Friday, May 25, 2012

What I've learned about submissions

So here's the thing: I'm currently getting ready for BEA, which means I'm scouring the list of author events, signings, panels, etc for anything and everything I want to attend. In the process, I've come across quite a few BEA buzz books. For those of you who don't know, a BEA buzz book is a book chosen by its publisher (I believe the publisher chooses....correct me if I'm wrong) to be "featured" at the expo. Many of this year's buzz books are from first-time authors. After much Googling and stalking, I came to the conclusion that the majority of buzz book debuts got huge advances from Big 6 publishers. They sold in good, significant, and even major deals, usually for two or three books rather than just one. For instance, one of the buzz books has a first print run of 250,000 copies. These books also sold very quickly (as in, they had publishers interested within a week).

And as I'm reading through all these success stories, I can't help but feel jealous and resentful. I know I shouldn't; I know I should be celebrating other people's success. But I was young and naive when I entered this business and I think writers tend to view publishing as a very romantic process. The day I signed with an agent, I thought that was it. I thought being agented would automatically make my dreams come true. I heard all the stories about authors selling in days, for huge amounts of money, and I secretly hoped that it would be me.

Well, it probably won't be. Publishing is completely unpredictable, of course, but what I've come to realize is that both of my books, while hopefully good enough to attract the attention of a big publisher, aren't the type of books to earn huge advances and lead-title status. Neither book has series potential. One skews heavily toward the upper end of YA, making it less marketable content-wise, while the other is multicultural historical fantasy (definitely not the most commercial genre). I love these books, I really do. I love their characters and I loved writing them. But if/when they do sell, they're not going to sell huge.

But that's okay. It's okay to start out small, then build on what you have. It's okay to have a book that gets a 5k-20k advance rather than 200k. Having a mid-list debut doesn't mean you're doomed to wallow in mid-list obscurity forever. Hell, look at James Dashner. He published two series before writing The Maze Runner, and each series was more successful than the other words, he built up to bestseller status. It didn't happen overnight. And having a smaller advance can be good in many ways. There's less pressure to earn out (because let's face it, earning out $10,000 is MUCH easier than earning out $200,000) and you're more likely to make royalty profits on your book. And earning out is super important if you want your publisher to buy your next novel.

My books aren't big, and this is something I've come to accept. I'm not going to debut with a million dollar contract (all Ally Condie-style). I probably won't be a lead title. But I write what I love, and I love these two books. With the end of revisions looming, I've started on two separate projects, each of which is the first of a planned trilogy. I love my new projects just as I loved the old ones, and both are more "commercial" than LIKE CLOCKWORK or AILLEA'S CARDS. So who knows? Maybe one of these projects will go "big".

I may start small, but I believe that hard work and persistence really do pay off. Someday, I'm going to get there. I'm going to have a book that generates buzz and sells for a hefty advance and goes on to do really well in the market. Perhaps this will happen soon, perhaps in ten years, perhaps in thirty. But the important thing is to love what you write, even if it doesn't incite every single NYC publisher into a cash-throwing frenzy.

My books are not "big", but I love them anyways.


  1. Oooh. BEA sounds fun. Have a great time. I can't wait to read what you have to say about it.

    From what I know about publishing, the big deals usually go to certain agents. I'd examine that first before I went to blame my own writing. Like Tahereh Mafi's agent got her a huge deal. So want to get in with one of those if you can.

    But what do I know? Good luck Kate.

    1. I don't really think it has much to do with the agent agent has closed plenty of six-figure deals, and he has bestselling clients, but he also has mid-list clients. A publisher is not going to buy a book simply because it comes from a certain agent. If there's an agent who closes a lot of six-figure deals, it's probably more due to the type of book the agent takes on. For instance, some agents will only take on very commercial books. These agents tend to make larger deals. Other agents take on a mix of commercial books and books that are less commercial and perhaps more "literary" (or whatever you want to call it). These are books like Chime, by Franny Billingsley, which got a National Book Award nomination and awesome reviews but never hit the bestseller list.

