Friday, June 27, 2008

It's an Epidemic!

Maven Jackie BarbosaA few months ago, my local paper ran an article about a group of writers in my area who get together to support one another and commiserate over their rejections. (It wasn't the local RWA chapter, to which I belong.) Several people quoted in the story lamented over how impossible it is for a debut author to get published in New York these days. Agents and editors won't even consider an unpublished writer's work, let alone offer a contract for publication!

But is that really true? That the unpubbed, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, don't get no respect?

I used to think so. I was pretty sure that getting an offer of agent representation or of publication were longshots akin to winning the lottery. Unlike the lottery, that didn't stop me from trying, but I knew the odds were poor.

Yesterday, however, I realized that in the past year, I've seen a lot of my unpublished friends become either agented or sold or both. I mean, a significantly higher percentage than anyone would expect based upon the statistics we all hear all the time (agents reject 99% or more of all submissions that come to them, only one-tenth of one percent of books that come before a NY editor are published, etc.). In fact, these events have been occurring so often lately, it seems like a virtual epidemic.

I still think it's DAMN difficult to get published. I know quite a few authors whose work I think is more than worthy of a six-figure contract who have been rejected repeatedly by agents and editors alike. And doesn't seem to be to be quite the crapshoot it once did. Authors with lots of skill and talent and more than a little bit of good luck and timing can and do get published. Even if they haven't got a previous publishing credit to their name.

Agents are still looking for new authors whose work they love to represent. Publishers are looking for new blood, new voices. And with diligence and perseverance, new authors do get published.

So, yay for the aspiring and unpubbed. Go forth and submit. And never abandon hope!

YOUR TURN: Do you feel encouraged when an unpublished author sells? Or do you think, "There goes another slot for a debut author; now I'll never get published!"

P.S. A hearty congratulations to Avon FanLit winner and all-around sweetheart, Sara Lindsey, whose three-book deal with NAL/Signet was announced this week, thereby inspiring this post.


Beverley Kendall said...

No, it's definitely inspiring when I hear good publishing news for unpubs. I always think there is room for more. There is room for me!

BriteLady said...

I always wonder how accurate those percentages are. If an agent rejects 99% of the queries they recieve, but a single author is querying 100 agents for a single book, then are 99% of all books being rejected, or just 99% of all queries?

It's easy to compile numbers from a lot of different agencies, but probably impossible to truly track them in a meaningful way. There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

It's also possible that you're hanging around with other good writers, so of course you're more likely to see yourself and your friends get published :) And, as a group, as you improve your craft, then the craft of the entire group is going to improve as you share knowledge.

Courtney Milan said...

Definitely inspiring! Not only inspiring--but honestly, good for me. For instance, I know for a fact that authors like Elizabeth Hoyt and Sherry Thomas and Joanna Bourne have proven that historicals can thrive, and that has in turn opened up the market for historicals. As little as a year ago, people were still saying things like, "Historicals are dead."

Ha! All I can say is, the more people sell historicals, the more agents will take a chance on them, and the more editors will think they need to round out their line with a few historicals. Sure, there's a saturation point, but the market for books is a curious one in that a good book creates the market for more.

It is good when other people sell books. It increases the room available for people like us.

It is an epidemic--the market is contagious.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Kristi, I think you're right when you say the percentages are a little misleading. After all, just because one agent or editor rejects a particular query or manuscript, that doesn't mean ALL of them do. So, if I send my book to 20 agents and I get 19 rejections and one offer of representation, am I in the 99% or the 1%?

CM, historical is so hot right now, it practically sizzles. I'm sure that one of the primary reasons my manuscript sold was timing: I had a very hot historical at the right time.

Bev, there is definitely room for you. I'm counting on it!

lacey kaye said...

It's not just a good thing; it's an awesome thing! And I am so, so happy for Sara. This is the best news possible!

Darcy Burke said...

From your post to the editors' (specifically the ones who still have my ms) ears! When I see someone sell (go Sara!), I truly believe it could be me next. Or any one of us waiting for The Call. It's not if, it's when. Really.

Emma Petersen said...

In my inner circle, most of the time I know it's going to happen. And while I feel super happy for my friends, I also feel a little left behind. But it's totally my fault because as I don't do what I'm supposed to do. You don't write. You can't sell. It's as simple as that.

Em (Who's off to finish her 5k)

B.E. Sanderson said...

I have to admit, I'm jealous as hell when I see another unpub become pubbed. But I'm still inspired and it still gives me hope. And if it's someone I know, I still cheer for them. (Heck, I cheer even when I don't know them.) It's a hard road and encouraging each other makes it a little less so. =o)

Evangeline Holland said...

I used to think it was a hopeless cause too. But for the past year, as I've watched myself grow as a writer, and seen other people I "know" experience, success, it's made this whole thing seem attainable. My theory is that being published seems to out of each because that author who got the great deal is a stranger.

I feel that the online writing community has brought everyone closer in a sense, that when you hear about a sale, 9 times out of 10, that person has been blogging or participating on listervs or message boards and their path to publication is laid out right there. It is no longer this woo-woo mystical process.

Angie Fox said...

I think we see a much higher percentage in RWA and on listserves because we're interacting with all of the authors who are working hard and learning everything they can to sell that first book. I started writing in 2000, with a critique group of five friends from RWA. I just sold last summer and I was the fourth one to get an agent, and the third one to sell. So the odds for our little group (writing our fingers to the nubs) were much better than 1 out of 100!

Santa said...

It is most certainly awe inspiring that so many fellow writers are finding themselves agented (a new verb?) and published and not surprising at all.

I wouldn't say it's a crap shoot as much as it is being able to get your work pitched in such a way that it gets its first nibbles from contest judges, agents and publishers.

And I do have to say that there is a bit of luck involved that your work is out there and being 'shown around' at the right time and in the right place.

Let's just hope that the contemporary market, sans elements of suspense and the paranormal, has slots open for up and coming writers.

And thanks for providing me with another venue for wishing our own Sara my congrats! LOL, my fingers are getting a bit sore from typing 'Squeeeee' all over the place!

Elyssa Papa said...

Great post, Jackie!

Another yay for Sara!! Like Santa, I've been squeeing with joy at this news!

I'll speak on my own experiences for querying here: I've been finding it extremely hard to land an agent or get someone to sign me. I write contemporary romances, more along the lines of romantic comedies, and let me tell you, the timing is is not right for me or the contemporary market. Not to sound egotistical, but I believe what I have is good---just other people don't think so. LOL.

And I'm not exactly a lucky person by nature, so I'm batting zero right now.

I've gotten more personal rejects but it seems like no one is willing to take me on. I've queried a lot and seriously, I think if I had a nickel for each time I got a 'no' back, I'd be rich. Or at least be able to afford the trip to San Fran.

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