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The Manuscript is Done. Now What?
March 20, 2012 11:25 AM   Subscribe

My manuscript (sci-fi) is done, and my test readers tell me it's great. Can you point me to good resources on what to do next (and how)? I know how to self-pub, but how do I navigate the traditional routes? As always there's more inside...

I've self-published an ebook before (comedic, steamy urban fantasy) and done pretty well with that route. I'm not about to quit my day job on the strength of that book, but it went up in June and I'm still steadily selling 3-4 a day. I didn't even try the traditional route with it for several practical reasons (length, previous online exposure, etc). Ultimately, I know how to do that route, and I know that it's not the road to riches, but it's not at all a waste of time.

But now I've written the sci fi novel* that I've always wanted to write. I'm getting positive feedback from serious readers who won't bullshit me. I'm still polishing the hell out of it... but I've come to the crossroads of traditional vs. self-publishing and I need some help with this. I know one is supposed to get an agent, but I don't know anything about how that's done or how to know if I've gotten a good one. I don't know anything about what the actual money is like--i.e., what's a waste, what's a rip-off, and what are realistic expectations for a first-time author.

Can anyone point me to good resources on this (or feel like answering here)? I know there are lots of articles online, but most of the ones that I've found through searching around are either disjointed, presume a lot of prior knowledge, or are plainly just advertisements from places that want me to buy something from them.

What can I really expect from a traditional publisher besides being hooked up with a cover artist and an advance check? Do they really offer much exposure/publicity anymore?

(*It's a coming of age military space opera novel about unchecked corporate power, the crushing burdens of student debt, and space pirates. Lots of space pirates.)
posted by scaryblackdeath to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ultimately, I know how to do that route

By "that route," I mean ebook self-publishing. Sorry. Wish I could edit questions once they've gone up. :) I know how to do the self-publishing; it's the traditional routes that I just plain don't know.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:27 AM on March 20, 2012


Have you published short stories? You could eligible to join the SFWA (sci-fi/fantasy writer's association) which gives you the chance to get a mentor, hook up with agents, etc.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:35 AM on March 20, 2012


Querytracker is a great place to start.
posted by Mchelly at 11:43 AM on March 20, 2012


The Backspace forums have a ton of information on finding and querying agents, and regularly feature agents answering questions about querying and what happens next. Writer's Market is not the entity it used to be (when it was very nearly the only game in town) now that the internet has come along.

Chances are good one of your favorite authors has also written about the agent-getting process. I'm pretty sure Mefi's Own Scalzi has, along with other aspects of the business. There are a number of blogs written by people in the publishing business, as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:45 AM on March 20, 2012


What can I really expect from a traditional publisher besides being hooked up with a cover artist and an advance check? Do they really offer much exposure/publicity anymore?

Oh god. I just got done with my first set of editorial revisions with my editor at Simon and Schuster. I've been reading through the manuscript for typos, and was just rambling to my husband about how the process has taken my book from something that I thought was pretty good--a solid book, the best book I could possibly make it (and I've had professional editing experience) to a really really great book. I would not have been able to conceive of the changes that twenty-page editorial letter took my book through. It's both deeper and more polished. My abilities as a writer have been stretched in a million different ways. Maybe I'm flying high on adrenaline and a lack of sleep from working long hours through these revisions, but editors are awesome. Incredibly awesome. There are all these rumors that editors don't edit any more but that's bullshit. Editors are great.

So there's that.

I'm early in my journey, but I've already had a little connection with the marketing department. They want to know if I'm willing to appear on radio and TV and at local schools when the time comes.

Agents? Also great. Mine is working her ass off to sell foreign rights for me. She negotiated hard with editors, pre- and post-contract. She's also been drumming up film rights interest.

And I'll make more off my advance this year than I've ever made at any day job (though to be fair, I've had pretty crappy day jobs).

Just a rambling perspective from a mainstream publishing fangirl. Publishing, yay! It's awesome! I'll post back in a few about process. I have about a million links for you on agent-getting.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:45 AM on March 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


Large commercial publishers do indeed offer exposure and publicity. The days of the big book tour are over for most writers, but what commercial publishers do is get books into stores, sell them to libraries (that's usually good for two to five thousand copies sold right there), and get books to influential reviewers.

