will be published, no question.

Well, maybe if your name is Stephen King. But then, King wrote the Bachman stories, and they sold even without his name, which says something about his marketability generally. If everything a famous author writes gets published, you can bet it’s for good reasons, and one of those reasons is that it will sell. Publishing is a business, boys and girls, and publishing houses must make money.

If they make money on the famous, marketable writer, they have some leeway to try out a new voice who may, let us face it, bomb, taking thousands of dollars along for the ride. Where do you think publishers’ remainders come from?

As a published writer, I have a great deal of experience in not being published. In the year that I focused on selling my short stories, I had eight or nine rejections for every story sold. This is a higher-than-average acceptance rate, by the way. When I started to send out The Swan Harp, I pitched fourteen agencies over three months – which is not intensive – before I got a nibble.

So why aren’t you being snatched up by those publications or agents or publishers you favour with your work? Let’s look at some reasons. In this post I’ll talk about the work, and in the next about the presentation.

1) The work isn’t done yet. I sent Penguin the second draft of The Swan Harp and heard precisely nothing. At the time I was puzzled, but three or four drafts later, I understand perfectly.

2) They’ve seen too much of this subject already. Try selling a moody-romantic-vampire story, with or without sparkles, or a school-for-wizardry story. It’s been done. Time to move on. And need I say that fan-fiction and shared-world stories are by invitation only?

3) You need to learn your basics – grammar, punctuation, diction. Honestly. Would you buy an ever-so-clever-and-creative house from a guy who didn’t know which way down to put the nail? Or eat food when the cook wasn’t clear on how much salt was too much?

4) You don’t have a publishing history, or a profile. Authors now have to do much more marketing work than they did fifteen years ago. A list of published stories, poems or even non-fiction articles, tells the agent that you are have experience and persistence. It says, “Look, here’s someone serious about writing and selling.”

Next post – even if you have the chops and the work, you might not be getting their attention.

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2 Responses to Why you aren’t getting published – part one

  1. Thanks, bunches, for this! I feel I fit this description pretty well, with over 60 magazine articles in several different styles and genres, as one of the reader-voted favorites in a publication with 22,000 readers. Also have blogged a couple of years, although cannot seem to garner as much attention, there.
    It’s very odd I seem to be able to market anyone except myself, though. I never can think of a good thing to say about me, with great wording and catchy phrasing, etc., although I can for others. I wonder about this.
    How much would you say it costs to get a royalty house to agree to publish a book? I mean, by the time all the hiring of helpers is over, do you break even? Or does it simply not pay?
    So looking forward to the next post!

  2. ecreith says:

    Keep plugging, Katharine, it’ll happen. Writer Frederic Tuten says, “If you stand in line long enough, you’ll get served.”
    I’m not a big fan of paying to get published (and that’s an understatement). I’m not sure self-publishing pays unless you’re very good at marketing. It also closes a lot of doors, because there are so many bad self-published works out there, put out by people who are in a hurry (suppose I’d been dying to get the second draft of The Swan Harp into print?) or who openly say, “I don’t care about the writing, only the story or the information”. It makes people wary even of the well-edited, well-produced, good-quality stuff.
    Are you looking for an agent or publisher? I have a post coming up about how I went about that.

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