Tips and Warnings about Shopping Your Novel

Publishing is a tough business. Writers can spend years, literally, writing a novel and then years finding a home for it. Here are some observations about the business and about finding an agent and a publisher.

Some Hard Facts Every Writer Should Know

It's hard to make a living as a writer. Most writers don't make enough to quit the day job. The average advance for a Romance novel is $5,000 and shrinking fast. I've heard of advances as low as $500. Most writers don't make any money past the advance. This is not a get rich quick business for most of us.

You'll probably have to wait a really long time before you see any money besides the advance. I've had contracts state that my first royalty statement would come 60 days after 12 months post-publication. So, suppose that book sold in March of 2002 and was published in December 2002, on this schedule, my first royalty statement arrived in February 2004. Two years after the sale. It's somewhat more usual for royalty statements to come every six months, but it can take a year or more before you've earned back your advance and reserves against returnes are released.

Please don't send off a story you know is flawed with the notion that an editor will fix your story for you. Suppose Ms. Editor has two manuscripts on her desk that she is thinking of acquiring. Both tell a great story. The first one has flaws and will need work. The other one does not have flaws. Which one do you think the editor will buy?

That second manuscript might get a revise and resubmit letter. Maybe. But please note who is doing the fixing: you. If you know your novel has weaknesses, but figure an editor will see the potential and buy your book, you're doomed to disappointment. It's highly likely that your book is not as good as you think it is. See next paragraph.

Great writing isn't enough. Case in point: Harry Potter. You're selling a story, not great writing. The Harry Potter books have glaring writing no-no's that get splattered all over how-to-write books and websites. The story is fantastic. You'll notice that JK Rowling's editors have NOT fixed these problems, they remain in the books. However, you are probably not JK Rowling, so you can't afford to have writing no-no's in your great story. (If you are JK, I love Harry Potter!

Perhaps you noticed the apparent contradiction between the two paragraphs above this. Editors will not fix your story vs. There are published books with flaws. If you spend all your time thinking you don't need to fix the flaws you have noticed in your book because Published Author A has flaws in hers books, then you are missing the point. You are not Published Author A, who brings her particular set skills and talents to her works. Those skills and talents (one presumes) make up for the flaws you see in her work. Your skills and talents are, quite possibly, making up for other, different flaws in your work. But not all of them. Focus on YOUR writing. Make your writing great and stop wasting time thinking you can slack off because you think Published Author A uses too many weak verbs.

What you MUST know about Agents and Publishers

Reputable agents and publishers do not charge you money to read your query or manuscript. They read for FREE. They also never charge you to be a client or edit or publish your book. If an agent or publisher asks you to send them money then you are being ripped off.

Vanity presses ask you to pay them to publish your book. If you're looking to publish a romance novel, just don't do it. A vanity press does not count as publishing credit. Save your money.

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