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This is where the rubber hits the road: will a publisher say yes – or no? Either way, it helps to look ahead and consider how you will respond to acceptance or rejection.
In our final week we look at that stage when you hear back from a literary agent or publisher. We know the statistics: remember in week 2 we saw the figures from Nelson Literary Agency for 2013:
o Read and responded to 35 000+ queries.
o Requested 67 full manuscripts.
o Signed 7 new clients.
o Sold 40 books.
Most of us will get a rejection letter at some point, but it need not be a career-ending experience. A fortunate few of us will get a request for a full manuscript and even an offer to publish! This week we look at the different scenarios and get the industry lowdown on why books may be rejected. We also revisit our pitches and proposals and draw on the insights we’ve gained through this course to polish them to a bright gleam.
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Topic 1: It Happens To The Best of Us
Listen to the audio for this section below, or download the PDF transcript so you can easily find that golden bit of information.
Let’s talk about rejection. First thing to know is, join the club. Authors all love those stories about famous writers who were rejected time after time: Stephen King with his novel Carrie, William Golding with Lord of the Flies, John le Carre, J.K. Rowling. Miles Franklin couldn’t get My Brilliant Career published in Australia, and it was eventually published in the UK with a bit of help from Henry Lawson. So you’re in exalted company.
Publishers know the same stories, and they make us grit our teeth and hope like hell that we don’t reject the next Hunger Games – but this is a risky, subjective business, and I’m pretty sure we all can look back and wish we’d decided differently. Hopefully though, that’s only true in one per cent of cases – we hope that the other 99 per cent of the time our rejections will be appropriate!
I’ve been lucky as a writer, because all of my books have been commissioned before I wrote them. But I’ve still had to pitch proposals to publishers and I’ve had rejections. So even once you’re established and have a relationship with a publisher, you need to go through some hoops.
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Topic 2: Why Did They Say No?
Your book proposal might be rejected for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with how good the idea is, or how well you have written it. Here are some reasons you might be turned down:
- Publishers work to a budget, which is an equation of projected sales generated from the titles they commission. They have a target for how many titles they must commission and the projected sales across their list. They might have filled their requirements for the year in a particular area, say, young adult fiction – which also means that their editorial team is up to capacity and they simply can’t handle any more titles.
- The publisher needs to keep a balance in their list, often trying to achieve an attractive (and profitable) mix of mass market, literary, crime, zombies … or in non-fiction, they need to cover diverse areas such as biography, health and business. They may have commissioned their “quota” of books in your area for the coming 2 years.
- They might have decided to withdraw or reduce their involvement in that subject area – perhaps they want to build their profile publishing current affairs and “serious” biography, and pull back on humour or self-help.
- Maybe you’ve sent your proposal to the wrong publisher – maybe your idea just doesn’t match with their list because it’s too mass market/Australian/academic.
So don’t take rejection personally, but do take it as an opportunity to review what you are sending out. It will be a while since you put your proposal in an envelope, and you might have a fresh perspective on it now.
It’s a good opportunity to pull your concept apart: are there better points of comparison to other titles, new public interest in the subject area, does your one-sentence pitch really catch the essence of the story? Maybe it’s time to workshop your proposal with your writers group, or go online and get advice from one of the US literary agents who offers interaction through their blog.
If you believe in your concept, the one thing not to do is to give up. Getting published is never easy, whether this is your first book or your tenth. Perseverance goes a long way to ensuring your success.
Use the Improved Proposals Forum space to explain to your fellow participants what you have done (or are going to do) to improve your book proposal after the feedback you received.
I can see my introduction was too much of a plot summary, so I am going to find a different way to present it – maybe thinking about it like cover copy will help.
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This is your chance to show the group how you have developed your pitching skills. Use this forum to share your pitch and to evaluate and comment upon at least three of the pitches of your fellow writers.
WHAT TO DO:
- Write your elevator pitch again and share it with the group in the Elevator Pitch Mark II forum.
- Come back and give your fellow writers some feedback on their pitch, including a rating out of 5.
5 = the highest – meaning if you were a publisher you would sign up the author immediately!
1 = the lowest – meaning this pitch doesn’t work for you and you would pass on the opportunity.
Keep in mind when you make evaluation (and when you read one) that it is just one opinion.
Be considerate and positive in your critical comments. The better you develop this skill, the better you will be able to evaluate your own work.
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Topic 3: They Said Yes!
Imagine this: you’ve sent your book proposal to a literary agent. Four weeks later, the phone rings. It’s the agent, wanting to talk to you about representing you and your book.
It’s time to pop the champagne or open the celebratory chocolate box. At the same time, odds are you’ve got work to do. The agent will probably want you to revise your proposal and your manuscript before they start submitting it to publishers. If you’re dealing direct with a publisher, they will probably also want more material or revisions before they present it to their colleagues (something they must do in most publishing houses before they will make you an offer to publish).
It is possible that your agent will ask you to make changes you don’t agree with. Here the process begins of working as part of a publishing team: it’s not just about you anymore. Remember that your agent is the one who has to sell your book to publishers. Your goal should be to create a draft that your agent is enthusiastic about and is happy to sell. The same applies when dealing direct with a publisher. They now have to persuade their team that you and your book are worth investing in, and you have to enable them to do that. Don’t accept changes that are out and out embarrassing or ridiculous, but be prepared to be flexible and take on the professional advice of your publisher.
Once your agent starts selling your book to publishers, you may have an auction on your hands: several publishers bidding for the right to publish your book. For a first book, though, that would be unusual. More likely your agent will present you with one offer that they feel is a good one, and they will advise you to take it.
Kelly Gottuso Mortimer from Mortimer Literary Agency has this advice for writers:
“Don’t concentrate on winning the battle (getting published); concentrate on winning the war (staying published – having a career as a writer!).”
Publishers and readers love writers who keep on delivering, who follow up one fantastic book with another, then another. Foundry Literary + Media’s Molly Glick says:
“We’re always in search of ‘the one’ – the author we can break out big, and grow from book to book.”
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This is the end of the Pitching To Publishers course. We wish you every success with your publication journey!
If you could take a moment or two to help us improve our courses and provide a better (or further) experiences for you it would be greatly appreciated.
Week 4 Exercise Checklist
Improved Proposal Activity: Use the Improved Proposal Forum space to explain the adjustments you will make to your proposal based on tutors feedback.
Elevator Pitch Mark II Activity: Write your elevator pitch again and post in the Elevator Pitch Mark II Forum. Then provide feedback on your classmates’ pitches, including a rating out of 5.
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