The Mysterious World of Mainstream Publishing

Some of my upcoming Weekend Writer posts will be discussions or reviews of panels that I saw at the 2013 Surrey International Writers’ Conference. First off, if you ever have the opportunity to go to this conference, DO. I found it an incredible conference that would appeal to both new and professional writers. The panels were of a high calibre, blue pencil sessions provide solid feedback from established authors or editors and pitch sessions could possibly make your publishing dreams come true.

One of the panels that I enjoyed the most was about mainstream publishing. Panelists included two editors, one agent and an author. Here were some of my key takeaways:

What does an agent do?

First off, what a big question! The thing that stood out for me was that agents really work Monday to Friday with their existing clients and the weekend is where they spend their time reading queries and pitches. Some agents, like the one on our panel, receive somewhere between 150-300 queries a week, so it truly does take some time to get back to you. If you do get a form rejection letter don’t take it personally. Could you physically respond to 300 queries a week in a personal way? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

I did not realize that agents would act as your first editor. Some agents will go through multiple edits with their authors prior to a manuscript being sent to a publisher. Remember, they are representing your work, so it should be in the best shape possible before going out to editors. An agent also has to love your story and be passionate enough about it to represent it. If they don’t love it, why would someone else? So the match between author and editor needs to be strong.

How many people get published? According to the agent on the panel, once an agent takes you on, 60-90% of the authors will get published. Those are significant numbers. Many publishing houses won’t touch a query unless it comes from an agent, so see it as an investment in your future, increasing your odds of getting published.

How long can it take to get published?

How long is a piece of string? On average, if you are able to find a publisher, from the acquisition of your book to publication can take a year or more. So, what do you do during this time? Write! Work on your next book. Many publishers will want a multi-book contract, so you should be working on book number two.

During this time, how can you be a good client? Be willing to edit. Editing can almost be never ending, but be amenable. Don’t take edits personally. Your editor ultimately wants your best possible work to go out into the world. That said, if you feel strongly about a certain scene, make sure you represent yourself, but do so professionally. Articulate why it adds to the story.

Make sure you’ve thought about your writing goals. Do you want to be mainstream published? Are you going to have a strong social media platform? How much are you going to connect with your readers? How many books do you plan to write? You, your editor and your agent should be on the same track. If you’re going left and they’re going right, your relationship will deteriorate.

Anyone else learned some key takeaways from an agent or editor? Share below!

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