So for those of you who dream of writing a novel or of publishing an already written novel, here are my experiences so far.
On the 1st of January, 2021, I completed my novel.
When I first researched novel word counts, I read that most novels were considered to be true novels at around 100,000 words, and so that’s what I aimed for. I’m lucky to have a pretty good feel for narrative and word count while writing. My actual novel came to just under 109,000 words. I thought I did well. Then I discovered other sites, like Writer’s Digest’s Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post. There I discovered that an ideal novel length is between 79,999 to 89,999 words. A novel between 89,999 to 99,999 words is “generally good”. Novels between 100,000 to 109,999 might be “too long”.
Now I’m straddled with a novel that might be too long. I might be able to cut down the novel but everything is tied together in such a way that it’s not simply a matter of removing blocks of text. It’s more like a game of Jenga where every block leaves a hole and the whole is more likely to collapse as a result. The undertaking would not be minor and the novel would inevitably lose some of its richness.
So, we’ll see; but that might already be a strike against me.
I submitted my novel to agents starting in the first week of January. I’ve heard back from none of them. I submitted to a second round of agents in March and they’ve also chosen to pass me over (or that’s my best guess). Just today, and for the entire day, I started a third round of submissions. I think I’ve done a much better job writing a query letter and synopsis. Once again I consulted Writer’s Digest based on the recommendations of another agent’s site—How to Write Successful Queries for Any Genre of Writing.
I also submitted the novel to a Hybrid Publisher in Austen, Texas (Greenleaf) and one in Montpelier, Vermont (Rootstock). I didn’t expect to be accepted by Greenleaf. They seem primarily geared toward easy money makers—self-help and ten step books. Among the questions Greenlead asked in their submission form was a multiple choice question asking if I’d like to spend anywhere from $5000+ to a $100,000+ on the publication of my own book. My first thought was: If I had a $100,000 to spend on a book, I sure as hell wouldn’t need to be a writer. My second thought was: I think I’ll choose the $5000+, tight-as-the-god-damn-bark-on-a-tree, Vermonter option. Just last week they politely declined my novel. I’m still waiting to hear from Rootstock.
To be honest, I’m not sure I see the difference between a hybrid publisher and a vanity press. As far as I can tell the only difference is that a hybrid publisher is selective in their choice of authors. But so what. Unless a Hybrid Publisher has skin in the game, then it’s hard for me to see what incentive they have to market a book they haven’t paid for. The investment is entirely the author’s. Conversely, it’s in a traditional publisher’s interest to market your book. They’ve presumably given you an advance, even if a small one, and have spent as much (if not more) money getting your book edited and in print. Whereas a hybrid publisher may offer you upwards of 65% on royalty (because it was your money that paid for the book after all), 65% on a book that isn’t marketed or sold is less than 6% of a book that has the marketing power of a major publisher behind it.
So there’s that.
But I have more to learn about Hybrid Publishing and if Rootstock offers to take up my novel, I’ll have a list of questions ready to go.
I’m already thinking about my next novel. I have some ideas but nothing settled. A novel between 79,000 to 89000 words seems like child’s play after writing 109,000 (which publishers apparently consider a thousand short of War & Peace) and I can write 10,000 words on a good day (and upwards of 10 on a bad day). I’ve read that publishers are less interested in the novel they buy than the novel you haven’t written. The thinking goes like this: If you’re a debut novelist, then your first novel is the ice-breaker. Your first novel makes your name but rarely makes the NYTimes best seller list. It’s the next novel that’s the potential money maker (after the marketplace has been primed). On the other hand, if you’re first novel is a best seller, then they’ve already locked you into a follow-up. So, in a sense, what agents and publishers are really interested in is your nonexistent second book.
So, note to self, get started.
Also, I see all kinds of references to publications that list agents, like this one—the Guide to Literary Agents 2020. And yet, in all the reviews, I invariably read that a significant portion of the information is obsolete and/or out of date. I’ve been searching for agents online and so far I’ve found online listings to be far more reliable and current (for obvious reasons). With age, I’ve grown skeptical and suspicious of any individual or group trying to make money off writers who are trying to find publishers—including publishers like Writer’s Digest (and that’s based on personal experience).
All that said, I remain an abject failure. Even a glorified vanity press has turned me down.
If anything changes I’ll let you know.
upinVermont | May 25th 2021