Dear Author Enablers,
Here’s one that has my entire critique group stumped. Several editors have told me they love my manuscript but it’s “not right for our list at this time.” What do they mean? Is this a polite brush-off, or an industry secret code?
Linda Lyman
Murrysville, Pennsylvania

This could mean several things. Sometimes it is indeed a polite way of saying “we’re not interested.” It can also mean that the publisher is already committed to another similar book. But most often, it’s insider terminology indicating that your book doesn’t conform to the publisher’s vision or comfort zone.

Sam works at HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins known for spiritual and self-help books. Presented with a vampire novel, no matter how terrific, they would have to turn it down, or pass it to another HarperCollins imprint. Why? Because they don’t know how to edit or market vampire books.

This is only one of the reasons it makes sense to find a literary agent to represent you. Agents know the lay of the land and will only pitch to publishers who are likely to think your book would be a good fit.

Dear Author Enablers,
Job fairs help people meet potential employers. Are there similar events that enable aspiring writers to make acquaintances with literary agents?
Dave Richards
Hendersonville, North Carolina

Many writers’ conferences provide opportunities for authors to meet literary agents and editors. Some feature an event called “speed dating for agents,” where you get to pitch your manuscript or idea to half a dozen agents or more, in the space of an hour or so. You can ask them their sign, what movies they like . . . and who knows where it might lead? Oops—that’s another kind of speed dating.

Writers’ conferences can be expensive, but if cost is an issue, see if you can volunteer in return for an opportunity to attend. A good resource for finding writers’ conferences is available at

Dear Author Enablers,
My book The Randolph Women and Their Men was published in February and is still not available in the retail chain stores. The stores say the decisions are made at the corporate level. The corporate level people don’t want books sent to them; others say they don’t want to order a book without seeing it. I am told that my readers, clamoring for the book, can order online; they in turn say they want to see the book first.
Ruth Doumlele
Midlothian, Virginia

Because your book was published through a non-traditional publisher, it is unlikely that it will be distributed widely in retail bookstores unless there is great demand from readers. When you pay a publisher to print and distribute your book, the company has received its return on the time invested as soon as the book is completed. On the other hand, when a publisher pays you for the right to publish your work, it has a vested interest in getting the book into stores as quickly as possible. Also, bookstore chains are most likely to stock titles from established publishers who offer incentives for special placement and have long-term relationships with book buyers.

This is why developing a “platform” is so important for self-published authors. Ask yourself this question: How many people know who I am and care about reading my work? Most authors develop their platforms over time, starting locally. Build up your social networking contacts; ask friends to host book parties; and offer free lectures at community centers, churches or synagogues.

Email your questions to Kathi and Sam. Please include your name and hometown. 

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