Anyway, there is a lot of discussion about whether to go with a large trade publisher, a small press or university press, an epublisher, or self-publication on the boards at AbsoluteWrite.com, as well as lots of people sharing information about how they did it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:46 AM on March 20, 2012


Oh, great news about your book, PBWK! Yes, working with a good editor is a magnificent experience. For myself--even though I am an editor of other people's stuff--I have always gotten tremendous insights from the editors I've worked with as a writer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:48 AM on March 20, 2012


+1 for AbsoluteWrite. Especially the Query Letter Hell forum. You'll need to write a one-page query letter that can sell your agent on your book without overselling or cheesy gimmicks, and it turns out that's really hard.
posted by Jeanne at 11:51 AM on March 20, 2012


The forums already mentioned here--absolutewrite and querytracker particularly--are wonderful. I'd also recommend Queryshark (run by agent Janet Reid), Jodi Meadows Query Project (run by an author over at Harper who used to read for an agency), Nathan Bransford's blog (run by a former agent now turned author), and Kristin Nelson's pubrants blog (run by another agent). They are, bar none, the best publishing resources out there.

My other piece of advice would be to talk to published or agented authors. Ask them about agents--there are shady ones out there (and they're not always obviously shady). Ask them for advice. Ask them for help. They're you're community now, and most authors are more than willing to look out for you and help you as you find your way. (And to that end, feel free to shoot me a MeMail, any time.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:54 AM on March 20, 2012


Oh, also I missed the part where you said it's a coming of age story. In the event that your MS fits under the label of YA, I'd also recommend the Verla Kay Blueboards, a forum for kidlit writers. They seem to attract a slightly more professional demographic than the other boards, something I've found very helpful. Absolutewrite and QT are great, but I've found more information on the post-query process at Verla Kay's.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:58 AM on March 20, 2012


What can I really expect from a traditional publisher besides being hooked up with a cover artist and an advance check? Do they really offer much exposure/publicity anymore?

Well, distribution, for one. My book was published by Harper (HC) and Harper Perennial and appeared on the shelves of indies and the big-box bookstores—something that's rare if impossible for self-published titles.

Other things I got as an unknown debut: Amazing editorial work; foreign sales (my publisher bought world rights); support from a publicist, academic marketing and marketing experts; participation in giveaway programs through Amazon Vine, Goodreads, and LibraryThing; entries into contests; tons of support and input.

I'd recommend you find a community of writers, learn how to craft a kick-ass query, and focus on finding an agent. I found my (amazing) agent by looking in the acknowledgment section of my favorite books.
posted by mynameisluka at 11:59 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Off-topic, but I'm just gonna put this here: I just googled my ebook (the urban fantasy one) and found some reader has recently gone to the effort of transferring it from his phone e-reader to his computer to a .pdf for free torrenting... 'cause, what, three bucks is so hard? 'cause people really are gonna torrent it for free and then go buy it for real? Le sigh.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:24 PM on March 20, 2012


Well, there's another benefit of mainstream publishing. The mainstream authors with whom I'm acquainted have had this happen to them, but when it does, they report it to their publishers who serve up a cease and desist letter promptly. Sure, you could do the same, but you'll have to pay a lawyer for it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:31 PM on March 20, 2012


As awful as having your ebook leaked on the internet is, you should be aware that as long as ANYTHING is obtainable online, it will be available for free (through pirating and whatnot), sooner or later.
posted by Trexsock at 12:33 PM on March 20, 2012


Yeah. I'm not incensed or anything. It was inevitable, and maybe I should be flattered that anyone thought enough of it to do all that...but again, I sigh. Just seems silly. :)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:36 PM on March 20, 2012


Check out Writer Beware on the subject for some grounding in things you should know about. And read everything here.

The usual drill is: look at published books of a similar ilk as yours. Find out who the agents of those writers are. Find out if their agencies are open to submissions, and what the submission guidelines are. 3 chapters and an outline is typical. Write a killer outline (there's lots of advice about this online.) Submit per the agencies' requirements. I've heard some agencies don't want to consider simultaneous submissions, but as far as I know, in this context, simultaneous submissions to multiple agencies is the norm -- that is, go ahead and submit to ten agencies at once.

The good outcome: one or more ask you for the complete manuscript. The less good outcome: silence, after which you should figure out another batch of agencies you think might be a match and submit to them.

I don't know anything about what the actual money is like--i.e., what's a waste, what's a rip-off, and what are realistic expectations for a first-time author.

A typical figure for a first sf novel is an advance of about $5000, with promises of royalties if your advance "earns out" -- the royalties on the first n copies are part of that initial $5K, and you have to sell > n copies before you start seeing incremental royalties. Most books don't get there.

What can I really expect from a traditional publisher besides being hooked up with a cover artist and an advance check? Do they really offer much exposure/publicity anymore?