      The point is, publishers give huge deals to book that they think will sell well. My books aren't very commercial. That level of marketability isn't going to change based on which agent submits my book.

  2. I see BEA and I sigh longingly. Someday I'll make it there.

    You mentioned Ally Condie's million dollar contract, but she's another author who started small. She published several books with Deseret Book before selling MATCHED. Did you hear her speak at WIFYR the summer before MATCHED came out?

  3. As my friends become agented, I'm seeing more of this behind the scenes publishing world and it's making me nervous. I started writing because it made me happy to just write. I'm afraid I'll need to remind myself that all too often when I'm in the trying-to-get-published camp. Great post.

  4. A well-timed post for me, Kate. Thanks. I have no idea what will happen with my novel. But I DO know that I wrote it because I absolutely needed to write this story, because I loved my MC and the journey she'd have to take. I never thought, "Will this be a big marketable book?" I thought about what I'd love to write the most and wrote that. Like Ilima said above, I hope I'll be able to stay this way with the books I continue to write.

  5. Excellent post - I, too, had secret fantasies that my agent would sell my book overnight for a huge deal at auction, etc, etc. But my book, too, isn't an on-trend/huge debut type book. Doesn't mean it won't sell or that it won't do well.

    The joy is in the writing, not the publishing. That's what matters to me. :)

  6. I completely agree with you Katie! I think in some respects, it is much better to work your way up as it were than suddenly be landed with a million dollar contract. For one, can you imagine the pressure? You would be constantly worried that people weren't going to like your book, that you were going to disappoint people, and that would be awful. Plus, you can get acquainted with the publishing process. It gives you time to settle in, dip your toes in as it were, instead of being completely thrown into it all.

    I think it's much more important to write what you love than what you think will sell. Who knows what the market could hold in the future? There's no point wasting time worrying about being a bestseller when you're having a sad time doing it. You're doing what you love, and that's always the most important thing, right?

  7. I freaking LOVE BEA. I wish I could go this year - my parents were yelling at me to go, a friend was yelling at me to go - but I just felt like I'm not a professional in any way (I'm a writer sure but unagented and no book deal) and my blog has a measley 54 subscribers, not enough to get me in as a book blogger. Hope you have a good time, though and score some amazing ARCs.

    As for book deals-I have a friend who had to rewrite her novel 3 times before submitting to publishers and then even then she had an R+R with a publisher who gave her a small/nice deal, which they ended up taking. I think whenever I get an agent - um....if ever - I would love a book deal period. Whatever the price. :) And I also agree w/Fiona above me-its more important to do what you love and be happy and not worry about deals and all that.

  8. I have nothing constructive to add, so I will just say that I love this post :)

  9. hi kate! thanks for your honesty - i find your perspective totally sane :)

    i'll be at bea too this year (as press). just looking at the schedule is totally overwhelming. there are SO many wonderful talks and signings!!

  10. I gave you an award over at my blog today!

  11. I'm so excited/jealous for your trip to BEA. I know it's hard not to compare our own journeys to those of everyone else around us, but it really doesn't help anyone. We all are taking our own trip, if you will, and a big part of it is enjoying our own path. *Gandhi out* ;)

  12. I would love any kind of an advance. All I get is a share of the profits.

  13. It's always hard not to compare, and the comparisons don't stop when you sell the book. I've actually caught myself being envious of debut authors who are on my level, just because they have more blog followers or adds on Goodreads or whatever. Meanwhile I've got a solid two-book deal, a cover I adore, an amazing editor and a big name house attached to my book. Things I would have (metaphorically) killed for before getting an agent and selling the book.

    Learning to be happy where you are is a vital skill. Good for you for learning it early. :)

  14. Have fun at BEA! I agree. I think dreaming big can help accomplish the goal. Have a great time!

  15. Thanks for your insight into the business side of the writing world. I'm pretty new to it all and learning more each week. I think it would be hard to not envy a writer that gets an advance 10 times as large as others. But your point about Dashner is great - that he built up to being a bestselling author.

  16. When you compare yourself to others, in terms of numbers, you just get depressed. If you throw yourself into something you love . . . well, you get the picture.