Jan 02 2010
1. Even if you get published, you will get paid much, much less than you can imagine. A 75,000 word manuscript takes 2000+ hours and typically sells for around $5000. That’s not even close to minimum wage, particularly when you consider the work you put in after getting published. If you plan on eating food more expensive than Kibbles and Bits, get a day job.
2. Most novelists don’t get their first novels published. According to a Tobias Buckell survey, only 35% of published authors broke out with their first novel. This shouldn’t be too surprising–look at what you were writing 2-3 years ago. You’ve gotten a lot better, right? You’ll probably feel the same way about what you’re writing now in 2-3 years. It may take a novel manuscript or two to develop professional-grade writing skills. (Keep practicing and you’ll get there!)
3. Novel publishing is freakishly competitive, particularly compared to English courses. In an English class, most of the papers will get A’s and the teacher will usually explain to everybody else what they need to fix so that they will get A’s. In contrast, publishers reject over 99% of submissions and the vast majority of submissions are rejected without any specific feedback. Thanks for submitting–we enjoyed your manuscript, but not enough to tell you what to fix. (By the way, if the publisher does tell you what to fix, you’re almost certainly on the right track. Publishers would probably only spend extra time to write an individualized rejection if you had potential).
4. Even after you’ve finished your novel manuscript, it will take you years before the book is actually on shelves. A novel publisher usually takes at least 3-6 months to evaluate its submissions. After you finally get the offer, you have to get through editing/rewriting, cover design, any advance publicity and promotional work, etc. Processes that involve a lot of people are usually slow.
5. Almost all novel sales are made through brick-and-mortar stores and A-list websites like Amazon. Unfortunately, authors’ websites are usually insignificant.
6. When your novel gets published, expect no control over what the cover looks like. They may show it to you before it gets printed. Or not. If this is very important for you, you have a few options. For example, get some professional-grade visual design skills. They may take your artistic input more seriously if you’re visually experienced. Failing that, you can self-publish your novel, which would give you complete control over the cover. Or you can get a huge audience. If J.K. Rowling wanted an exploding alien on her cover, the publisher would ask green or gray. Alternately, you can write comic books. Comic book writers and graphic novelists have significantly more influence over their covers. UPDATE: Good news–Steve Laube disagrees here.
UPDATE 2: More good news–my (nonfiction) publisher sent me a draft cover for Learning to Write Superhero Stories and was very helpful when I suggested taking the cover in a different direction. (I’m not a professional illustrator by any means, but I do have some design experience from my marketing work and from SN). I’m really happy with how the cover turned out.
7. The most important factor determining whether a book will get published is whether the publisher thinks it will sell well. For a novel, that usually means five to ten thousand sales. Another consideration is whether the book is stylistically similar to what the publisher has worked on before. You could have the most awesome superhero comic book for kids ever, but it would still get laughed out of the office at Avatar Press. “Umm, you do know we do extremely adult stuff, right?” Pick your publishers carefully!
8. Publishers tend to prefer particular kinds of stories but hate ripoffs. The authors that get published build on what the publishers already have. To get published, you need to convince several professionals that your submission fits their company’s style but adds something to their lineup. In contrast, “this is a second-rate knockoff of our biggest work” is not a route to success.
Please read this article’s sequel, Another Eight Facts About Writing That Surprise Prospective Novelists, here!