With luck, an editor who gets your book and believes in it, and will work with you to help you improve it. With bad luck, an editor who was handed your book at the last minute because another editor left, and who's indifferent to it. A copy editor who will catch various little errors in fact, internal consistency, grammar, word choice, spelling. A cover artist. A sales force with existing relationships in the bookselling world (though odds are they won't know all that much about, or push all the heavily, a first novel from an unknown.) A publicity department that probably won't do all that much for a first novel from an unknown, but whom you should probably at least be able to talk into submitting review copies to the appopriate venues you've researched.
posted by Zed at 12:39 PM on March 20, 2012


Find out if their agencies are open to submissions, and what the submission guidelines are. 3 chapters and an outline is typical. Write a killer outline (there's lots of advice about this online.) Submit per the agencies' requirements.

Just a note that this is not currently the norm. In my discussion with agents and those who have slush read for them, almost everyone writes weak synopses; that's fairly expected. What you want to polish highly is your query letter itself. Always include the first ten pages/chapter of your novel, unless the guidelines say otherwise (either to not include pages, or to include a different number of pages). Polish those first ten pages until they gleam.

A typical figure for a first sf novel is an advance of about $5000, with promises of royalties if your advance "earns out" -- the royalties on the first n copies are part of that initial $5K, and you have to sell > n copies before you start seeing incremental royalties. Most books don't get there.

This is also a bit different if you're writing young adult science fiction, and I suspect that determining this is your first order of business. Kate Hart's report on 2011 YA deals is pretty informative.

(In short, there's real money to be made in young adult science fiction right now.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:52 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think I can do "Young Adult." It's too brutal, and the brutality is key. First off, the space pirates are like historical pirates: they operate in a town hall democratic fashion, they're effectively at war with the world, and they kill people out of simple convenience.

Beyond that, the main character's "coming of age" is in part one of violence. He's a nice kid who just wants to work with fuzzy animals, but economic woes lead him to the military, and he has to come to terms with breaking and killing his fellow human beings. The protagonist is unequivocally the "hero" and a "good guy," and the bad guys are really, really bad, but he winds up killing a lot of people and wondering if he's a monster. There are multiple references to his needing PTSD therapy by the end of the book.

There's also plenty of swearing, there's prostitution (though no sex scenes)...I don't think I can go YA without really cutting all that, and maybe I could make more money on it by going YA, but I just... I don't wanna.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:05 PM on March 20, 2012


Not meaning to offend you, obviously, but what you posted sounds similar (in the amount of violence and whatnot) to many YA novels I've read. Of course, I haven't read your manuscript, but from the above, there really isn't much to say it isn't YA.
posted by Trexsock at 1:08 PM on March 20, 2012


That's reasonable, but if you have a prospective agent who reads the whole thing (or a pretty large chunk) and thinks it would be marketable as YA, please at least consider it and maybe read the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness to reevaluate what the bounds of "darkness" for YA SF are. (And maybe Hunger Games? That's fairly brutal.)

There's definitely YA with copious swearing (I think Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is the swearing-est I've read), prostitution (notably Tricks by Ellen Hopkins), PTSD, and violence and brutality, so it's not necessarily true that you would have to cut a lot of that.
posted by Jeanne at 1:11 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Uh, that "please" came out a lot more condescending than I meant it. Substitute "You might want to."
posted by Jeanne at 1:12 PM on March 20, 2012


Sex (of the on-page variety) is likely to be a much bigger issue than violence if you try to sell it as YA. I read a LOT of YA, much of it science fiction, and I can assure that explicit violence is not an issue.
posted by anaximander at 1:22 PM on March 20, 2012


I don't think I can do "Young Adult." It's too brutal

Is it more brutal than The Hunger Games? Because brutal is in right now in YA. Swearing is fine, too. Prostitution maybe not so much, but.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:52 PM on March 20, 2012


I don't think I can go YA without really cutting all that, and maybe I could make more money on it by going YA, but I just... I don't wanna.

have you read any YA published in the last 5 years? honest question.
posted by changeling at 6:24 PM on March 20, 2012


Not so much, no. Just Walter Dean Myers' Vietnam war novel. Honestly, I'm sure there's plenty of good YA books out there, but when I look at the books, they just rarely appeal to me. If someone reads my book and tells me, "Hey, this is great YA," then that's...cool, I guess? And I know that younger readers could read my story without being scarred for life. But it wasn't what I was going for.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 6:34 PM on March 20, 2012


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