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More What You’d Call Guidelines…

Over at Making Light, James MacDonald explains How to Get Published.

Before I go any further, let me state for the record that MacDonald knows his stuff.  He contributes good writing advice at Making Light, Absolute Write, and elsewhere.

That said, I’m gonna argue with a few of his points now, ’cause what fun would it be if we all agreed with each other? :-)

To be a writer, you must write.  Absolutely, 100%, yes!  However, MacDonald goes on to give the oft-repeated advice, “Write every day.”  Good advice, but not an iron-clad rule.  I write five days a week, but generally don’t write on weekends.  I believe writing every day is a good goal, but ultimately, it’s important to find the schedule that works for you.  The important thing is that you’re writing.

On the day you reach THE END, put the book aside for six weeks.  Let me put it this way: I wrote, revised, and started submitting Goblin Quest [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] over the course of six weeks, and that seems to have worked out pretty well for me.  Distance can be a very good thing, and these days I usually try to do a short story or something else between drafts/books as a palate-cleanser.  But once again, writing is like the Matrix: some “rules” can be bent, while others can be broken.1

Now find a publisher.  This is exactly what I did when I finished Goblin Quest, actually.  It’s not the path I’d follow if I had to do it all over again today.  Publishers are slow to respond (2.5 years in one case), and they ask for exclusivity.  Personally, I would go directly to querying agents, and let them submit to the publishers.  Authors have sold books both ways, as you can see in that First Book Survey someone did earlier this year.

I remember being a new author trying to break in, and assuming that Advice = Law.  If a pro said I had to sell short stories before selling a novel, then by Asimov’s Sideburns, that was what I must do!

It messed me up more than once.  So while I think it’s incredibly important to listen to authors who have this sort of knowledge and experience, it’s also important to remember that none of us have the Gospel of Getting Published.  (And I don’t believe MacDonald is trying to preach Publishing Gospel, but I know how easy it is for new writers to take things as such.)

That said, MacDonald gives some good advice, and those working to break in could do much worse than to take a few minutes to read his post.

  1. With most rules, things generally turn out better if you make sure you understand the rule before you break it.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


Dec. 7th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
I dont' submit exclusively (agents don't, why should I?). So far that hasn't been an issue. If I get an offer (I've gotten so far as a couple full requests, so here's hoping someday), I'll just do what an agent would do (in fact, I'll have my lit lawyer or agent do it) and notify the other editors that there's an offer on the table. They can either then get a counter offer in or at least update their files so they don't waste time reading a book that isn't sold. Seems straightforward and professional to me.

You're not alone in this approach, but it's not one I'd personally recommend. For one thing, I don't consider it professional to not follow a publisher's posted guidelines. Agents are up-front about the fact that they're submitting to multiple editors at once.

You're probably okay, but if you've got a good, strong book, you do get a much more real risk of multiple editors being interested ... meaning you're also running the risk of getting burned.

A huge risk? I doubt it. But it's not an approach I'd recommend.
Dec. 7th, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
The thing I don't get is why it is a risk? If multiple editors are interested, that could mean that I'll get multiple offers, which means I could negotiate for the best terms and money. It isn't like I'm lying to the editors about being non-exclusive. If I get an offer, I'll (or more likely, my agent or literary attorney) immediately notify the other editors with the book, just like a (good) agent would.

And I follow guidelines when they have them (more or less), but most publishers just say "no unagented submissions" which is a guideline I don't follow. If I had followed it, I wouldn't have had a single full request or any of the personal rejections I've gotten, since I would never have submitted to those publishers in the first place. But each of us has to decide our risk tolerance and our path for ourselves. The nice thing about publishing is there is no "one right path" to getting published (other than writing, if you don't write, you'll never get published) :)
Dec. 7th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
The plan to negotiate for better terms and more money assumes that you haven't pissed off the editors, who withdraw the offers entirely. (I'm speaking as someone who had a major editor pull an offer on my first book because he was pissed at me.)

No, you're not explicitly lying. However, if the publisher's guidelines state no simultaneous submissions and you refuse to follow them...

If you have a publisher that says they accept simsubs, then of course, there's no reason not to go for it. And maybe my knowledge is out of date. It's been a while since I researched publisher guidelines, but when I did, most of the big houses that accepted submissions didn't want simsubs.
Dec. 7th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
True. And if it doesn't end up working for me, I'll try a different method. :)

It does suck that what happened to you with that editor happened at all, but thankfully it seems to be not a common thing.

(Most publisher guidelines these don't say either way on the sim subs, actually. They say only "no unagented submissions". That's not a guideline, it's a wall.)
Dec. 7th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
It's not a wall. It's another requirement that in the end, benefits you.

(I say that as someone with an agent, who has saved me no end of trouble.)


Jim C. Hines


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