Step 1: Write and polish
Step 2: Ferret out submission guidelines (often at the library)
Step 3: Put together the packet – cover letter, synopsis, first three chapters
Step 4: Print out (or in the old days copy) aforesaid packet
Step 5: Wait in horrendous line at the post office to send out same, usually one at a time. No simultaneous submissions, you know
Step 6: Wait for reply, sometimes as long as two years or perhaps not at all.
The good old days? Not really. It was a lot of fuss, a lot of work, and ridiculous amounts of time waiting for rejection letters that told you nothing. But some days I still miss the single channel simplicity of those days. You were a writer and you wrote.
The world has a habit of changing, and so it did for publishing over the last fifteen years. Drastically. Then just when authors were starting to get the hang of this brave new world, this you-can’t-just-write-anymore world, publishing pulled the rug out from under us again. Amazon wants you as an exclusive author, or readers may not see your books. Facebook wants more money (shocking) and threatens to delete your posts if you dare to promote without paying. The European Union suddenly taxes e-books at an astonishing percentage. All Romance decides it no longer wants to be merely a distribution point and throws its hat into the publishing ring. It’s no longer simply enough to write. We are forced to fight tooth and nail for every scrap of visibility.
What’s a poor author to do? Do you simply write and ignore it? Do you try new genres until you’ve scattered your story breadcrumbs far and wide along the publishing ground, hoping someone will find the trail? Do you make yourself crazy and spend all the time in promotion? Do you crawl under a rock and cry?
I’m not going to pretend I have magic answers, but there is one thing we all must do – be willing to adapt. The rules change, they will always change. There may have been a single way and a single answer long ago, but not now. Genre authors not contracted by the big six houses must be willing to channel their inner mad scientists, to experiment, to leap into the void sometimes.
Authors have leaped. The term “hybrid author” is suddenly a legitimate thing. Still makes me think of a rose garden or varieties of tomatoes, but I’m fine with that. Hybrids tend to be more disaster resistant. They survive droughts and plagues. It also means we’re looking at ourselves more as contracted talent instead of as employees. As contractors, authors have more options than we ever did before – take advantage of all you can.
- Submit to publishers, but do it carefully. Know your market and know the players. Don’t submit in desperation and don’t accept a contract that way either.
- Never feel obligated to the publisher. Grateful for good staff and a well run house, yes, but obliged to submit all your work there? No. Shop around. Eggs in one basket is no longer a good thing these days, for so many reasons.
- Take a serious look at self-publishing. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a viable, respectable option these days, provided you do it well. Not only does it give you more control, but it also gives you a better sense for the business.
- Terrified of going it alone? Consider a collective or cooperative venture with other like-minded authors. When you have a trusted group of friends and a pool of talent, the terrors of publishing diminish considerably. Division of labor is a wonderful thing.
- Genre jumping? Approach with care. Sure, contemporary romance will outsell everything else across the boards, but it might not work for you. Don’t chase trends and make sure you write what you love before you try to please the market. Some of the most successful authors of gay romance write in astoundingly specific sub-sub-genre niches. (Historical paranormal m/m romance? Who even knew that would be a thing a few years ago?)
Scattered though our attentions may be these days, it’s the organized, persistent, and adaptable author who will find success. Sleep with one eye open, kids. Ear to the ground and other clichéd aphorisms from our primitive hunting past. I’m betting the changes in the publishing industry have only begun.
About Angel: Angel Martinez has been lurking in the published world since 2006, when a small press decided it was a good idea to publish a short story with illustrations about an intelligent planet. From that rather shaky start, Angel now has twenty-one works published and won the 2014 Rainbow Award in the Best Gay Scifi/ Futuristic category for her novel Rarely Pure and Never Simple. Angel is a tenacious advocate for genre fiction and maintains a secret, embarrassing passion for old anime. (Voltron, anyone?)