Dear Author Enabler,
Last year I self-published a book, Forget Not—The Winter of Discontent, which was well received. It made $800, but that did not cover my expenses. It’s about my husband, who served as a Marine in the Korean War, but the book also covers other military campaigns, with the last chapter featuring more than 100 comments and stories from other veterans—so its scope is wide ranging. I’ve been interviewed on local television and had one book signing.
I am currently at work on a sequel, The War Path, which covers subjects not in the original. How do I proceed from here? How do I get an agent for the second book?
Dorothy P. Campbell
Brewster, New York
First off, congratulations! You wrote and published a book on an important subject. It got some publicity, and you sold some copies. This is all great.
Teaming up with a literary agent just might be your best next step. Agents are always looking for talented new authors, but the good ones are inundated with queries from relatively unknown authors. You’ll need to be patient and resourceful.
One resource for finding agents is AgentQuery.com. There are many other ways to find one, though. Start by researching agent websites. Look for a good match (agents who represent books similar to yours), and carefully follow the query instructions posted on their site.
It may seem daunting, but no one said getting published is easy. One sort-of shortcut for meeting agents is attending writer conferences and workshops, many of which facilitate agent introductions with something similar to speed dating or arranged one-on-one appointments. Or if you have a good relationship with an author or someone in the publishing industry (booksellers included), ask him or her for help getting your foot in the door.
Another route is to approach smaller publishers directly, without an agent. Smaller publishing houses—like Counterpoint Press and Bellevue Literary Press—are sometimes more open to taking a risk on a fresh voice. Also, there are many publishers, especially in the eBook world, that are experimenting with new forms of partnerships with authors. The Rock Bottom Remainders published our interactive eBook Hard Listening with Coliloquy, an interactive eBook publisher. Byliner partners with authors to create shorter fiction and nonfiction in a digital format, which it sells via subscription. Plympton has focused on reviving serialized fiction, both classic and new, in a digital format. Untreed Reads is an eBook publisher that emphasizes independent authors and publishers.
Dear Author Enabler,
I hope to skip trying to get an agent, if possible. I want to try contacting editors/publishing houses directly. When I write to an editor, how long should I wait before moving on to the next one on my list? Would it be a problem to query more than one at the same time?
Since you’ve already decided to do without an agent, I won’t give you my usual spiel about how hard it is to get an editor at a publishing house to look at your work without an agent. (It is, though.) As I said in my answer to Dorothy (above), you may have the best chance with smaller publishers, who aren’t as inundated with submissions and might be willing to take a chance on first-time or unknown authors.
You can query more than one editor at a time, but just be sure to send your proposal to companies that publish books similar to yours—don’t, for instance, submit your idea for a novel to a press that only publishes nonfiction.
Once you’ve sent the query, allow a decent amount of time for an editor to respond. If a typical response time is not indicated on their website, you can expect to wait anywhere between one and three months when dealing with busy people who get lots of queries.
Send your questions about writing and publishing to firstname.lastname@example.org.