After hearing so many tortured routes to publication (I’m speaking at a panel in a couple of weeks about the ‘Perilous Path’ it’s been for me), it’s nice to hear from a fellow author whose trajectory was a little more linear.
Laura Best is the author of Bitter Sweet. She’s kindly offered to tell us how her strategy (identifying an interesting topic — which in her case was historical YA fiction) helped her find the right publisher.
For more on this Nova Scotian writer, check out her blog http://lauraabest.wordpress.com/ There’s an extract from chapter three that I think displays Laura’s remarkable sense of voice and perhaps explains why her journey moved along as smoothly as it did.
Weeks before my book came out one reporter asked me (off the record) how I “managed” to get Nimbus to publish my book. I’m not sure if he was expecting to hear how I had to beg and plead or else had some inside connections, but this is what I told him:
“I sent in a query, a synopsis, and some sample chapters. Eight months later they asked to see the entire manuscript, and the rest was history.”
It sounded fairly effortless and simplistic when I put it that way, but honestly that’s the way I snagged myself a publisher.
For many years I wrote short stories for literary magazines. Since I’d been sending out my own submissions during that time, I never considered querying for an agent when I completed my novel. Some publishing house in Canada will still accept submissions sent directly by the author, so I continued on with what I’d done in the past. I sent my manuscript around to a few publishing houses on my own, and Nimbus Publishing happened to be one of them.
Like many authors, I detest writing a synopsis. As every writer knows one of the hardest questions to answer, at least in the beginning is, “What’s your book about?” Still, I’ve always tackled my desire for publication with a sense of determination. I chose to think in terms of when and not how.
There is nothing quick about publishing. If you’re in a hurry to see your book in print you might very well become disillusioned and quit. It is rare for anyone to write their first book, send it to one publisher or agent and have it accepted. I’m not going to say it has never happen, I mean people do win the lottery, but how common is that?
When I wrote the query and synopsis for my book I didn’t allow myself to fret over it. As much as I didn’t enjoy doing it, I knew it had to be done. It was all part of the process. Many writers spend a lot of effort fretting over their query and synopsis. They worry about writing an attention-grabbing query, one that will immediately snag them an agent or publisher right off the bat. I’m not saying a query isn’t important, because it is. I’m saying that if we’ve written a great book, surely we can put together a query and synopsis worthy of making a publisher want to take a look at our book.
We need to have more faith in our abilities or else stop worrying to the degree where we’re afraid to even start querying. Some writers are so afraid of the submission process that they remain stuck, afraid to make that first step toward publication, lest they end up failing. No story will ever find publication if the author doesn’t submit it some place, and doing something, even if it is not prefect, is far more productive than wallowing in our fear of failure.
When I was searching for a potential publisher I did my homework. I made a list of publishers whom I thought would be interested in the kind of book I had written. I knew Nimbus Publishing’s focus is on the Atlantic Region and my book was set in Nova Scotia. I also knew they had published historical fiction in the past. It made sense to include them in my round of submissions.
As much as we might want to believe it, there is no magic formula out there. As unpublished authors we hunger to read every success story there is, hoping we’ll see something that we hadn’t before. We buy how to books, thinking that someone will tell us just what that winning formula is. I know because I’ve been there. If there is one magic formula I’d be interested in knowing what it is. I’m sure many others would be too. Every published author has their own, “How I found my publisher/agent” story to tell, and I’ve not yet read two stories that were identical.
The truth is, the way to publication is to write a book that someone wants to publish. How? Give them something new, something they haven’t seen before, work at your craft, find that voice that is uniquely yours, write about the things that interest you, and make your book stand out from all the other submissions they receive. One comment that I’ve received over the years, from literary magazines that had accepted my work, was that my story stood out from the rest of the submissions they’d received.
Writing a good book isn’t always enough. A lot of good books are written. One writer/editor told me she found that sometimes it comes down to connecting with the right editor on the right day, and I tend to agree. The day I received a phone call from the children’s book editor at Nimbus I knew by the enthusiasm in her voice, that spark of excitement that was so utterly infectious, that my book had definitely connected with the right editor on the right day.